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  • Writer's pictureColby Peterson

WOMEN'S HOOPS: Five Potential Head Coaches for Weber State’s WBB Vacancy

Updated: Apr 11

Photo Credit: Colby Peterson, Weber State Weekly

Weber State AD Tim Crompton and team turned the page on women’s hoops on campus, recently parting ways with head coach Velaida Harris.

Harris won 29 games out of a possible 145 in 5 seasons at the helm for the Wildcats, compiling a stark 20% win percentage. During that stretch, 15 of those wins came in Big Sky play, including last year’s first round Big Sky Tournament win against Sacramento State in Boise.

A national coaching search is currently underway to find Harris’ successor and we’ve got a few potential candidates that we feel would be solid hires to take the reigns in the Purple Palace in the fall.

1. Courtnie Smith, Idaho State Assistant Coach

Smith just wrapped up her second season as an assistant at her alma mater, Idaho State. In her first year on staff, she helped the Stripes win both the Big Sky regular season and tournament championships. In that 2020-2021 run, the Stripes boasted three All-Tournament players and the Big Sky Tournament MVP, G Estefania Ors.

Prior to joining the staff at Idaho State, Smith took over a floundering Blackfoot High School women’s basketball program as head coach. After winning no games in her first season, the team jumped to second in the conference in her second year, and first in her third. She won region Coach of the Year for her efforts in that third season. A coach who has built a program up from a tough spot could pay dividends as the Wildcats look to return to the glory of 2003 and 2004, their only conference championships to date.

Another factor that might draw Smith down from Pocatello: Her daughter, F Taylor Smith, committed to Weber State back in November of last year. Taylor averaged 11.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 4 assists while shooting 31% behind the arc last season at Century High School.

We haven’t heard any rumors that Smith has expressed interest in the job and her resume at the college-level is a little short. But, her track record at the high school-level could give Wildcat fans an idea of what is possible should she be a candidate.

2. Mike Russell, Syracuse High School (UT) MBB Head Coach + fmr. Snow College WBB Head Coach

Should there be interest from him for the job, Russell is an interesting option for the Wildcats. He’s an alumnus of Weber State, graduating in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Ed and has an appealing amount of coaching experience in Utah.

After graduating, he spent eight years just down the road from campus at Bonneville High School as the athletic director and women’s basketball head coach. He led the Lady Lakers to the state playoffs seven times in those eight years. He also won Region 5 Coach of the Year in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Boasting all that success in Washington Terrace, Russell headed to Snow College in Ephraim, UT to take the job as head coach of the Lady Badgers in 2015. In six seasons at Snow, the Lady Badgers won 20-plus games four times, including a conference championship in 2019. It was their first conference chip in nearly 20 years.

Russell is currently the varsity MBB coach at Syracuse High in Utah, just a 20 minute drive from Weber State. With a resume like his, he’d be crazy not to apply. He’s won basically everywhere he’s coached and we’d love to win more in Ogden.

3. Val Nainima, Michigan WBB Assistant Coach

This is where we actually have something to go on. We’ve heard rumors that there is interest from an assistant coach on Michigan’s WBB staff, but we don’t know who. From what we can deduce, there are two likely candidates. The first is Assistant Coach Val Nainima.

Originally hailing from Fiji, Nainima played her college ball at LIU Brooklyn, where she won NEC Player of the Year. After two seasons, she transferred to juggernaut South Carolina to finish her career. She earned SEC All-Conference Second Team honors in her junior year playing for South Carolina and US Olympic head coach Dawn Staley in Columbia. With degree in hand, she moved on to her first job in basketball.

Starting out as a video coordinator at Fordham University in the 2014-2015 season, she worked her way up the ladder, becoming an assistant in seven productive seasons for the Rams. Nainima directly coached two standout point guards in to back-to-back Atlantic 10 Player of the Year honors: Bre Cavanaugh (2019-20) and Anna DeWolfe (2020-21). That’s the kind of backcourt development Wildcat fans would love to see in Ogden.

On the heels of those results, she jumped over to Michigan, where she’s been for two seasons, coaching point guards. The Wolverines went 25-7 in her first season as an assistant, the second best mark in program history, and reaching the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. This year, the Wolverines downed Mountain West champion UNLV in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before falling to the same LSU squad that just beat #2-seed Utah a few days ago.

4. Erin Batth, Michigan WBB Assistant Coach + Recruiting Coordinator

The other candidate on staff at Michigan that we felt might be an interested party in the head coaching position at Weber is Michigan assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Erin Batth.

Batth just wrapped her first season at Michigan after four years at NC State. In her time at State, the Wolfpack claimed three straight ACC titles and reached the Sweet 16 or beyond in the NCAA Tournament in all four of those years.

Her specialty is coaching post players, including 2021 ACC Tournament Player of the Year and All-American C Elissa Cunane. Cunane was later taken in the second round of the WNBA draft and currently plays for the Seattle Storm.

In addition to Michigan and NC State, Batth has a lengthy coaching resume dating all the way back to 2004, including schools like Liberty, Georgia State, Tennessee Tech, Towson, Virginia, and VCU. Nearly every single one of those stops includes playing in the NCAA Tournament at some point. When you tally up all her experience, she’s easily the most qualified and experienced potential candidate on our list with coaching connections all across the country. If she were to get the job, she would likely also put together the most experienced staff Weber State has ever seen.

5. Jordan Sullivan, Utah assistant coach

Our final potential candidate (based on total speculation w/o any knowledge of actual interest in the position) is University of Utah assistant coach Jordan Sullivan. Swallow your pride, Wildcat fans. This might be a tough one for you.

Sullivan played her college ball for the Lady Griz at Montana and the dynasty that was under legendary Big Sky coach Robin Selvig (also, Sullivan’s uncle). Sullivan reached the NCAA Tournament twice in a Lady Griz uniform in 2011 and 2013. After graduation, she played professionally in Europe for two seasons, then returned to Missoula to begin her coaching career.

In six seasons at Montana, Sullivan started as Director of Basketball Ops and worked her way in to an assistant coaching position. While there, she coached some names Big Sky WBB fans are likely very familiar with: Sophia Stiles, Carmen Gfeller, and Abby Anderson. Though times have changed and the Big Sky championship no longer runs through Missoula like it once did, Sullivan was part of the tail-end of that dynasty and understands the culture of winning that Selvig established up there. We could use some of that in Ogden.

Sullivan just wrapped up her first season at Utah, seeing the Utes to a top 5 ranking, the program’s first Pac-12 regular season title, a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and a Sweet 16 berth. Wildcat fans got a front row seat to what Utah was about this year when the Utes came to the Purple Palace and dealt the Wildcats an 88-52 drubbing. Sullivan’s experience in the front court as a player and coach no doubt helped Junior F Alissa Pili in her stunning success this year, being named Pac-12 Player of the Year and a Wooden Award Finalist.

With her experience in the Big Sky Conference, close association with the winning culture established by Robin Selvig at Montana, and her most recent season on staff with a stellar Utes squad, Sullivan looks like a pretty solid hire on paper, if she were interested in the job.

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