Centenary: Adam Walsh (1st season)
Adam Walsh may have the toughest job in the nation this season. He takes over a team in its last year of Division I play with talent more poised for Division III competition. It will be a long season in Shreveport, and Walsh will have the precious task of keeping his players motivated and encouraged through the many losses they are sure to endure. While wins will be few and far between for the Gents in 2010-11, it should provide Walsh's young men with a unique opportunity to improve themselves against the superior competition. He will learn a lot this year, too, and can take those lessons into the next chapter of Centenary's basketball program where he'll look to build a D-III power.
IPFW: Dane Fife (6th season)
Coach Dane Fife has been just the kind of guy the IPFW program needed as it chartered its path into Division I basketball. Despite the fact he'd probably land a high-profile assistant gig in a heartbeat, Mr. Fife has stuck with the Mastodons for five seasons now, leading the program to its first winning record in 2009-10. The former Indiana University standout has more or less built the IPFW program in its D-I era, aiming to make it yet another solid basketball contender in the Hoosier state. Fife's success hasn't gone unnoticed; over the summer, his name was mentioned as a candidate for a few head coaching openings, most notably at Toledo. While we'll never know how serious such overtures were, there's no doubt that Fife has made himself into a coaching commodity. For now, we'll see if he can lead his team to a second straight winning season. If he can do that, his name will start popping up more often when the Coaching Carousel starts to turn.
IUPUI: Ron Hunter (17th season)
Ron Hunter seems to get the most publicity of any coach in The Summit League, both for incredibly positive things and not so stellar instances. Whether he's walking barefoot or at the center of a race debate, Hunter generally comes across as one of the most likable coaches in the conference. Some fans may disagree with that statement, but I believe it to be true of the 17th year head coach. This season he'll coach star-in-the-making Alex Young, a junior who Hunter will be counting on to lead the Jaguars to a conference championship. For Hunter as an individual, the leading question for 2010-11 is, simply put, what will he do next? Here's to hoping some sideline joking with Oakland's Greg Kampe will ensue when the two meet in their annual series.
UMKC: Matt Brown (4th season)
If Matt Brown's Kangaroo team doesn't make some strides this season, one has to wonder how much longer he'll have to turn the program around. This year marks his fourth in Kansas City, a tenure that has been full of losing both games and players. If there is any coach on the hot-seat in The Summit League, it's surely Brown. For the sake of stability, let's hope UMKC can avoid the kind of dismal season that would lead to Brown's unemployment.
North Dakota State: Saul Phillips (4th season)
As is often the case with any job, sometimes people just get lucky. Saul Phillips took over the NDSU program from Tim Miles just as it was completing the final year in its reclassification process. In his second season and NDSU's first with postseason eligibility, his Bison squad made a memorable run to the NCAA Tournament. While that team had to be coached - a job Phillips did admirably - much of the talent was recruited by Miles. Now entering his fourth season, Phillips has brought in a number of his own recruits and will be working to find continued success in The Summit League. His job is likely as safe as they come, but the Bison fans will be keeping a close eye on the program this year to see if the new and young returning players can continue to develop into legitimate hoopers.
Oakland: Greg Kampe (27th season)
The clear question for Oakland coach Greg Kampe heading into the 2010-11 season is what will he do with his hair? In 2009-10, Kampe rid himself of the curlicues fans had grown fond of in exchange for a fresh buzzcut. The new hairdo was accompanied by much success for the coach's Golden Grizzlies. In a few appearances this summer, OU's leading man was seen sporting the long locks once again, though our expectation is that superstition will set in and he'll be buzzed before the first game of the season. Another possibility is that he'll keep his hair long until after the West Virginia game, if not only to prove he can do the "casually-dressed coach with a full head of hair" look better than the Mountaineer's Bob Huggins.
Oral Roberts: Scott Sutton (12th season):
For a guy who comes from a family that's in the news a lot, Scott Sutton is a rather boring dude. I mean that respectfully, of course. His teams are always solid, to the point where ORU is a perpetual top-three team in The Summit League. Because of his success with the Golden Eagles, his name comes up every now and then as a "hot" candidate for a bigger gig elsewhere, yet every time one thinks he might consider leaving, he stays put in Tulsa. As a college basketball fan, it's tough to have many qualms with Sutton. He's just solid. Expect more of the same in 2010-11.
South Dakota State: Scott Nagy (16th season)
Scott Nagy seems to me a very loyal man who probably has as much of an impact on his players off the court as he does on it. Nagy enters his 16th season as the coach of South Dakota State with expectations to make some noise in The Summit League for the second straight season. Early on, there were folks who questioned Nagy's ability to coach and recruit at a Division I level, but I believe he has proven his ability to do both. His recruiting class this year is very strong and will look to take SDSU to the next level over the next few years. This season will be about how Nagy handles the higher expectations and integrates new players who might have more talent than some of the experienced veterans.
Southern Utah: Roger Reid (4th season)
The fact that the expectations at Southern Utah are probably quite tame probably helps Roger Reid overall. Entering his fourth season, he hasn't exactly led the Thunderbirds to the kind of success that warrants job security, yet you can hardly blame the coach alone. SUU is such a bad fit for the conference in its current form that it'd be incredibly difficult for anyone to lead the program to the promised land of college hoops. A program like SUU needs a guy who has no coaching ego, someone who truly wishes to help guide the team through the long seasons of losing in order to set a foundation on which to achieve success in the future. My gut tells me Reid is a man of such character, though at some point soon he'll have to field a team competitive enough to make it into the conference tournament, at the very least.
Western Illinois: Jim Molinari (3rd season)
I'm a firm believer that Jim Molinari has the Western Illinois program on the rise. The Leathernecks have such a sad basketball history (truly, it will make you weep), so credit Molinari for having the guts to go to Macomb, Illinois, of all places, to help build a winner. He still has a lot of time left before the hawks start circling. This season, a winning record would be outstanding for Molinari. While WIU might be a year away from reaching that goal, it's certainly something to hope for.