UT coaching search under way

Kowalczyk may not have to travel far to replace 2 assistants


Tod Kowalczyk mined the local area in recruiting a year ago, signing three of the top prospects within an hour’s drive of Toledo and getting involved in other battles. Should he choose, the University of Toledo basketball coach soon could scour those same reaches to hire assistants.

A number of qualified candidates nearby could fill two spots on Kowalczyk’s staff that opened since the weekend, from Division I assistants, to lower-level head coaches, to a recent college graduate with a coaching pedigree and a name that resonates throughout the Midwest.

Kowalczyk, who will make his first coaching hire since 2010, said he “absolutely” will vet candidates with ties to the area. He acknowledged Ryne Smith, the Whitmer graduate and former Purdue standout, “is a candidate,” and current assistants in the Mid-American Conference have expressed interest.

“I’m going to take my time to get the right guy,” Kowalczyk said. “If the right guy happens quickly, then great. If it doesn’t, I’m OK waiting until June 1.”

The second departure from the staff, associate head coach Angres Thorpe, said Tuesday he is leaving to be an assistant at University of Missouri-Kansas City. Thorpe’s friend, Kareem Richardson, is the new head coach at UMKC. On Saturday, Ryan Pedon accepted a job at Illinois, breaking up a band at Toledo that had been united since its arrival three years ago.

“Two of the finest people and two of the finest coaches I’ve had a chance to be around,” Kowalczyk said.

What he lacks in experience, Smith makes up for in name recognition. The son of a successful high school coach, Smith — who spent the recent season at Purdue as a student assistant — knows the profession.

Moreover, his name rings throughout Indiana, a fertile recruiting state in which Kowalczyk said he would like the program “to have a better presence.” Smith’s father, former Whitmer coach Bruce Smith, is tight with Kowalczyk.

Kowalczyk is reluctant to speak directly about other candidates, because they are employed at other universities, but assured he will hire a minority to replace Thorpe, who is black.

Kowalczyk is unlikely to promote Michael Bennett, the director of basketball operations who also is black, because the former Ball State player “has not been in this profession very long, even though he’s a very mature guy.”

Another minority candidate worth examining is Adrian College coach Mark White. Twice a Michigan state champion as coach of Detroit Renaissance, White has orchestrated a turnaround in four seasons at Adrian, his alma mater.

Finding an Ohioan to replace Columbus-native Pedon is not imperative, unlike three years ago when Kowalczyk arrived with few ties to the Buckeye state and plucked Pedon from Miami. Kowalczyk and Rockets assistant Jason Kalsow, who is expected to return for his fourth season, have developed inroads in the state.

Still, attaining more Ohio recruiting power isn’t a bad thing.

One must wonder if Toledo hoops legend Dennis Hopson would be interested. The Bowsher graduate who played professionally for 13 years, including six in the NBA, is in a tenuous spot professionally as an assistant at Bowling Green State University.

His boss, Falcons coach Louis Orr, is entering the final year on his contract, and there is a prevailing belief Orr’s employment will not continue unless BG has a stellar season. Hopson, 47, may wish to start searching rather than wait a year when he could be unemployed.

Hopson’s co-worker, LaMonta Stone, might also be a candidate for the same reason.

Kowalczyk also may consider Owens Community College coach Dave Clarke. A graduate assistant manager at Toledo from 2006 to 2008, Clarke compiled a 50-18 record in two years with the Express. His biography on the school’s Web site states he obtained a master’s degree in recreation and leisure studies from UT.

A wild-card candidate: Dave Boyce. Kowalczyk has long admired the tactical acumen of the Perrysburg coach, though Boyce’s lack of experience in the college game likely would disqualify him from consideration.

CULLOP’S CONTRACT: UT women’s coach Tricia Cullop is receiving a $37,000 raise, The Blade learned by obtaining the amended contract that she recently signed. Cullop will make $250,000 next season, her sixth at Toledo, and will earn an additional $10,000 every year for the duration of the deal. The length of the contract was extended two years to 2022.

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.