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Who will be the next Utah State basketball coach? Here are six possible candidates

The Aggies are searching for a coach amid a sea of candidates. Could any of these guys be in the mix?

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Utah State Aggies fans cheer as game against Boise State nears an end on Saturday, March 11, 2023.

Utah State Aggies fans cheer as game against Boise State nears an end on Saturday, March 11, 2023. The Aggies are looking for to find a replacement for coach Ryan Odom who left for a job at VCU.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Never has two years seemed so short.

Ryan Odom, the now former men’s basketball coach at Utah State, needed just one good year to be attractive enough on the hiring circuit to merit a shiny new job in the Atlantic 10 Conference at VCU. He’ll take over an already solid program that places him closer to his East Coast roots, and it’s hard to fault him for finding a great fit.

Now the burden lies on Utah State interim athletic director Jerry Bovee to find a new coach who will keep the train rolling in Logan. The transfer portal was already rife with incoming players, and now Utah State’s own athletes are starting to make for the door.

The coaching carousel is still spinning along the college hoops landscape, and with the season officially over — give the San Diego State Aztecs some props — most programs in need of a new coach will be running downhill to land one so as not to lose precious recruiting time.

A few names that may have been easy targets for Bovee nearby are already off the market. UVU’s Mark Madsen is one of those who could’ve quadrupled his $200,000-ish annual salary by becoming an Aggie, but by the time Odom’s resignation had landed in people’s inboxes, Madsen was already on his way to Cal for what is sure to be a sizable increase in pay.

Todd Simon, SUU’s former coach who engineered a national top-five scoring offense, would have been a good fit, but his nameplate was already on the office door at Bowling Green weeks before.

Bovee’s coaching search remains obviously behind closed doors with little sound escaping, but as names are beginning to be tossed around by fans and media for the best candidates, here are six coaches who could potentially find their way to Logan:

San Jose State head coach Tim Miles

For Utah State, the interest in Miles is along the lines of “If he can succeed there, imagine what he’ll do here.”

Miles’ reputation is built on turning struggling programs into solid ones. The Spartans were the laughingstock of the Mountain West virtually every year and weren’t much better during their days in the Western Athletic Conference. Miles changed all that in just two years; the Spartans went 21-14 last season, placing in the top half of conference standings, and even handed the Aggies a loss.

Before that, Miles turned one of the most futile high-major programs, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, into a steady winner, albeit a lack of sustained postseason success eventually led to his dismissal. All in all, he has a 428-371 career record.

For Utah State, taking on Miles would hardly be rolling the dice. He’s a known commodity, and USU provides him a chance to start with a winning culture. However, the standard for the Aggies is far higher than it is for the Spartans, and whether Miles can maintain that is unclear.

South Dakota head coach Eric Peterson

Thanks to the wild success of the three-year Craig Smith era at USU, Peterson’s name perked up quickly through social media. The former assistant of Smith spent all three years with him at Utah State and stayed with him another year at Utah before accepting the head coaching job at South Dakota.

Peterson has the least Division I head coaching experience of those listed here. He just finished his first season with USD, and it didn’t go well. The Coyotes finished 12-19 (seven fewer wins than the prior season). Peterson was injured midway through the season and missed four games.

What Peterson does have is a familiarity with the Aggies’ athletic department, experience in developing front-court players, and two Mountain West tournament championships as a member of Smith’s staff. Peterson was credited with developing former USU center Neemias Queta, a two-time MW Defensive Player of the Year.

USU interim head coach Nate Dixon

If the Aggies don’t want to take the coaching search too far, they have a reliable candidate just down the hallway. Dixon is a former member of Odom’s staff who temporarily carries the interim tag per Bovee, at least until the search is complete. His interim tag, given within the week of Odom’s resignation, could very well be a sign that Bovee intends to have him as insurance against a less-than-fruitful search for another prospect.

Dixon offers the Aggies the possibility of keeping the Odom era going in token form. The longtime assistant coach was with Odom at Lenoir-Rhyne University, Maryland-Baltimore County, as well as the last two seasons at USU. He is widely regarded as one of the top assistant coaches in mid-major basketball.

What Dixon may be able to do in the short term is keep core pieces of USU’s squad on the team for next season, a critical exercise as the Aggies are in flux with potentially up to four starting spots. Dixon’s influence can steady the ship quickly without much initial shock. It could prove only a Band-Aid on the situation, conversely, as Dixon is also an East Coast native who may be just as willing to return to his roots Odom-style after seeing some success.

Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle

If you look on Sprinkle’s bio page right now on MSU’s athletics website, you’ll see him holding the cut-up net signifying the Bobcats’ recent Big Sky Conference tournament championship. That alone shows why he’s on the radar for a number of open jobs across the country.

Sprinkle returned to his alma mater in 2019 and set it ablaze with levels of success not seen in almost a century. The Bobcats made the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years for the first time ever. Before his tenure, Montana State had four total March Madness trips in program history.

It may take a generous deal to pry Sprinkle away from a comfortable and successful gig at his alma mater, but ADs everywhere are trying. He was reported to be in the running for the Cal job before Madsen took it.

Loyola Marymount head coach Stan Johnson

Johnson’s resume was already spectacular, littered with All-American players coached and NCAA Tournament appearances as an assistant, but what his Lions accomplished last season no doubt had athletic directors blowing up his office phone the last several weeks.

Loyola Marymount finished 19-12 overall, including wins over BYU, No. 15 Saint Mary’s and No. 6 Gonzaga, the only time in WCC history that a team has beaten all three in one season. The Lions had maddening levels of inconsistency, going just 9-7 in conference play, but the point that Johnson was a winner was well-proven.

Johnson has been with the Lions since 2020. Before that, he was an assistant coach for eight different schools.

What stands out for Utah State fans beyond his exceptional year with LMU are layers of Utah ties. He was an assistant coach for Utah from 2008-11, including the Utes’ MW championship year in 2009. As a player, he graduated from Southern Utah with a bachelor’s degree in 2001, while playing three seasons with the Thunderbirds.

Former UNLV head coach Dave Rice

Call it a bonus guess.

Rice is a well-known name across Utah for his time spent alongside Dave Rose at BYU. He was an assistant coach for the Cougars for six seasons. Before that, he was an assistant coach at USU under legendary head coach Stew Morrill.

Since leaving an assistant job at Washington in 2020, Rice has been patiently waiting for his next opportunity, and he has spoken publicly about wanting to be a head coach again.

From a Utah State perspective, there aren’t many candidates who know the conference landscape better. Rice has never been too far from his beloved UNLV Rebels, where he won an NCAA championship under Jerry Tarkanian as a player. He later coached the Rebels for four seasons with a 98-54 overall record before his dismissal in 2016.

Rice is a known commodity across the entire western U.S. with a track record for developing NBA talent, and if Utah State took a shot with him, he would arguably bring more name recognition into the Spectrum than any other coaching hire in school history. However, the bust potential is scary, as Rice’s tenure at UNLV took a hit on his career, and it’s unclear how many years the Aggies would get out of him if he were to succeed. 

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UNLV head coach Dave Rice motions to his players during game against Arizona State Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, in Las Vegas. Could the Aggies be interested in giving him a shot in Logan?

John Locher, Associated Press