Izzo: All quiet on Bison women's basketball search

North Dakota State has been without a head coach for five weeks
North Dakota State athletic director Matt Larsen and deputy athletic director Todd Phelps look on at a Bison basketball game earlier this season. (WDAY-TV)
North Dakota State athletic director Matt Larsen and deputy athletic director Todd Phelps look on at a Bison basketball game earlier this season. (WDAY-TV)

FARGO - North Dakota State has been without a women’s basketball coach for five weeks and it’s all quiet on the who the replacement will be for Maren Walseth.

This is the optimum time to hire a basketball coach as the season has just ended and Wednesday the late signing period opens for basketball. The Bison have two players verbally committed, Gabby Jung from Dickinson, North Dakota and Emily Behnke from Two Rivers, Wisconsin. I spoke with Behnke on Monday morning who confirmed to me she will still sign with NDSU on Wednesday morning.

Who is running the team right now? Assistant coach Morgan Paige is running the day to day things, Nate Oakland, who was Walseth’s top assistant, took the Upper Iowa women’s job a few weeks ago. Keith Dickhudt, another assistant coach was let go when Walseth and the school parted ways.

As far as the coaching search, athletic director Matt Larsen is playing this pretty close to the vest. When I spoke with him about this topic a couple of weeks ago, he said they were not in a hurry to make a hire and still had some interviews to do. Unlike past coaching searches, we are not privy to the applicant process. According to NDSU’s Office of the Provost (which handles searches for head coaches), applicant names are exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests until they are named a finalist in the search process. This went into effect in August of 2017.

There are two schools of thought on the timing of hiring a coach. One is that NDSU needs to hire one immediately, to get out on the road recruiting and get a head start on the 2020 class. NDSU needs all the help it can get on that front. The Bison have eight players returning from the 2019 season finale, two seniors (Hanna Norman, a soccer player and Marina Fernandez) have graduated, while Tyrah Spencer is leaving after battling consistent knee injuries. Those three leave and add the departures of Reilly Jacobson, Macey Kvilvang and Sarah Jacobson, there are scholarships available for NDSU to use.

The Bison have signed two players already for the Class of 2019, Nicole Scales, a guard from Park Ridge, Illinois and Olivia Skibiel a 6’1 forward from Washington. Add in the two that will sign on Wednesday, that brings NDSU to a total of 12 scholarship players, meaning the new coach would have a maximum of three to use for this upcoming year.

The second school of thought may be the one that’s winning out. Take your time and hire the right coach. This is a major hire for Larsen. Yes, the program is at the bottom and has become the butt of jokes on social media. But we’ve seen dramatic turnarounds in women’s basketball, right in the Summit League. Western Illinois was bad for a while, JD Gravina came in and has turned the Leathernecks into a solid program.

For comparison sakes, Maren Walseth was hired as head coach on April 14th, 2014. Carolyn DeHoff was hired on April 11th, 2008. This is the window when coaches have been hired in the past in Fargo. We’ll see if that timeline stays true this week.