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Phillips’ move to Bobcats makes sense

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Phillips’ move to Bobcats makes sense
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FARGO — It was only 17 days ago when Saul Phillips was the head coach of a North Dakota State men’s basketball team that had just knocked off Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament. Equally as refreshing as NDSU’s upset win was Phillips’ comedic relief during one of the press conferences held in Spokane, Wash.


Phillips, never one to shy away from loosening up a crowd of media hounds, mentioned an online poll ranking the 68 NCAA Tournament coaches according to their college playing careers. Phillips ranked 52nd. He was a backup point guard for an NCAA Division III team at Wisconsin-Platteville coached by Bo Ryan – the same Bo Ryan whose Wisconsin Badgers suffered a heartbreaking loss to Kentucky in Saturday’s national semifinals in Arlington, Texas.

“I rarely got to play,” Phillips informed the media 17 days ago. “But I do remember one game when the student section started chanting: ‘We want Saul, we want Saul.’ So Bo waves me over, puts his arm around me and says: ‘Saul, go over there and see what they want.’”

The media hounds erupted in laughter.

Turns out, Saul Phillips is still a wanted man.

That’s why – quicker than you can chant ‘we want Saul, we want Saul’ – Ohio University named Phillips its new coach late Saturday night. Friday night was the first contact Phillips had with Ohio. Late Saturday night about the time Bo Ryan’s Badgers were wondering ‘what if’ after its one-point loss to Kentucky, Phillips had signed a contract paying him $550,000 a year – more than three times what he was getting paid at NDSU.

This was a no-brainer decision for Phillips, who in his seven years at NDSU, guided the Bison to two NCAA tournaments and 134 wins.

This move makes far more sense than when Tim Miles left NDSU to resurrect a Colorado State basketball program that was a mess. Miles, of course, succeeded and is now making his millions as the head coach at Nebraska.

This move makes far more sense than when Craig Bohl abruptly left NDSU’s football program last December for Wyoming. Succeeding in Laramie could be an even bigger challenge than the one Miles faced in Fort Collins.

Phillips inherits a solid Ohio program – one that has 13 NCAA Tournament appearances, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2012. Since 2004, Ohio has had nine winning seasons. While Miles took over for a coach who was fired, Phillips takes over for Jim Christian – who somewhat unexpectedly was named the head coach at Boston College this past week.

While it took Ohio athletic director Jim Schaus less than 72 hours to find a new coach, don’t expect NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor to waste any time, either. If recent history is any indication, Taylor could very well be talking to Bison assistant Dave Richman – who has already said he wants the head coaching job.

Taylor hired within the program when he named Phillips to replace Miles and when he named Chris Klieman to replace Bohl as the football coach.

Word is Taylor is a big fan of Richman. And for good reason. Richman, who turned down Miles’ invitation to join him at Colorado State, has been a key cog in NDSU’s success with recruiting, scouting and coaching.

The big challenge Richman could face is this: Miles and Phillips will be tough acts to follow when it comes to their comedy routines that not only impressed the media, but athletic directors looking for a new coach.

Phillips’ performance obviously had Ohio’s athletic director chanting: “We want Saul, we want Saul.”

Kevin Schnepf
Kevin Schnepf is the sports editor for The Forum. He has been working at The Forum since 1986.
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