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Coaching Search Bracket: Kim English vs. Todd Golden

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Kim English only has a season under his belt at George Mason, but his fast rise inspires hope. And out west, Todd Golden’s elevated a San Francisco program he inherited three seasons ago.

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NCAA Basketball: George Mason at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri’s embarked upon its fourth search for a basketball coach in roughly a decade, and as usual, you can find a listicle of candidates anywhere. We also know every fan has their preference. As does each of us on the masthead for this website.

A thought occurred to us: What would happen if you, me, and everyone else ran the process?

How are we doing this? Over the next four days, we’ll roll out four regions featuring a pair of matchups. We’ve assembled a profile for each candidate: their background, play style, pros, and cons. At the bottom of each piece is a poll, where you have 24 hours to make your preference known. The fan vote will make up 50 percent of the vote.

Who makes up the other half? The Rock M staff.

If the staff is unanimous and the fans make the same selection, easy enough. If, however, there is a consensus amongst the staff, but the fans disagree, we have a tie. To break the tie, we’ve enlisted the services of Jim Root (@2ndChancePoints), who will render the final verdict.

Today, we’re looking at the Young Blood Region. Here, it’s George Mason’s Kim English and San Francisco’s Todd Golden. The other pairing is Wyoming’s Jeff Linder and Cleveland State’s Dennis Gates.

Happy vetting, and feel free to share your reasoning in the comments after voting.


George Mason v George Washington Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images
  • Name: Kim English
  • School: George Mason
  • Age: 33
  • Seasons: 1
  • Record: 14-16
  • Salary: $925,000
  • Buyout: $1 million

Background

As soon as the horn sounded in College Park, the buzz started in Columbia.

Typically, George Mason picking off Maryland wouldn’t generate much discussion. Yet the Patriots coach also happened to tally 1,500 points and win a couple of Big 12 tournament titles in black and gold. And just six years after entering the coaching profession, he’d been marked as a future star.

Notching a signature victory just four games into his tenure, Kim English seemed to offer early confirmation. It also came two days after UMKC routed his alma mater at Mizzou Arena.

So, the chatter began about a homecoming. And even though the volume’s died down a bit as Mason came back to earth, it’s hard to discount roster retooling that helped English avoid a genuine reset.

He convinced star Josh Oduro to pull his name out of the transfer portal and then coaxed two high-major transfers in D’Shawn Schwartz (Colorado) and Davonte Gaines (Tennessee) to join him. On top of that, English landed bouncy wing Justyn Hernandez, who is rated 80thin 247Sports’ composite index, as a focal point of his first recruiting class.

Even if the record is pedestrian, the idea of English inspires hope: a potentially elite coach with direct ties to a program gone stale. The question is whether it is the right moment for a prodigal son to return.

No doubt, English’s albeit short resumé is impressive. He got his start with Frank Haith at Tulsa and jumped to Colorado a couple of years later. And in April 2019, Tennessee’s Rick Barnes tabbed the 30-year-old English to replace Rob Lanier, who’d taken the head coaching job at Georgia State.

The quick ascent makes sense, too. Haith worked for Barnes at Texas, and the coach English replaced at TU, Michael Schwartz, had left to join Barnes at Tennessee. Once in Knoxville, Schwartz rose to associate head coach. And the connections go further: Barnes’ first head coach job came at…George Mason.

While with Volunteers, English burnished a reputation as a top-flight recruiter. He headed up the recruitment of five-star point guard Kennedy Chandler. Meanwhile, he kept the Vols squarely in the mix for a future lottery pick in Duke’s Paolo Banchero, who heaped praise on English. “Coach English is almost like not even a coach to me,” Banchero told Pro Insight. “He’s kind of like a big brother.”

The question was when and not if English would get a shot to run a program, and he’d been linked to openings at Missouri State and Southeast Missouri State. But, ultimately, the Baltimore native couldn’t pass up George Mason, which sits in ripe recruiting territory and substantial resources to compete in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

The question is whether his rapid ascent will coincide with a return.

Play Style

English has said he’s drawn most of his stylistic choices from Haith and Barnes, the latter of whom will merge some modern concepts with a dash of Bob McKillop’s five-out. In other words, it’s a blend of familiar actions – Horns, Strong, etc. – that put a premium on spacing, bigs who can post but also play in the two-man game, and so on.

Pros

Well, he has a diploma from the institution. Of course, that’s not English’s sole qualification, but how many coaches with this CV – impressive at it is – would be sniffing a high-major gig?

This is a pure upside play. MU could triple English’s salary and still have ample flexibility to fund a top-end staff. English already has Dennis Felton serving as a voice of experience, but he could round out a trio that balances recruiting chops with scheme with enough cash.

Simply put, the price point allows the parties to grow together.

English also answers a chief critique of Martin – roster construction. Last fall, English said it’s the most important aspect of program building. “It’s player acquisition,” he told The Athletic last fall. Recruiting is tremendously important. How you acquire those players, how you build your team. Is it through high school players? Is it transfers? Is it a little bit of both?”

Cons

With upside also comes commensurate risk. Hiring an alum to restore glory is enticing and romantic, but it’s also a decidedly mixed approach. The stable of coaches in the SEC has improved substantially in the past decade, and those veterans are robustly supported.

Patience and resources will be required if you go down this path with English. Will that happen, though?

We know Mizzou’s spending increases are basically cost-of-living adjustments, and two of the past four coaches heard the volume of criticism ratchet up in their third seasons. So, how much grace will English get as he scales the learning curve?


Gonzaga v San Francisco Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images
  • Name: Todd Golden
  • School: San Francisco
  • Age: 36
  • Seasons: 3
  • Record: 57-35
  • Salary: Unknown
  • Buyout: Unknown

Background

Todd Golden began his collegiate basketball player under Randy Bennett at St. Mary’s University. There he left the program as the program leader in free throw percentage and top 10 in career assists. He spent two seasons afterwards playing in the Israel Basketball Premier League.

After a short stint in the advertising business, Golden was hired on by Kyle Smith at Columbia University as the director of basketball operations for one season before moving to a full-fledged assistant role for a second season. Then he moved on to Auburn University where he worked under Bruce Pearl for two seasons. The first as a director of basketball operations and the second as an assistant coach. While at Auburn, Golden was responsible for leading Auburn’s movement into analytical and metrics data.

When Kyle Smith accepted the University of San Francisco coaching job prior to the 2017 season, he brought Golden on as an assistant. The two coached together for three seasons and resurrected the Dons from an underachieving program in the West Coast Conference and turned it into a competitor, including two fourth place finishes in what has proven to be a very difficult league. After the 2019 campaign, Smith moved on to Washington State and Golden was appointed as the new first chair.

Golden’s first season picked up right where they old crew had left off, finishing at 22-12 and in fifth place in the league that had three projected NCAA Tournament bids prior to the cancellation of all things due to COVID-19. The 2021 season was a marked step back as San Francisco’s schedule was ravaged by Covid cancellations and postponements. The program started out 10-7 and 4-3 in league play before limping to a 11-14 (4-9) finish.

Of their last 7 losses, 6 were decided by 8 points or less. And then the program rebounded in a massive way. USF currently sits at 21st in Pomeroy’s rankings and finished the regular season 23-8 (10-6) in what is likely the strongest WCC to date. They own a record of 11-6 against top 100 foes. They are a near lock for at-large status.

Play Style

If Golden’s style of play is reminiscent of one team in particular, that team would be Auburn. Golden’s Dons fly up and down the floor and rank 86th in adjusted tempo. They let ‘em rip behind the arc, sitting 42nd in 3-point attempts rate. They currently ranked top 50 in offensive eFG% thanks in large part to their efficacy inside the arc, covering a 54.2 percent clip that ranks 37th in Division I.

They spread the floor and let experienced guards Jamaree Bouyea and Khalil Shabazz operate. They are lethal in transition, averaging 1.19 points per possession. They rely heavily on spot up attempts, shots out of ball screen actions and hand offs. Unlike many modern offenses where outside shots come purely off of catch and shoot opportunities, San Francisco is more than happy for 3-point attempts to come off of pull ups, much like Auburn.

Defensively, the Dons may be even better. They rank 18th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency per Pomeroy. They are extremely effective at preventing three point shots from being attempted. They rank 17th in allowing the fewest 3 point field goals per field goal attempted. This leads to a low volume and low quality of opponents looks from outside. They also do a very good job of cleaning the glass to disallow second chance opportunities.

On a larger scale, Golden prides himself as an analytics nut. This should be of little surprise considering his time spent under Kyle Smith. A recent piece in The Athletic delved into how Golden’s data-driven approach forms his game to game strategy as well as his program strategy. Golden has mined the transfer portal using these strategies to help his program compete with his mentor at St. Mary’s and the elephant in the room, the behemoth in Spokane.

Pros

Golden’s resume for a man his age is quite impressive. His devotion to analytics and finding the necessary edge to compete are enticing. The work he’s done at San Francisco this season after helping the program regain it’s footing under Kyle Smith is exciting. There aren’t many coaches in his age bracket that can compare. His teams play an exciting brand of basketball and have found success doing so. Without knowing his salary structure it’s impossible to delve into finances. However, we can assure you that a dollar in Columbia, Missouri goes further than a dollar in Silicon Valley.

Cons

With young age comes a lack of evidence. Golden has just three seasons as a head coach and five seasons as an assistant coach under his belt. At 36 that’s impressive. For a high major in a conference with a renewed devotion to becoming the elite league in college hoops, that’s light. That’s not to say it’s a dealbreaker, but when you’re looking for a safe bet, Todd Golden does not provide that. Furthermore, aside from two years on the Plains and one in New York, Golden has spent the rest of his life in the west. There aren’t many connections he has with the job, or even the region. Again, not a dispositive criterion, but one that will have to be overcome.


Poll

Which coach would you prefer to see leading Missouri next season?

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    Kim English
    (630 votes)
  • 40%
    Todd Golden
    (425 votes)
1055 votes total Vote Now