After the Loyola men’s basketball team lost to Bradley University in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament March 9, the team headed back to Chicago. Shortly after the Ramblers’ return, associate head coach Bryan Mullins headed to Carbondale, about six hours south of Chicago, for a job interview with his alma mater, Southern Illinois University (SIU).
The interview came after SIU’s previous head coach, Barry Hinson, announced he was resigning from the program after seven years at its helm. Mullins, a four-year letterwinner for the Salukis, was seen as a front-runner for the job from the beginning. One day after the Ramblers’ season ended in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), Mullins was announced as the youngest head coach in the MVC at age 32.
But he’d accepted the job before Loyola’s NIT matchup with Creighton University March 19.
“[SIU Athletics Director Jerry] Kill called me … right before the NIT and offered me the job,” Mullins told The Phoenix. “It was tough because of my relationships with the guys [and] my relationship with [Moser] … but to be able to come back to my alma mater, to a place where I played and had so much success and have great relationships down there, I thought the opportunity was too good to pass up.”
Mullins spent the past six seasons alongside Loyola head coach Porter Moser, starting as director of basketball operations in 2013 before moving up to assistant coach and, eventually, associate head coach. He saw the program go from finishing 4-14 in MVC play in 2013-14 to 15-3 in conference action in 2017-18 en route to the Ramblers’ first Final Four appearance since 1963.
But before he arrived in Rogers Park, Mullins was a fan favorite in Carbondale as the Salukis’ point guard from 2005-09. He was a four-time MVC All-Defensive Team nominee and two-time MVC Defensive Player of the Year while also leading SIU to the 2007 NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen. He graduated in 2009 with a degree in finance and headed off to France to pursue a professional career.
When Mullins retired from professional basketball in 2013, Moser gave him his first college coaching opportunity. Mullins said his bond with Moser and the rest of the Loyola coaching staff was tough to leave behind, despite the fact his alma mater was calling.
He added that without Moser, he wouldn’t have climbed the college basketball ranks as quickly as he did — which is why he isn’t worried about his age.
“I feel like [Moser] has given me a great opportunity and given me a lot of responsibility the last couple years and … has really prepared me for being a head coach,” Mullins said. “I think I’m prepared and I know those head coaches [of] every team we play against, they’re not going to care if I’m 60 or if I’m 20. They’re going to prepare for us like every other team.”
More than a month after taking the job and putting together a coaching staff, Mullins said he’s happy to be a Saluki again.
“It’s exciting,” Mullins said. “It’s been refreshing to be back in the community … and realize how important the university is to that region and how much people love SIU basketball down there, so it’s been awesome.”
Moser has voiced his support for Mullins during that time, as well. In a press release shortly after Mullins’ hiring was announced, Moser said he was thrilled his top assistant was moving up the coaching ranks.
“I am so happy for Bryan to get this opportunity to lead his alma mater,” Moser said in his statement. “I am so grateful for his friendship and loyalty working side-by-side with him for the last six years. He is a tireless worker in addition to being a first-class person and is a perfect fit to lead Southern Illinois University.”
When SIU comes to Gentile Arena next year to face Loyola, Mullins will be on the visiting sideline for the first time. Although the game’s not on the schedule yet, he said he’s already looking forward to making his return.
“Hopefully it’ll be competitive,” Mullins joked. “It’ll be awesome, though. The people at Loyola are amazing. … I have tons of relationships there, so to be able to see everyone again, it’ll be a special game.”