It’s been nearly two weeks since the surprise dismissal of Linc Darner as the head coach of the Green Bay Phoenix men’s basketball program and so far the names of any potential candidates have not been leaked.
The latest update from the college basketball coaching rumor mill website HoopDirt says “there are no legit names right now” and that “the Green Bay administration is currently working to identify candidates.”
“Any names you hear right now are purely rumors,” they wrote.
With that being said, there have been a few names that have been mentioned more than others and a few names of low level college basketball coaches that don’t really seem to make sense. It is not likely that Green Bay athletic director Charles Guthrie parted ways with a fairly successful Division I head coach in Darner at this stage of the offseason to hire an inexperienced WIAC coach.
So without further ado, here are some names that could make sense:
The name most mentioned by various media outlets and the Twittersphere is St. Norbert College head coach Gary Grzesk. The 47 year old former Phoenix player and captain has been a finalist for the Phoenix head coaching job each of the last two times the position has become available – first back in 2010 when the school hired Brian Wardle and again in 2015 when Darner was hired.
Despite not getting the job either time he is still interested in the role this time around according to Green Bay’s ABC affiliate WBAY-TV. “A source close to [Grzesk] said they believe he is interested in the job if Green Bay is serious about him taking the over the position,” the station reported, suggesting that the successful Division III head coach may not be interested in going through another drawn out process only to be a finalist without landing the job for a third straight time.
Grzesk, originally from Wauwatosa, played at Green Bay from 1992-1996 appearing in 120 games for the Phoenix and made three NCAA Tournament appearances including the 1994 first round upset of California. After his playing career he was a Division I assistant coach at Youngstown State from 1996-2002 before spending one season as an assistant at Green Bay in 2002/2003.
Since then he has had a pair of head coaching stints, first with Lakeland College in Sheboygan where he went 51-31 in 3 seasons before taking over the reins at St. Norbert in 2006 where he has turned the Green Knights into a perennial top 25 Division III program. Grzesk is 274-86 (.761) in 14 seasons at St. Norbert, including a 23-5 campaign this past season, and has won 9 conference titles and made the NCAA Tournament 7 times.
Grzesk has been publicly endorsed by a couple of his former teammates including Jeff Nordgaard – one of only two Phoenix players to have his jersey retired – and Eric LeDuc and was endorsed by former GB coach Dick Bennett as well as his son, the current Virginia head coach and Phoenix legend Tony Bennett, back when the job was open in 2015.
Another coach with Green Bay ties who has been publicly endorsed is former Phoenix assistant and current Bradley assistant Jimmie Foster. The Milwaukee native has the endorsement of former Green Bay head coach Brian Wardle as well as former Phoenix and current Cleveland Cavaliers forward Alfonzo McKinnie. Foster was an assistant in Green Bay for five seasons and followed Wardle to Bradley where they have won back-to-back Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championships. He helped lead the Phoenix to its first Horizon League regular season championship in 18 years back in 2014.
Foster’s in-state roots could also pay dividends on the recruiting trail. “He can recruit Wisconsin,” Wardle told the Green Bay Press Gazette. “A lot of my success at Green Bay had a lot to do with Jimmie. I had a great staff. I think he has a staff that could come and help him. He knows people. Everyone knows Jimmie.”
“It’s a guy that I would highly recommend for that opportunity. It’s a good fit for him, too.”
Another name that has “expressed interest” according to the Press Gazette is former Wisconsin Badgers standout Joe Krabbenhoft. The 33-year old Sioux Falls, South Dakota native has spent the past four seasons as an assistant at Wisconsin and prior to that was an assistant for three seasons at South Dakota State.
The Jackrabbits made the NCAA Tournament as a #12 seed in his last season with SDSU falling to Maryland 79-74 in the first round. Wisconsin won a share of the Big Ten regular season title this season and would’ve made the NCAA Tournament for the third time in Krabbenhoft’s four seasons as an assistant in Madison.
He appeared in 136 games for the Badgers as a player from 2005-2009 helping Wisconsin to a 100-36 record and four NCAA Tournament appearances and one Big Ten regular season championship.
Saul Phillips is a Wisconsin native that has had success as a head coach at the mid-major level. The current head coach at Northern State, a Division II school in South Dakota, Phillips is coming off of a 26-6 season and a regular season and conference tournament championship in his first year leading the Wolves.
Before taking over at Northern State he was the head coach at Ohio where he went 81-77 overall (40-50 in the MAC) in five seasons including a pair of 20+ win seasons. However, he seemed to run into injury issues which helped contribute to back-to-back 14-17 seasons leading to his firing in March of 2019.
But before taking over at Ohio, Phillips had success at North Dakota State going 134-83 overall in seven seasons leading the Bison to two Summit League titles and two NCAA Tournament appearances including a first round upset of Oklahoma in 2014. NDSU has a smaller men’s basketball budget than Green Bay so the success is noteworthy.
Phillips is a Reedsburg, Wisconsin native and played collegiately at UW-Platteville for Bo Ryan. In addition to being a Division I head coach he has been an assistant at UW-Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and NDSU.
In addition to Phillips, if the Phoenix are looking to Division II for their next head coach as they did in 2015 when they hired Darner from Florida Southern one potential option from the same conference could be Lance Randall.
Randall returned to St. Leo University and led the Lions to a 16-13 record in his first season back in Florida. He had previously coached at St. Leo from 2011-2015 compiling a 78-44 record while winning the program’s only Sunshine State Conference title in 2013 and earning three straight Division II NCAA Tournament appearances. The program has only posted two 20+ win seasons in its 54 year history with both coming under Randall’s watch.
In addition to St. Leo, Randall has been a head coach at Division II Lindenwood University and Division III Webster University and has a combined 206-147 head coaching record. He served as an assistant coach at Loyola Chicago and Saint Louis and also was an assistant at UW-Stevens Point when the Pointers won the 2010 Division III national championship. He won several WIAA state championships as the head coach at Oshkosh West High School going 71-3 overall in three seasons, including winning 48 consecutive games during that stretch. Randall played college basketball at Beloit College.
Another potentially intriguing candidate without direct ties to Green Bay or the state could be someone like Roger Powell, the 37-year old former collegiate standout at Illinois. Powell is currently an assistant coach at Gonzaga after spending three seasons as an assistant coach and associate head coach at Vanderbilt from 2016-2019. He has Horizon League experience as an assistant at Valparaiso from 2011-2016 and has Midwest roots as a Joliet, Illinois native.
A few other Division I assistants with state ties that could potentially be long shot candidates include names like Julian Swartz or Omar Lowery. Swartz is a Wisconsin native and current assistant coach at Georgia Tech after spending four years as an assistant at Memphis. He was the Wisconsin high school basketball Player of the Year in 1999 at Waukesha South and was a freshman on the Wisconsin Badgers 2000 team that made the Final Four. After a brief stint as a student at UWGB he finished his collegiate playing career at Carroll College in Waukesha. Lowery has been a Division I assistant coach for 14 years, spending the past four at Butler. He has also been an assistant at Texas State, Cal Poly, San Jose State, Sam Houston State, and Milwaukee. Virginia assistant Brad Soderberg, who has extensive history as a Division I assistant and head coach, and former Green Bay player Ben Johnson, currently an assistant for Terry Porter at the University of Portland, have also been mentioned as potential candidates.
An up and coming coach like Racine native Sharif Chambliss is probably still a few years away from getting a head coaching job but he has potential and an interesting resume as a former Big Ten player at Penn State and Wisconsin as well as extensive Horizon League experience as an assistant coach at Milwaukee and now Wright State.
Is Green Bay’s next head coach on this list? Maybe, maybe not. If Darner’s hiring in 2015 taught us anything it’s that sometimes the candidate that gets hired is someone that is completely off anyone’s radar.
According to the job posting on the UWGB website the head coaching position will be accepting applications until Sunday (May 31) which is consistent with the university’s policy that all jobs be posted for a minimum of ten calendar days. After that, “sources said UWGB hopes to hire a new coach by June 12, but timelines never are certain” according to the Press Gazette.
But in the meantime, while there aren’t any concrete rumors, let the speculation continue.
Photo via Press Gazette Media