GRAND FORKS -- In a matter of a week, the University of North Dakota athletic department had two head coaches in higher profile sports announce departures.
Coaching moves in Division I athletics are common, but the next destination for the coach in each instance raised some eyebrows.
Men’s basketball coach Brian Jones is leaving a head coaching job for an associate head coaching role at Illinois State of the Missouri Valley Conference.
Volleyball coach Mark Pryor is remaining a head coach but dropping down two levels to coach a Division III program in Texas.
Neither coach’s contract was ending this season.
The timing of the two moves, each with somewhat odd professional developments, made some wonder: What’s going wrong in Grand Forks?
Nothing, says UND Athletic Director Bill Chaves, who was hired by UND in early 2018.
“The timing is ironic more than anything,” Chaves said. “Each situation is its own. If I thought there were commonalities, it would give me pause. If these situations weren’t so distinct and unique, then I would be more concerned about something needing to change.”
The one obvious common theme between the Jones and Pryor moves is family.
Pryor said he wanted to live closer to family in Texas, while Jones said similar things about family in Iowa.
Both coaches also indicated their decision was influenced by the taxing nature of travel from such a northern location as Grand Forks.
Chaves came to Grand Forks with a reputation as an athletic director who makes excellent hires.
The former Eastern Washington AD brought football coach Beau Baldwin to Cheney. Baldwin, now the offensive coordinator at Cal, came from NCAA Division II success at Central Washington.
Baldwin ended up going 85-32 in nine years at EWU.
Chaves also hired men’s basketball coach Jim Hayford at EWU. Hayford, now the head coach at Seattle University, had built an NCAA Division III power at Whitworth before going 106-91 in six years at EWU, winning the Big Sky Conference tournament in 2015.
Perhaps Chaves’ best hire at EWU was women’s soccer coach Chad Bodnar, who made the jump from the junior college ranks. In four years, Bodnar turned a last-place program into back-to-back Big Sky tournament champs.
“I’ve been through a lot of these searches and you might think you know how it’s going to end, but you never really know how it’s going to end,” Chaves said.
UND has said both job openings will be national searches that begin immediately. Despite the two openings, Chaves said the challenge comes with the territory.
“Like I always tell my staff, you never know what’s going to walk through the door,” Chaves said.