By Kevin Sweeney
We have the first stunning coaching change of the 2017 coaching carousel.
Oklahoma State head coach Brad Underwood has reportedly accepted the same position at Illinois, according to Jeff Goodman of ESPN. Underwood departs after an incredibly successful season in Stillwater in which he engineered a turnaround from a 20-loss 2015-16 season to a 20 win campaign this season. However, Underwood was one of the lowest-paid coaches in the Power 5 in his only season at OSU, something we certainly won’t be saying now as he will likely receive a massive contract.
To say this hire comes out of left field would be an understatement. I hadn’t even heard a mumbling that Underwood could leave the Cowboys prior to this report. However, he now heads back to an area where he got his first Division 1 coaching job, as Underwood was an assistant at Western Illinois for 11 years.
The Illinois job was expected to receive tons of interest from many top names in the business, but the search appeared to be crippled by Indiana’s firing of Tom Crean, as most would consider Indiana to be a better job than Illinois. That forced the Illinois administration to broaden their search and open up their checkbook, but they wound up landing one of the best coaches in the business.
In Underwood, the Fighting Illini get a fearless winner who has brought energy and NCAA Tournament appearances to wherever he’s coached. He posted an absurd 89-14 record with a pair of NCAA Tournament wins in 3 seasons at Stephen F. Austin before engineering this season’s turnaround at Oklahoma State. His teams play an exciting brand of basketball that includes full-court press on defense and high-scoring offenses.
Oklahoma State now has to find a new head coach for the second straight offseason. If they look to replace Underwood internally, current lead assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Lamont Evans would likely be who the Cowboys look to. Other names to watch during the search could be Middle Tennessee HC Kermit Davis, Wichita State HC Gregg Marshall (if they are willing to break the bank, and OSU alum and TV personality Doug Gottlieb, who has expressed interest in coaching in the past. Current Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams was mentioned last offseason in connection with the opening, but it’s unclear whether he would be interested this time around and would likely also require a very expensive contract.