When the NKU men’s basketball team takes the court for their final season in the four-year Division I reclassification period, a new face will be at the front of the sideline.
It was announced late Monday, April 6 that John Brannen would be the next head coach for the Norse. He was formally introduced at a press conference and reception on Tuesday, April 7 at The Bank of Kentucky Center.
It was standing room only as friends, family and fans alike crowded to hear from the new head coach for the first time.
“I’m home,” Brannen, a Covington, Ky. native, said to the Northern Kentucky community.
Brannen said that the decision to come to NKU was more than just coming home for him; it was because he believes that NKU is positioned to win a championship.
Known for his recruiting skills, having recruited a top-20 nationally-ranked class in 2007, Brannen says he is looking for self-driven players, both athletically but also academically.
“I want the guy I have to hold back, not push forward,” Brannen said.
President Geoffrey Mearns, who attended the press conference, said he feels Brannen has a solid understanding of what is required of him as head coach.
“I knew that he and his players would compete for us every day, every moment,” Mearns said. “I also knew that he would emphasize academic excellence. At Northern Kentucky University we are proud that our student-athletes are student-athletes… I knew that he would lead this program with character and integrity.”
Dawn Plitzuweit, women’s basketball head coach, also looks forward to working with Brannen.
“He’s a very impressive young man and has already done a lot in the coaching profession,” Plitzuweit said. “I’m really excited to learn from him and work with him.”
Athletic Director Ken Bothof spoke about the high praises Brannen had already received from the community.
“I remember one of the first initial calls I received, on one of the first days we were searching, from a community member. He wanted to make sure that John Brannen was on my ‘list’ as he put it,” Bothof recalled. “One of the interesting things he didn’t talk about was his coaching credentials. He talked about John the person, the family man and his extended family and his role in Northern Kentucky region.”
Bothof said while that was good to know, it wasn’t those credentials that originally got him on Bothof’s list; it was his coaching abilities and background.
“On paper, John had all of those qualities that I had on [listed]… and then I went back and thought about that message communicated about John and his family, and at that point it became very clear,” Bothof said. “You see, we’re a program on the rise. John was an assistant and an associate on the rise. Northern Kentucky is a region on the rise. All those things together make a perfect fit.”
Mearns says that he is looking forward to Brannen’s enthusiasm to get the community and specifically the students more involved with the program, citing that Brannen has already had lunch in the Student Union.
“One of the things that makes college athletics special, what makes it different, is the passion that the students have for the game,” Mearns said. “We need to continue to build that student engagement with our men’s and women’s basketball programs and I think he’s going to make a big step forward in that direction.”
Along with building a stronger community and fan-base, Brannen already has ideas for where he wants to take the team.
Brannen said that he is thankful to Dave Bezold, the former head coach, for the foundation that he and his staff were able to build and looks forward to taking the team forward.
Brannen stressed that he wants to work with the team on extending the offense and defense.
“We’re going to be very aggressive, we’re going to extend our defense 94 feet,” Brannen said, adding that current players are his number one priority.
Brannen most recently served as associate head coach at the University of Alabama, eventually becoming interim head coach after Head Coach Anthony Grant was fired at the end of the regular season. Brannen led the Crimson Tide to a first-round win over third-seeded Illinois in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) before losing to second-seeded Miami (Fl.).
Before his stint at Alabama, Brannen was an assistant coach at Virginia Commonwealth University (under Grant), St. Bonaventure University, and Eastern Kentucky University. He began his coaching career right out of college at the College of Charleston, where he served as an assistant coach.
As a player, Brannen began playing collegiate basketball at Morehead State University before transferring to Marshall University, where he was named a Rhodes Scholar. Brannen graduated from Marshall in 1997.
Brannen will guide the Norse through their fourth and final year of the reclassification period to Division I. So far in Division I the Norse have gone 33-54 under former Head Coach Dave Bezold, who was released from the school in March. Bezold had been at the helm of the Norse for 11 seasons.