Drake has hired Furman’s Niko Medved as its next head coach, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.
Drake has hired Furman coach Niko Medved, sources told ESPN.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 26, 2017
South Dakota’s Craig Smith was Drake’s top target, but after he turned the job down the Bulldogs were focused on Medved with interim coach Jeff Rutter as a third option.
Medved spent four years at Furman, inheriting a last-place program in the Southern Conference in 2013. After two losing seasons to start his tenure, Furman jumped to third place last year and then shared this year’s regular season title with East Tennessee State and UNC Greensboro. He was also the 2016-17 SoCon Coach of the Year.
Rutter did a respectable job as the interim coach after Giacoletti resigned in early December. Rutter breathed some life into the program and the team started 5-4 in the MVC, but they finished the season on a 10-game losing streak.
The Bulldogs had one randomly great year under Keno Davis in 2007-08, who promptly bolted for Providence after going 28-5 with a Bulldogs team that spent the final two months of the season in the Top 25 and was a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Since then, Drake has had just two winning seasons and no postseason appearances. Before Davis, it had one winning season since 1987.
So bringing the Bulldogs to relevance is not an easy job, and every coach in the last 40 years but Davis has failed.
But hiring a young head coach coming off success in a smaller conference is something new for Drake. It’s been nearly 30 years since they tried it.
Drake fans may want to skip over this next part. It’s painful.
In 2013, the program hired Giacoletti, who took Eastern Washington to the NCAA Tournament and Utah to the Sweet 16 in the mid-2000s before losing his job with the Utes after consecutive losing seasons. Between Davis and Giacoletti, the Bulldogs hired Mark Phelps, who had over a decade of high-major experience as an assistant but no head coaching experience at any level. His best team finished 18-16. Before Phelps was Davis, who had been a Drake assistant under his father, Tom Davis, who retired in 2007. Tom Davis took Iowa to nine NCAA Tournaments in 13 seasons, but the Hawkeyes did not renew his contract after the 1998-99 season. Before that was Kurt Kanaskie, who had some success as a Division II head coach but won less than a third of his games in seven years at Drake.
The last time Drake made a hiring similar to Sunday’s was in 1988, tabbing Lamar’s Tom Abatemarco as their guy. Abatemarco was coming off a 20-win season at Lamar, but his tenure was over quickly after an investigation found mistreatment of players and NCAA rules violations.
So, hiring a hotshot mid-major head coach doesn’t always lead to success. But it’s been a while since Drake tried it, and the Bulldogs found a guy who has proven his ability to take a program from the bottom of a conference to the top in a reasonable amount of time.