On a clear blue Sunday, news broke that NKU men’s basketball coach John Brannen was leaving for the Cincinnati Bearcats.
The veil in BB&T Arena was torn, and the mountains fell on themselves at the word that the leader of NKU’s Division I crusade was hopping across the river. (Editor’s Note: Ok, not really, but it did kind of feel that way.)
Now, the nationwide search for the next Norse men’s basketball coach is underway, but it’s the local guys who are generating the most buzz.
Here are the candidates we think could fill the gap on the Norse coaching squad.
OUR TOP PICKS
Chris Shumate – Shumate has been an NKU assistant coach since 2015, meaning he knows the Brannen Bible of an uber-aggressive offense. He’s also a former assistant to outgoing Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, and he has Western Kentucky, Tennessee and Southern Mississippi credentials. He would be the most practical pick, if he’s not the most likely one.
Darris Nichols – Nichols has an NKU tie: he spent two seasons as an assistant coach for the Norse during their transition from Division II to Division I. Nichols is an SEC assistant coach at the University of Florida. He has helped lead Florida to four straight 20-win seasons and three consecutive NCAA tournament bids, mostly using efficient rebounding strategies and active defensive.
Pat Kelsey – In six seasons with the Winthrop Eagles, Kelsey is the winningest coach in Big South conference history, and he’s been to March Madness five times with both Xavier and Wake Forest. Kelsey would also be getting a raise by moving into BB&T Arena. If he’s hired, expect a renewed Norse defense.
LESS LIKELY PICKS
Dave Bezold – An NKU head coach from 2004 to 2015 and assistant coach for 14 years before that, he had a more than decent record at 194-133 and four trips to the NCAA Division II tournament. He also guided the team’s transition to Division I in 2012, though the Norse wouldn’t be eligible for March Madness for three more years. Bezold was ousted in 2015, ushering in the Brannen era, but he eventually landed an assistantship at Xavier. Who knows— it could be time to #BringBackBezold.
Luke Murray – The son of “Ghostbusters” funnyman Bill Murray is in his first season assistant coaching at Louisville. It’s also his third season under former Xavier head coach Chris Mack. If Mack’s style is any indication, a Murray coaching era could see similar high-scoring and offense-driven bouts at BB&T. Will Bill be trading his Louisville cap for some Norse spiritwear soon? If so, we got that goin’ for us. “Which is nice.”
WAY OUT-THERE PICKS
Grant Brannen – Brother Brannen coached boy’s basketball at Walton-Verona High School up until this year’s record season, and he led Newport Central Catholic before that. Bringing the other Brannen to NKU wouldn’t be such a bad move, as his 116-65 record over six seasons at Walton-Verona speaks for itself. It’s about time NKU had a coaching dynasty.
Rick Pitino – Perhaps in jest, but also sorta-serious, some fans on the Norse Nation Unofficial Fan Page are pondering bringing the former Louisville and Kentucky coach up north. Pitino would have to take a hefty pay cut (he made almost $8 million a year in the LOU), but it would be one way for the disgraced coach to make his return to college hoops.
Victor E. Viking – Nobody watches more NKU men’s basketball than this guy. Does that translate to coaching prowess? Probably not. But ESPN named him one of the scariest mascots in college sports in 2015. If NKU needs a substitute coach, you know where this freak will be.