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Originally published: 2014-03-11 17:17:15
Last modified: 2014-03-11 17:17:15

Behr: New hoops coach has work to do

by Steve Behr Sports Editor

My lasting memory of former Appalachian State men's basketball coach Jason Capel is of him coaching defense along the sideline.

Capel, whose contract was not renewed Monday, seemed to go back in time to his playing days at North Carolina  whenever Appalachian State was closing in on an opponent, usually a guard, close to the Mountaineers' bench.

That opponent was usually guarded closely by a Mountaineer. Sometimes, another App State player would close down.

Then there was the third defender -- Capel -- who would get into a defensive stance himself trying to get his players to force a turnover.

That always seemed like it could be intimidating to me. Facing two players looking for the trap is hard enough. Seeing a 6-foot-7 coach adding to the pressure, even if he was out of bounds, could not have made things any easier.

Those days have come to an end. Capel's contract was not renewed mostly because of the Mountaineers' performance, which was 9-21 in the 2013-14 season.

He finished with a mediocre 53-70 record, with the best season being his first at 16-15, in 2010-11.

Capel was hired to replace Buzz Peterson, who suddenly left after one season to coach at UNC Wilmington. Capel had just one season of coaching, his year as an assistant to Peterson that year.

He was hired, according to App State athletics director Charlie Cobb at the time, based on his life experiences, especially when he played professionally overseas. He was hired over Matt McMahan, who was a four-year player and then an assistant for 10 years at Appalachian State.

Now, Cobb faces his third hire for the position in six years.

He said Monday that a committee will be formed and, after a national search, they'll get the best coach they can find. He said he didn't keep a list of candidates handy, but there should be a long list of coaches willing to move to Boone.

Two names come to my mind who have the basics Cobb said he was looking for in a coach, which is success as a head coach no matter what the level.

The first is longtime Division I assistant coach Jeff Reynolds. He is a Mountain City, Tenn., native, so he is familiar with the territory.

Reynolds was a head coach at Division II Wingate, where he turned around an average program into a NCAA tournament qualifier. His 1999-2000 team went 26-4, and he coached eventual Denver Nuggets guard Junior Harrington while with the Bulldogs.

In my 25-year career, I've never seen a team play harder defense than those Wingate teams coached by Reynolds.

Cobb found App State women's head coach Darcie Vincent at California (Pa.) University from the Division II ranks after she coached the Vulcans to a 35-1 record and a national title.

The Mountaineers have won two SoCon regular season championships since she took over in 2008-09.

Reynolds also was a head coach at Air Force, but met with mixed results. His 2007-08 team went 16-14, but he had disastrous seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10 when the Falcons went 10-21 both years.

They also went 0-16 and 1-15 in the Mountain West Conference those seasons.

To be fair, not just anybody can play at Air Force. Their height limits to fly airplanes make it difficult to land that 6-11 center. I'm guessing there are no height restrictions at App State or in the Sun Belt Conference.

Reynolds has also been an assistant at Tulane. Before he went to Wingate, he was an assistant at UNC Greensboro. He is currently the director of basketball operations at Marquette.

The other coach I think can come in and win in the Sun Belt is Wofford boss Mike Young.
His Terriers just won the SoCon tournament for the third time in five seasons Monday. Another of those tournament wins was against Appalachian State in 2009-10.

He has been the head coach at Wofford since 2002. He has put together three 20-win seasons at Wofford, and his teams have not finished lower than third in its division since 2008-09.

Whoever Cobb hires, winning is only a part of coaching at App State. There are academic standards that Fancher took very seriously, and for good reason. Fancher took just as much pride, maybe more, in his players graduating as he did winning games.

There is also the empty Holmes Center that has only sold out twice in its existence. Attendance has gone down recently, but was not all that high either when the Mountaineers finished 25-8 and went to the NIT in 2006-07.

The new coach has to establish a winning tradition that goes beyond the regular season. App State has hung some banners for winning division titles, but has just two NCAA appearance banners.
 
The best way to get fannies in the seats is to win NCAA games. The 2006-07 edition beat Vanderbilt, Virginia and Wichita State, but never drew more than 5,000 for any home game.

The new coach will also have to find a way to bring a more attractive nonconference schedule to the Holmes Center. It is the finest facility in the Southern Conference, but the only teams App State was able to get to come to Boone this past season were Charlotte, Campbell and four non-Division I teams.

Charlotte was an interesting opponent and a potential rival that should be an annual visitor to the Holmes Center. But fans won't come up from Charlotte or the Triad to watch the Mountaineers play Bluefield College.

The good news for the new coach is that the Mountaineers are fully funded, will be able to offer a salary comparable to the Sun Belt coaches already in place, and have an outstanding facility in the Holmes Center. Win some NCAA games, and teams will want to come to Boone to play.

Capel gave it his best effort. He will land another job, likely as an assistant, soon.

The search for a new boss at App State starts today.