Top Candidates to Become JMU Men’s Basketball’s Next Head Coach

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin and Jack Fitzpatrick

Mark Byington left JMU for Vanderbilt, it was reported Monday. That leaves JMU’s Jeff Bourne in need of a new men’s head basketball coach. 

Given Bourne’s recent track record of hiring, we’d expect him to favor current head coaches for the role. Let’s take a look at candidates who fit that mold. 

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Home-run hires

We nailed Bob Chesney as a “home-run hire” in our initial JMU football coaching candidates article. Will JMU take another big swing at a rising coaching talent for men’s hoops?

Bucky McMillan, Samford – McMillan will be a Power Five head coach soon. Could he hop to another mid-major program first? A former high school head coach, McMillan has led Samford to three consecutive 20-win seasons, including 29 wins this year.

Samford nearly upset Kansas in the first round of the tournament, and McMillan’s fast-paced offense would surely keep JMU fans entertained. He fits the Chesney mold of an up-and-coming coaching star, but would he want to leave Samford for another mid-major? That’s debatable.

This hire seems more unlikely after the news broke that McMillan and Samford agreed to an extension. This extension likely raised his salary and added a buyout that takes him out of the Dukes’ price range.

Matt Langel, Colgate – Langel has led Colgate to five NCAA Tournament appearances in the last six seasons, and it was only COVID that kept the team out of the Big Dance in 2020. He knows how to win at a mid-major program, with Colgate dominating the Patriot League in recent years. The Sun Belt is a conference that cares more about athletics than the Patriot League, so JMU could make sense to Langel as a possible stepping stone to a Power Five gig.

Russell Turner, UC Irvine – A former Golden State Warriors assistant, Turner has been the head coach at UC Irvine for over a decade. He’s won big there, making three NCAA Tournament appearances and a pair of NITs. They’ve finished inside the KenPom top 150 in 12 consecutive seasons, including sitting at No. 80 in 2023-24.

He’s been on the West Coast for decades now, but he’s a Roanoke native. Might he consider returning to Virginia?

Bob Richey, Furman – The current head coach at Furman, Richey is 156-71 in seven seasons there. He’s just 41 years old, and he led the Paladins to an NCAA Tournament win over UVA in 2023. Furman was just 17-16 this season, but he’s a quality coach with a lot of winning experience at the mid-major level. He may also prefer to stay at Furman and ultimately leverage that success into a Power Conference gig.

Editor’s note: Thanks to Christopher William Jewelers for the advertising support.

Other top names to monitor 

Mike Jones, UNCG – Once at Radford, Jones was a candidate in JMU’s last hiring cycle. UNCG has won 20 games in two of Jones’ three seasons, including the 2023-24 campaign. Other candidates may have a higher ceiling based on previous results, but he has a high floor as a head coach. 

Griff Aldrich, Longwood – He’s turned Longwood into a competent mid-major team, with the Lancers making the NCAA Tournament in two of the last three seasons. He has strong ties across Virginia, and he’s coached at the AAU level previously. He knows how to coach winning basketball, and he’d be highly intriguing leading a program with JMU’s resources. He’s woefully underpaid at Longwood, given his basketball acumen.

Robert Jones, Norfolk State – Another in-state possibility, Jones has been with Norfolk State for over a decade. He’s led the program to a pair of NCAA Tournaments, and they’ve won 20+ games in three straight seasons. Like Aldrich, Jones could thrive with more resources. Jones is a really good head coach.

Donnie Jones, Stetson – Jones has been the head coach at Marshall, UCF, and Stetson. He led Stetson to the NCAA Tournament this season, and he led UCF to three 20-win seasons in his six years with the program. He’s been an assistant at both Florida and Dayton, and he spent a year as a scout for the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers. He’s capable of leading a winning mid-major program, and sources indicate he’s interested in the opening. 

Sources indicate that Donnie Jones may make a strong push to land the job.

Joe Gallo, Merrimack – Gallo has seamlessly led Merrimack into Division I and only NCAA transition rules have kept the team out of the Big Dance. He’s won the NEC regular season title three times since 2020.

Alan Huss, High Point – A former Creighton assistant, Huss led High Point to 25+ wins in his first season as a head coach in 2023-24.

John Becker, Vermont – He’s been to the NCAA Tournament five times since 2017. Becker knows how to win mid-major basketball games, and if he’s looking to build a new program into a consistent conference winner, JMU could offer better resources and a higher salary than Vermont.

Jack’s Top 3

  1. Bucky McMillan, Samford Recently signed an extension that likely takes him out of JMU’s price range
  2. Alan Huss, High Point
  3. Matt Langel, Colgate
  4. Joe Gallo, Merrimack

Bennett’s Top 3

  1. Matt Langel, Colgate
  2. Russell Turner, UC Irvine
  3. Alan Huss, High Point

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