Five First Time Head Coaches Enjoying Early-Season Success in Division I

Paul Weir took over as the new head coach at New Mexico State this off-season after Marvin Menzies accepted the vacant position at UNLV. Weir has led the Aggies to a 10-2 start to open the 2016-17 season. (Source: Andres Leighton - Associated Press) (Header Photo: Mitchell Layton - Arkansas State Athletics)
Paul Weir took over as the new head coach at New Mexico State this off-season after Marvin Menzies accepted the vacant position at UNLV. Weir has led the Aggies to a 10-2 start to open the 2016-17 season. (Source: Andres Leighton – Associated Press) (Header Photo: Mitchell Layton – Arkansas State Athletics)

Players aren’t the only ones who make their debuts in college basketball each November.

Each season, there are several first time head coaches who realize their dreams of becoming a head coach at the Division I level. Many have paid their dues, whether it be as an assistant coach in the NCAA, or as a head coach at a smaller institution. The journeys are undoubtedly long, but well worth it in the end, when they see the title of ‘Head Men’s Basketball Coach’ after their name.

The start of the 2016-17 season was no exception.

In total, there are 29 coaches across the country who are first-time head coaches in Division I this season. Some have been assistants at larger programs in the country, while others have been head coaches in the junior college ranks.

Regardless of where they came from, they are now head coaches at the top level of collegiate basketball.

The transition hasn’t been easy for every coach, as only nine of the 29 first-time coaches have a winning record through the first five weeks of the year.

Here are five coaches who are enjoying some early success in their first year at the helm in Division I.

Grant McCasland – Arkansas State Red Wolves

Record: 9-2
Notable Wins: @ Georgetown; v. Chattanooga, v. Lehigh

It may be McCasland’s first season as a head coach at the Division I level, but he’s enjoyed several years of success at the top level prior to coming to Arkansas State.

For the previous five seasons, McCasland was on the staff at his alma mater, helping to lead the Baylor Bears to an appearance in the Sweet 16 in 2013-14, a spot in the Elite 8 in 2011-12, and an NIT Championship in 2012-13. The Bears posted a combined 125-55 record over the five years that McCasland was on staff.

McCasland was named the head coach at Arkansas State on March 16th, 2016, and is the 15th head coach in school history.

In his first season at the helm, he has led the Red Wolves to a 9-2 record to start the year. Arkansas State had a seven-game winning streak going, but saw that come to an end against the TCU Horned Frogs two weeks ago.

Wins over the Georgetown Hoyas and Chattanooga Mocs highlight the early-season success for the Red Wolves. McCasland has Arkansas State in the thick of things when it comes to predicting the Sun Belt Conference, and the Red Wolves show no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Paul Weir – New Mexico State Aggies

Record: 10-2
Notable Wins: @ Arizona State; @ UTEP; v. New Mexico

Even with a first-time head coach leading the way, the New Mexico State Aggies are still as dominant as ever.

When Paul Weir took over for Marvin Menzies as the next head coach of the Aggies, he made a little bit of history. Weir became just the third Canadian ever to assume a head coaching role in Division I.

Before landing the head coaching role, Weir had spent the previous nine seasons with the Aggies. Five of those years, he was the associate head coach, and is known for his prowess on the defensive end of the floor. In addition to working on the Aggies’ defense, he directed the recruiting efforts for the program. His familiarity with the players is second-to-none, and he was rewarded for his work on the recruiting trails.

The respect he’s gained from his players over the years has undoubtedly allowed him to step in and have their trust from day one of becoming the head coach. Sitting at 10-2 through the first five weeks of the season, the Aggies once again look like the team to beat in the WAC.

Also, the fact that the Aggies have a Canadian head coach should come as no surprise to anyone who follows the program. They regularly have Canadian talent on their roster, so why not add a Canadian coach to lead the team?

Allen Edwards – Wyoming Cowboys

Record: 8-2
Notable Wins: @ Montana; v. South Dakota State; v. Northern Iowa

Following the 2015-16 season, the Wyoming Cowboys lost more than just their leading scorer in Josh Adams. They were also looking for a replacement for Larry Shyatt as the next head coach of the program.

They didn’t have to look far, as they stayed in-house and promoted Allen Edwards from assistant coach to head coach on March 21st, 2016. He became the 21st head coach in school history.

Over his five years with the Cowboys as an assistant, Edwards has gained the respect of the players who have come through the program, and he has the trust and support of the athletics administration.

Entering the 2016-17 season, Edwards was looking to build of the recent success of the program. Without Adams leading the way, it looked as though the Cowboys may take a step back. However, the exact opposite has happened.

Through their first 10 games, the Cowboys sit at 8-2, and have looked rather impressive to start the year. In a weaker-than-usual Mountain West Conference, we could be on the verge of seeing the Cowboys recreate the magic of two seasons ago, when they advanced to the NCAA Tournament as the 4-seed in the conference tournament.

Terry Porter – Portland Pilots

Record: 7-3
Notable Wins: @ San Jose State; v. UT-Rio Grande Valley; @ Oregon State

If there’s one name on this who everyone should be familiar with, or at the very least recognize, it’s Terry Porter. The 17-year NBA veteran, and former NBA coach, was hired by the Pilots as the 21st coach in school history.

Porter is a basketball icon in the Portland area, and he had his NBA jersey retired by the franchise back in 2009. In terms of his relationship with the city of Portland, this was a great hire by the Pilots.

With his basketball pedigree, Porter has led the Pilots to a 7-3 record in his first season at the helm. On Sunday afternoon, Porter and the Pilots went on the road and became the latest team to knock off the Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis, OR.

Wins over the San Jose State Spartans and the UT-Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros also highlight the strong start for Porter at Portland.

It was seemingly a match made in heaven for Porter. He’s got strong roots in the city of Portland, with his work in and around the community that stems from his professional playing days. Now, he also gets the opportunity to coach his two sons, Malcolm and Franklin, with the Pilots.

Wes Flanigan – Little Rock Trojans

Record: 9-2
Notable Wins: v. St. Bonaventure; v. Central Michigan; v. Tulsa

It’s tough for any coach to come in and take over a program who had one of the best seasons in school history the season prior.

Wes Flanigan was tabbed as the next head coach of the Trojans after Chris Beard took the vacant job with the Texas Tech Red Raiders, then the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. Like several teams on this list, they stayed in house and promoted Flanigan from associate head coach to the head coaching position.

After last year’s trip to the Round of 32, and a 30-5 record overall, many would have expected the Trojans to fall of a bit from last year’s record-setting year. Despite the loss of both Josh Hagins and Roger Woods, the Trojans haven’t missed a beat under Flanigan.

A 9-2 record to start the year is how the Trojans have performed so far. Wins over teams like the Central Michigan Chippewas and the St. Bonaventure Bonnies on a neutral floor highlight the impressive start for the program.

Flanigan’s familiarity with the program has allowed for him to come into his new role and excel from the outset. For the second year in a row, the Trojans are one of the top teams in the Sun Belt.

Other First Time Head Coaches with Winning Records:

Matt Lottich (Valparaiso): 9-2

Ryan Odom (UMBC): 7-3

Rodney Billups (Denver): 6-5

Anthony Stewart (UT-Martin): 9-4

– T. Bennett