With a new men’s basketball head coach in place, Utah State Athletics Director John Hartwell is hoping to take a deep breath and not worry about searching for a head coach for a while.
Having been at the helm of Aggie athletics for nearly six years, Hartwell has had to hire many coaches. Football and men’s basketball draw the most fan attention and he has now hired the second coach for each sport in the last four months.
“Yeah, I hope for a little break,” Hartwell said with a chuckle. “But I would much rather have success and have guys have success. Doing a search every three or four years is a whole lot better than being mired in mediocrity. I firmly believe that.
“... Between hiring (head football coach) Black (Anderson) in December and now hiring Ryan, I’m ready to be out of the search mode a little bit.”
Earlier in the week Hartwell introduced Ryan Odom as the 20th head coach in program history. Odom came from University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) and replaces Craig Smith, who left after three very successful seasons to be the head coach at the University of Utah.
Hartwell has used search firms before to find head coaches, but felt time was of the essence and decided to do the search himself.
“I’ve done this enough in the last three of four years,” Hartwell said. “Being a good coach is a significant part, but also being a fit for our community is really key. I really feel like Ryan is going to be that. When I talked to people in the basketball business, he is a winner, has been a winner but wins the right way. He is all about character and integrity. ... I feel very comfortable going forward and him leading us.”
Hartwell gushed about his latest hire. Odom comes from a coaching family, but paid his dues. His first head coaching job was at Division II Lenoir-Reyne. USU is the ninth school he will have coached at.
“He has been at every level,” Hartwell said. “He has been very intentional about the opportunities he has taken. He has created his own path, which is really impressive too.”
Hartwell expects Odom to pick right up and not miss a beat. The Aggies have earned three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament. The plan now is to win a game.
Odom does have experience at the NCAA Tournament and made history when the Retrievers became the first 16th-seeded team to beat a No. 1 seed. UMBC beat Virginia back in 2018.
“Yeah, I remember that game,” Hartwell said. “One of the things that makes the NCAA Tournament so captivating for people is the desire to cheer for the underdog. I watched the follow-up game against Kansas State, and they had opportunities to win that. As he (Odom) mentioned to the team a little bit ago, ‘hey, it’s not that Virginia game that we remember, but it’s the Kansas State game. How close we were to getting to the Sweet Sixteen.’ Now, they do remember the Virginia game, but also letting a game get away.”
The USU AD said there was a lot of interest, and he did have six in-person interviews. He went on the road to conduct to meet with candidates and kept it confidential.
“At this time of year, it is always a moving target with things changing daily,” Hartwell said. “Our candidate pool was off the charts. You may do an interview, then two or three hours later or the next day, that person who is in the mix may have other opportunities.”
Last Monday is when he offered the job to Odom, who accepted and told his players at UMBC about his career move before it was released to the public.
“Word got out a little bit on Monday (before USU announced it), but what was important and having listened to our players here and what had unfolded for them 10 days before, is trying to keep it as tight as possible and respect him (Odom) wanting to let his team know,” Hartwell said. “We didn’t want people to feel they were left out or not notified. Our student-athletes are the most important. They are the ones that need to know that. It worked out.”
Now the AD will take a breather and prepare for the first year of football under Anderson, starting in September.