A new era in men’s basketball will begin soon at Kennesaw State University.
And while it would be fun to imagine Rick Pitino eating with recruits at the Big Chicken in Marietta, that’s not happening.
The Owls announced last week that head coach Al Skinner will step down at the end of this season and that a national search to find his replacement will begin immediately.
”We certainly appreciate the time Coach Skinner has spent at Kennesaw State,” KSU Director of Athletics Milton Overton said in a statement. “He has invested in the lives of countless student-athletes over the years and we wish him the best in the future.”
Skinner, 66, is wrapping up his fourth season at Kennesaw State, a school nestled in the suburbs just west of Atlanta, Georgia. It was his third gig as a head coach, and he was hired in 2015 after serving as an assistant at Bryant for two seasons.
Before that, Skinner was the head coach at Rhode Island and Boston College, and a pretty good one too. Skinner had a winning record in five of his nine seasons at Rhode Island, making the NCAA tournament twice. At Boston College, he guided the Eagles in the Big East and the ACC, winning two regular season conference titles, finishing above .500 eight times and guiding the Eagles to seven NCAA tournament appearances. He made the Sweet 16 once, and twice coached in the NIT quarterfinals.
But at Kennesaw State, Skinner never reached any level of success close to resembling what he accomplished in the northeast. In four seasons, he never had a winning record — in overall or conference play — and the Owls are limping to their worst finish in nearly five years this season. Currently, they’re 5-24 overall and 2-12 in Atlantic Sun play.
The Owls won a Division II national championship in 2004, and then transitioned to he Division I level during the 2005-06 season. It’s fair to say they haven’t been good at basketball since. In 14 Division I seasons, they’ve never finished above .500 in conference play. They’ve had just three seasons where they didn’t lose more than 20 games.
So, Kennesaw State is in the market for a fresh start. The job is attractive for a few reasons: One, the expectations are low. Two, it’s located in one of the deepest recruiting areas in the country. Three, Cobb County is a pretty decent place to live. Four, if someone can turn Kennesaw State around into an ASUN contender quickly, it could be a launching pad to bigger and better things.
One thing Kennesaw State has to look for in its search is someone who can recruit in metro Atlanta.
The Owls should follow the recipe for success that a nearby mid-major is using. At Georgia State, Ron Hunter has turned the Panthers into winners using homegrown talent. Now, guys like D’Marcus Simonds don’t just grow on trees, but Hunter has stocked his roster with 11 Georgia natives this year. He’s made Georgia State a place where, if the high-major school away from home doesn’t work out, kids from Atlanta can come back and contribute to a Sun Belt contender.
This year, Kennesaw State has just three Georgia natives on its roster. That number needs to grow. The talent is there and other ASUN schools have been cherry-picking the area while KSU has been napping. Lipscomb has two Georgia natives on its roster, FGCU has one, North Florida has four, Stetson has two, NJIT has two and Jacksonville has two.
And instead of hiring a coach looking for a rebound after getting fired, or a coach looking for one last job on their way to retirement, Kennesaw State should do for its basketball team what it did for its football team. To lead the Owls on the gridiron, KSU hired Brian Bohannon, a Georgia native who had never been a head coach before, but was a longtime assistant under Paul Johnson at Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech. Bohannon was eager to prove himself as a head coach and KSU gave him a space to do that. It’s worked out, as the Owls have become FCS contenders, winning the Big South twice and making the FCS quarterfinals the last two seasons.
The Owls need a coach who knows Atlanta and a coach with something to prove. Considering those qualities, here’s a few names the Owls should look at.
Jay McCauley, Wofford
McCauley is finishing up his second season as an associate head coach on Mike Young’s staff at Wofford, who – in case you’ve been living under a rock – are pretty dang good this year. He started his coaching career there in 2008, and then went on to also serve on staffs at Gardner-Webb and Furman before returning to Spartanburg. McCauley is from Cobb County, Georgia, having grown up in Marietta. He played at the University of Georgia, seeing action in 46 games. He was a manager for the 2008 team that won the SEC tournament. Based on his experience, recent success at Wofford and familiarity with Atlanta, McCauley seems like a nice fit.
Anthony Wilkins, Georgia Tech
Wilkins is just 38 years old and is finishing up his first season as an assistant at Georgia Tech. But in addition to being an Atlanta native, he also has ties to the region’s AAU circuit, having founded a team with Jerry Stackhouse in 2011 and formerly serving as a coach at the NBA Top 100 camp. Wilkins, who played his college ball at Kent State, was previously an assistant at Tulane from 2013 to 2018. Wilkins may not have as much experience as other candidates, but there’s no question he knows the Atlanta recruiting landscape.
Antonio Reynolds-Dean, Clemson
Another Atlanta native serving as an assistant at a nearby Power 5 program, Reynolds-Dean is wrapping up his second season on Brad Brownell’s staff at Clemson. Before Clemson, he had served on staffs at Fairfield, Northeastern, College of Charleston and his alma mater, Rhode Island. He is the only person in Rhode Island men’s basketball history to play on (1999), and coach on (2017) an Atlantic 10 Conference championship team. Brownell has called him an “outstanding” recruiter and Reynolds-Dean has been tasked with recruiting Texas, Florida and Georgia over his coaching career.
Pooh Williamson, Miami
Williamson, 45, has been coaching in college basketball since 1996, but has only gotten one brief shot as a head coach, serving as the interim at Tulsa in the 2004-05 season. He’s had a well-traveled career as an assistant, with stops at schools in the Big 12, CUSA, SEC, Pac-12 and American. He’s on this list because of his familiarity with Kennesaw State AD Milton Overton, as both were at Texas A&M from 2007 to 2009.
Andrew Wilson, Georgia Southern
Like McCauley, Wilson is from Cobb County, having grown up in Kennesaw and having attended Harrison High School, less than 10 miles away from KSU. He played his college ball at Florida State and became the Seminoles all-time leader in games played at 129. Wilson began his coaching career as an assistant at Charleston under Bobby Cremins, working there for six seasons, and he also had a stop in Binghamton. He’s wrapping up his sixth campaign at Georgia Southern, a team with five Georgia natives on its roster. Again, he’s a candidate who fits the bill when it comes to experience and familiarity with metro Atlanta.