Opinion: Success will bring inevitable change at NKU, other mid-major schools


Matt Sexton

NKU head coach John Brannen talks to Cole Murray during Sunday’s Horizon League tournament quarterfinal against Wright State.

Christopher Decker, Sports Editor

With Anthony Grant being hired as the new Dayton Flyers head coach, it appears NKU men’s basketball coach John Brannen will be staying in Highland Heights for the 2017 season.

The question now is, how much longer will he remain as Norse head coach?

My guess is, he will remain the head coach at NKU for two or three more years before heading off to a bigger school, especially if they win one or two more Horizon League championships.

Some of you are going to upset by this when he does leave. You will complain that, “He’s not loyal” and “He’s the hometown guy, how could he leave?” and other things questioning if Brannen actually cared about NKU at all.

Think about it this way: if you are in the lowest paid position in your company and you want to rise through that company, you want to stay at the bottom of that company for as little time as possible.

Brannen is essentially in that lower level position right now. In fact, amongst the college basketball head coaches that reached the NCAA Tournament, Brannen is ranked 60th with an annual salary of $190,000.

To compare, Gregg Marshall of Wichita State makes $3 million a year and St. Mary head coach Randy Bennett makes $575,451 a year according to USA Today Sports.

Going to a different school would almost guarantee a pay raise for Brannen, not to mention better resources and better recognition.

With this recent run of success, NKU is in a bit of a precarious situation. If the head coach does well, whether it is Brannen or someone else down the line, they will be in line to be hired somewhere else.

It’s what happens with a lot of mid-major schools. Shaka Smart spent six years as the head coach at VCU with a record of 163-56 and led VCU to multiple NCAA Tournament appearances. Smart parlayed his work at VCU into a head coaching job in the Big 12 with the Texas Longhorns.

If you are a good mid-major coach, you generally get a shot to succeed at a bigger school.

If NKU wants to keep Brannen on for as long as they can, they are going to have to give him a contract extension or at least restructure his contract. In a statement, athletic director Ken Bothof said he and Brannen have even started discussing a new contract.

He’s absolutely earned a pay raise. Not many coaches turn a nine-win team into a 24-win team in just one season. You can’t keep a guy like that on for too long with the salary that he currently has.

Brannen was the perfect coach to lead the Norse out of the four-year transition period. He’s been an enthusiastic leader from the beginning, urging all of Northern Kentucky to jump on the NKU bandwagon. His players seem to enjoy playing for and they always play hard for him. He is also a great recruiter.

All of these traits are going to fit perfectly as a head coach of bigger program that has had a couple of down years and needs to be rejuvenated or a program that has lost their previous head coach to another job.

If Bothof and Brannen are unable to come to terms on a new contract, Brannen will have one foot out the door and might be gone in near future.

Even if a pay raise comes from NKU, it may not be enough to keep Brannen once the bigger schools start asking for interviews.
The Northerner requested interviews with Bothof and Brannen for this column, but they were not granted. Bothof issued a statement which can be view here.