Nick Knacks

Column: Who Should Replace Bryan Mullins?

Henry Redman | The PhoenixCarson Shanks (right) celebrates winning the Missouri Valley Conference regular season with Ben Richardson.

As soon as Barry Hinson said “it’s time for me to step away” as Southern Illinois University head coach at Arch Madness, everyone in the room knew Loyola associate head coach Bryan Mullins would be a frontrunner for the job. The inevitable announcement came March 20, when Mullins was officially hired to return to lead his alma mater. 

Now, Loyola head coach Porter Moser has to answer a big question heading into the offseason: Who should he hire as his new assistant coach?

Mullins will be tough to replace. He was two-time Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Defensive Player of the Year at Southern Illinois, and he used that expertise to groom Ben Richardson into the league’s top defender. Richardson, in turn, passed his knowledge along to Lucas Williamson, who’s turned into Loyola’s best defender after Richardson graduated.

Nick Schultz | The Phoenix Former Loyola associate head coach Bryan Mullins (right) looks on as the Ramblers take on Bradley at Gentile Arena March 2.

But Mullins’ departure could be a blessing in disguise for Moser. It could allow him to hire someone who can work with the forwards and centers down low — players Moser has struggled with since he was hired at Loyola in 2011.

Although Cameron Krutwig has turned into one of the best players in the MVC (go ahead, make the joke about how I picked him to win Player of the Year in February), he’s the only big man Moser has seen sustained success with over the years. Other centers, such as Julius Rajala and 6-foot-8 Matt O’Leary, struggled during their time at Loyola. 

O’Leary averaged 4.0 points per game and 2.6 rebounds per game from 2012-14, while the 6-foot-9-inch Rajala averaged 2.2 points per game and 1.6 rebounds per game from 2014-16. 

Moser has succeeded with small-ball over the years, meaning he’d put someone such as 6-foot-6-inch forward Donte Ingram at center. But now, he’s got two talented centers to develop in Krutwig and first-year Franklin Agunanne. 

Krutwig’s seeing success because he can shoot and rebound, but he can also pass like a guard. He benefited under the tutelage of 7-foot center Carson Shanks, a graduate transfer during the 2017-18 Final Four season who was held back by miscellaneous minor injuries throughout the season.

Hang on a second. Shanks took Krutwig under his wing and helped transform him into the MVC Freshman of the Year, has a great basketball mind and is getting a bit of coaching experience as a volunteer video coordinator at his alma mater, University of North Dakota.

I think we’ve found a match.

Think about it. Krutwig, who was already great coming into college, managed to get even better with Shanks’ help. He has incredible footwork, which is part of what makes him so tough to guard. Meanwhile, Agunanne, a four-star recruit out of high school, seemed to have some trouble with “happy feet” this season and got tagged for quite a few travels. That can be fixed with help from a fellow tall guy.

Abby Schnable | The Phoenix Former Loyola associate head coach Bryan Mullins looks on as the Ramblers take on Creighton in the NIT.

Shanks had a decent college career at North Dakota, averaging 5.6 points per game and 3.0 rebounds per game in 81 contests for the Fighting Hawks. He also played professional basketball in Malta this year before taking the job at North Dakota, and has kept in close contact with the Loyola program. 

The players love him. The coaches love him. He has the mentality for the sideline. It’s almost a no-brainer.

“Almost” is the key word there. The only thing holding Shanks back could be a lack of experience on the sideline. But remember, Mullins didn’t have any coaching experience when Moser hired him in 2013 after four years of professional ball in France. That worked out pretty well.

This likely won’t happen, though, as Shanks told me he was looking to land a different job soon. But he said he wouldn’t necessarily rule out a job in Rogers Park.

“Anyone involved in basketball would be lucky to be part of Coach Moser’s staff,” Shanks said. “I’d be lying if I said [I wasn’t interested], but I’m hoping to take a job in the next couple weeks or so.”

If Moser decides to hire someone like Shanks, he has two routes. The first option is to hire Shanks as a full-time assistant coach, which seems like an easy thing to do. But he’d be a fresh face and outrank director of operations Jevon Mamon and video coordinator London Dokubo — both of whom have been on staff the last couple years.

That leads us to the second option, which would be to promote Mamon to assistant coach and Dokubo to director of operations. Shanks would move into the video coordinator position, and the coaching staff would be complete. It’d be a little bit of a shuffle, but everyone would get a promotion of some sort.

Moser caught lightning in a bottle once during his time at Loyola. Who’s to say he can’t do it again?

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