EL PASO, TEXAS (KTSM) – The hunt is still very much on, but UTEP is getting closer to making a hire for its next men’s basketball coach.
Stadium’s Jeff Goodman reported on Sunday the names of the five finalists for the Miners’ coaching vacancy, and there’s some familiar names on the list that have been in the running since Rodney Terry left UTEP to be an assistant coach at Texas last week.
The five finalists, according to Goodman, are Abilene Christian head coach Joe Golding; New Mexico State head coach Chris Jans; Baylor assistant coach Jerome Tang; Arkansas associate head coach David Patrick; and former UTEP head coach Doc Sadler, who led the Miners to the 2005 NCAA Tournament and is now an assistant coach at Nebraska.
KTSM confirmed on Saturday that interviews will be held in Dallas on Sunday, and extend into Monday.
Golding, Jans and Tang have been in the running for the position since the beginning, but Patrick being named a finalist is the first time he has been brought up in the search. It is an unsurprising move by UTEP Athletic Director Jim Senter to add someone with prior ties to the Miners like Sadler as a finalist.
Not on the list of finalists, perhaps to the disappointment of some UTEP fans, were former Miners Tim Hardaway and Greg Foster. Foster had reportedly shown interest in the job, but neither men have any significant collegiate coaching experience.
ACU’s Golding has been one of the clear frontrunners from the beginning. KTSM reported earlier this week that not only did UTEP have interest in him, Golding himself was also very interested in the Miners. The coach of the Wildcats since 2011, Golding oversaw their transition from NCAA Division II to Division I, and led ACU to the NCAA Tournament in 2019 and 2021, culminating in a first round upset of Texas last month.
Golding’s ACU teams have had a clear identity and his ability to get his players to play well within the system has been impressive to watch. They’ve also been staunch defensively; Abilene Christian led the nation in forced turnovers in 2020-21.
As KTSM reported, UTEP reached out to New Mexico State last week for permission to interview Jan and he’s always been in the mix as well (more on Jans in a moment).
The Baylor assistant Tang has also been brought up as a candidate by KTSM and other outlets from the start. Though he’s never been a head coach at the collegiate level, he’s been at Baylor with Scott Drew since 2003.
Baylor’s program was a dumpster fire when Drew and Tang arrived and Tang was instrumental in building the program from the ground up, culminating in the Bears winning the 2021 national championship last Monday. With Tang’s track record as a builder, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could quickly turn UTEP into a winner. Plus, since he’s been in Waco for 18 years, perhaps he would also hang around El Paso for awhile.
David Patrick, Arkansas’ associate head coach, was not a name that had been mentioned as a candidate before Sunday, but he is well thought of nationally. When he was an assistant at LSU, Patrick recruited future NBA number 1 overall draft pick Ben Simmons to Baton Rouge.
Patrick does have head coaching experience, at UC Riverside from 2018-2020, where he went 27-38. He’s also been an assistant at a few large programs around the nation other than Arkansas and LSU, including TCU and Saint Mary’s. He was also a scout for the Houston Rockets in 2011-12. A native of Australia, perhaps he would create a pipeline of international players to the Sun City if he were hired.
Finally, there’s Sadler, who was an assistant at UTEP under Billy Gillispie in 2003-04, before taking over as the head coach from 2004-2006. Sadler left UTEP to take over at Nebraska; when his luck ran out there, he was an assistant at Iowa State for one year, then got hired as the head coach at Southern Miss in 2014, before resigning in 2019. Since then, he’s been back at Nebraska as an assistant, and reportedly was not interested in being a head coach anymore prior to his name showing up as a finalist on Sunday.
Sadler appears to be the nostalgia finalist. Beloved in his two seasons as the Miners head coach, he was highly successful in El Paso, going 48-18. However, he hasn’t been able to completely recreate the magic at his other two head coaching stops. He took the Cornhuskers to a trio of NITs while in Lincoln, before going 56-94 in five seasons at Southern Miss.
The elephant in the room that New Mexico State fans don’t want to discuss is the very real possibility that Chris Jans is hired at UTEP. If that happens, the Aggies will have lost a second straight men’s basketball coach to a rival school after Paul Weir left NMSU for New Mexico in 2017.
The Aggies have done whatever they can to keep Jans around and happy in Las Cruces, giving him pay raises funded almost entirely by private donations in 2018 and 2019. If he stays at NMSU, he’ll get another raise later this spring, which was agreed upon in 2020 after Jans chose not to leave for a job at East Tennessee State.
However, the fact is this: UTEP can almost assuredly pay him more money. Plus, with the WAC suddenly about to become much more competitive over the next two seasons with the addition of multiple strong mid-major programs, trips to the NCAA Tournament will be more difficult to come by than the Aggies have become accustomed to.
Could Jans jet to the rival program UTEP, which is considered by some to be a top-100 job and is therefore a better jumping-off point for Power-5 vacancies than NMSU? Time will tell, but if he’s a finalist for the opening, it remains a significant possibility that he could leave, until he says otherwise.
While it would certainly sting for the Aggies to lose another coach to a rival institution, NMSU administrators told KTSM that there would be no hard feelings towards Jans, should he leave for UTEP.
On the flip side, should he spurn UTEP and return to NMSU, those same administrators said there would be no awkwardness; they would still welcome Jans with open arms.
No official timeline for making a new hire has been announced by UTEP, but it would be exceedingly surprising if the search drags on past Wednesday.