It was the question the East Tennessee State fans knew they would have to face eventually: What will we do when we lose Steve Forbes?
Now that question need an answer, as Forbes has been officially announced as the next head coach at Wake Forest.
Forbes won 130 games and two Southern Conference Tournament titles in his five seasons at East Tennessee State, reaching the tournament championship game on four occasions. He was hired to replace Murry Bartow and re-energize Buccaneer basketball that had slipped as it transitioned from the ASUN to the SoCon.
Forbes became one of the highest-paid coaches in all over mid-major basketball, drawing a salary in the neighborhood of $600,000. That’s almost twice the salary of the next-highest paid coach in the Southern Conference, which is UNC Greensboro’s Wes Miller — also a rumored candidate for the Wake job.
While Forbes is off to the ACC to try and become the first coach since Skip Prosser to have any sustained success at Wake Forest, ETSU is left wondering where to go from here.
The good news for Buccaneers fans is that Forbes left the program in much better shape than when he got there. Forbes won 30 games for the first time in program history last season en route to a conference title.
Here are the candidates and here is how this could go down. If the Bucs want to keep their current class intact, they may look within for that next hire. Here are some candidates, internally and externally:
Jason Shay (ETSU associate head coach)
Shay and Forbes are lifelong friends, and like Forbes, Shay is an Iowa native. Shay has the acumen to keep the Bucs as regular contenders in the Southern Conference race, year-in and year-out. The question becomes: Will he be offered the job? If he isn’t, he’ll be alongside Forbes in Winston-Salem. Shay walked on for Iowa for Tom Davis’s Hawkeyes in 1995.
B.J. McKie (ETSU assistant coach)
McKie has been working his way up the coaching ladder after starting his career at that cradle of coaches known as Charleston Southern — the same place where Furman’s Bob Richey, North Carolina A&T’s Will Jones, and UNC Asheville’s Mike Morrell all once coached. Like Shay, McKie would be able to keep most the incoming class intact. As a player, McKie finished his career at South Carolina in 1999 and left as the school’s all-time leading scorer, with 2,119 points. McKie has an excellent rapport with the players and is not all that far removed from a great career in the SEC. He’d be a natural fit for the job.
Mike Morrell (UNC Asheville head coach)
The Elizabethan, Tenn., native led UNC Asheville to an 11-win improvement in his second season at the helm of the Bulldogs and is one of the brightest young minds in the mid-major coaching ranks. He also knows the area and grew up not far from Johnson City.
Michael Schwartz (associate head coach at Tennessee)
Rick Barnes and Forbes have a great relationship, so it would be natural to look just up the road to Knoxville for a potential replacement. That coach could be Schwartz, who has served in two different stints under Barnes during his time at Tennessee. Schwartz was the associate head coach under Barnes at Texas back in 2016, and re-joined Barnes at Tennessee in 2019.
Pat Kelsey (Winthrop head coach)
We know, he’s already at a successful mid-major program, but Kelsey has proven himself a winner during his eight seasons at Winthrop, posting a 163-93 overall record with four 20-win seasons. During his time as an assistant at Xavier under Chris Mack, Mack praised him as one of the top assistant coaches in the nation. Kelsey led the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament in 2017.
Barclay Radebaugh (Charleston Southern head coach)
Radebaugh is an East Tennessee State graduate and has carved out a pretty successful career as head coach at Charleston Southern. He was once a graduate assistant at ETSU in 1986-88, and was one of Furman’s top assistants under Butch Estes from 1990-94. Radebaugh even served as an assistant under Gregg Marshall from 2001-03 at Winthrop. Marshall was, of course, one of Forbes’ mentors at Wichita State.