Image courtesy of Georgia Southern Athletics
By Bennett Conlin
Mark Byington is JMU’s new head men’s basketball coach, the school announced Friday evening.
Byington comes to JMU from Georgia Southern, where he led the Eagles to three consecutive 20-win seasons.
So, who is Mark Byington? Is this a good hire? Let’s take a closer look at JMU’s new leader.
Byington is 43 years old and played college basketball at UNCW. He’s familiar with basketball in the Commonwealth, having been a graduate assistant and an assistant at UVa. He also spent time as a Virginia Tech assistant.
His last last name is pronounced BUY-ing-ton, for those wondering. Here’s his full coaching background, taken nicely from Wikipedia.
Here’s his head coaching record.
He took a Georgia Southern program that rarely had success and helped turn the program into a competitive program. He also never took the team to the NIT. He never took his team to the NCAA Tournament.
Is this a good hire?
Reports say it’s a six-year contract for Byington. That’s interesting and could potentially work out well if he pans out. On the other hand, JMU hired a relatively unknown coach who has never made the NIT or NCAA Tournament and expects him to build a program that excites fans and attempts to fill a new 8,500-seat arena.
On paper, Byington seems like he should bring JMU up from its subpar seasons in recent memory. 10-win seasons should go out the window.
It’s a bit harder to guess JMU’s ceiling under the new head coach. Can the Dukes consistently contend for CAA titles under Byington? Is that even the bar? Do the Dukes want to become an elite mid-major program? If so, Byington has his work cut out for him.
We love …
We love what JMU shared in its release about Byington’s work with the athletes as people.
The release said, “Prior to his arrival, the Eagles had produced a winning season just once in seven years. In the seven years since, Byington has presided over excellence both on and off the court, notching six winning campaigns and averaging nearly 12 league wins per season while posting a 100 percent graduation rate and recording the 10 highest team grade point averages in program history across the last five years.”
The student-athletes excelled both on the court and in the classroom. We love that.
We love that Byington won games. We miss 20-win seasons so much. Please come back.
We love that Byington’s team ended this season on a win. The Eagles won their last game to advance to the Sun Belt semifinals before coronavirus concerns canceled the tournament.
We love that Byington’s squad recorded a couple recent wins over George Mason. The Dukes need to start winning more against in-state foes.
We love that Byington brings with him head coaching experience. One of most people’s initial concerns with Rowe was his lack of head coaching experience.
We love that the Dukes have a new head coach. We’re excited for what’s next.
We don’t love
We don’t love that JMU a relatively unknown coach. If there was ever a time to bring in a slightly more well-known name, even just in the Virginia area, it seemed like now.
We don’t love that Byington has to begin his tenure during this weird era where you can’t meet with people in-person due to most NCAA guidelines. Will his first interaction with the team be through Zoom?
We don’t love that Byington has never made the NIT or Big Dance. JMU expects that, so his first appearance in either tournament as a head coach would come at JMU.
The bottom line
We’re excited. We’re going to give him the benefit of the doubt.
We’re also slightly skeptical about this program’s ability to take a legitimate step forward and become more than it was under Matt Brady. We think it can easily be more successful than it was under Rowe, but Brady took the Dukes dancing. He had 20+ win seasons.
Can Byington make the Dukes a legitimate force in the world of mid-major basketball programs? We hope so.