Erick Musselman - Nevada
Musselman inherited a roster that ranked 344th in 3-point shooting. Today, just two years later, they rank sixth. Always on the attack and working the extra effort, Musselman has instilled a culture and a community where there was none. Nevada ranks nationally for the first time in ten years.
Mark Pope - Utah Valley St
A program on the rise, it hasn’t been easy for Pope. Operating a day later and a dollar shorter behind the shadows of neighbor BYU and just forty-five minutes from University of Utah, the Wolverines are an afterthought where the local ski lift generates more revenue than their athletics budget. Still, they find a way to improve each year remaining competitive against top tier teams.
Dana Ford - Tennessee State
Athletics ticket sales don't even cover team travel. TSU is one of those athletic departments where roughly seven out of every ten dollars is coming from the school itself. Athletics operates at a loss. Dana Ford does not. He has led them through one of the most successful runs in their DI history not to mention lift them from the canyons to the peaks of the Ohio Valley.
Earl Grant - Charleston
AD Matt Roberts comes out looking like a genius with this hire. And as he says. "Our men's basketball program's success on-and-off the court is the direct result of Earl Grant's leadership and commitment to the College of Charleston." 9 -17-25 and on track for another 20 plus wins this season, the guy has done nothing but win in his four years.
Craig Smith - South Dakota
Their athletics budget reflects a dedication opposite to sports. Still, for as cold as it gets in the -20 degree winter ourside, its always blazing hot in the Dakota Dome. Smith leads the Coyote pack to new heights including their first Summit League Regular Season Championship and 18 wins a year and probably rwaching twenty plus this season.
John Brannen - NKU
While maintaining their DII resources, having only recently transitioned to DI, and despite operating in the heavily congested DI college basketball mecca Cincinnati Ohio, the Norse have docked. Since Brannen’s return home, he successfully lifted the program straight to the top like he did with four current NBA players and programs the likes of Alabama and VCU (assistant).
Mark Byington - Georgia Southern
Byington has the Eagles soaring to the twenty win plateau. He is developing all conference players; which hasn’t happened in the last ten plus years. Georgia Southern is traveling north towards the Sun Belt championship for the first time in that conference and to their first championship (regular season or otherwise) since 1992.
Travis DeCuire - Montana
Montana is a program that lives quietly in a small hut by the river on the twenty win plateau. Without national recognition, DeCuire continues the tradition in a state that thrives on poor resources and economic downturn simply because doing more with less is not just their athletics system but their lifestyle.
Scott Cross - UT Arlington
Always choosing the more difficult stairs over an elevator, Cross developed a grassroots approach to success. He rallied alumni, boosters, AAU coaches and high school coaches in the area to his aid through emails and hand written letters to the point of being annoying. He built the team together with his assistants and the community; through consistent hard work. #takethestairs
Ray Harper - Jacksonville State
From worst to first, the turnaround Harper completed was nothing short of miraculous. Operating on one of the lowest budgets in all of college sports, Harper maintains consistency in the classroom, on the recruiting trail, and on the court. And not just in DI, Harper previously exceeded expectations at the DII and NAIA levels.
Scott Nagy - Wright State
Fan engagement, season ticket sales, sponsorships, donations, and revenue all fell. A budget crises resulting in pay cuts of $28m overall. A town with options and a complete lack of interest in WSU. Enter Nagy, who, in two consecutive 20 win seasons, repeats the job he did for SDSU in the Summit and at the DII level. He generates revenue and interest in WSU basketball.
Pat Kelsey - Winthrop
Kelsey garnished over 100 wins twice leading Winthrop to the Big South season championships (2016, 2017) and three Big South Tournament runner-up finishes (2014, 2015, 2016). He finally captured a tourney championship last season to earn their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2010. Kelsey is doing so well with less, that he turned down a job with triple the resources.
Jon Coffman - Fort Wayne
The league’s lowest: paid coach, funded athletic dep. and market. Coffman’s recent contract ranks in the bottom five percent nationally. Despite all this FW is consistently and proudly showcased on the mantle of the Summit League. And it speaks volumes on how a unified vision from the top down can overcome a small budget, a minor market, even a poor basketball history
Steve Forbes - ETSU
An active Miocene-era excavation site, a State Historic Park, a Cherokee site with a replica of 18th-century Fort Watauga...this is more like the land of the forgotten where careers go to die. Not Forbes! Instead, and solely on the foundations of his deep basketball ties, he has reinforced the floor at J. Madison Brooks gym with success, culture and more.
Tony Shaver - William and Mary
The tribe are one of just five original DI teams never to have made the NCAA Tournament. They are forced to regularly play at least half non-conference games on the road against top-tier teams. This is a place where twenty wins means allot more. Always one win from history, Shaver continually finds a way to cage the elephant. Its a pressure no one else could ever understand and Shaver does it daily with aplomb.
Will Brown - Albany
His Great Danes are now known for giant size, speed, and athleticism. Brown has masterfully balanced their regal appearance atop the American East with dignity and strength. His powerful, well-formed teams have displayed a smoothly muscled body of work over his twelve years at the helm, while slowly metabolizing a small budget for a longer lifespan.
Jerrod Calhoun - Youngstown State
At the DII level for the last five seasons, he built Fairmont State into a national championship team. Now in DI, year one, and only five games into horizon play, he already accomplished the best conference start in school history. Without question he has the roadmap as his former boss (Huggins) did something similiar with nearby Akron, his success stories are only just beginning.
John Becker - Vermont
The off campus facilities come equipped with furniture and cinderblock walls that may very well be hand me downs from 1960 high schools as they closed their doors. However, the Catamounts were very fortunate to pick up another resource from the 60’s in HC Becker. Despite the weather and all the harsh elements, Becker simply wins in every facet of the game from development, academics, defense, post season play and more.
LeVelle Moton - NCCU
Always ranking at the top of their conference despite always being near the bottom in resources, including the smallest gym on our list; Moton wouldn't have it any other way. Long known as a relentless worker, he lives by the credo less is more. On and off the court he has proven that people respond to authenticity most.
Jay Spoonhour - Eastern Illinois
No one epitomizes this category like Spoonhour who has been climbing the ladder one level at a time proving himself every step of the way. The former National Junior College Coach of the Year, and Champion knows how to recruit for sustainability. What he is doing to turn the tides of respectability in Charleston Ill is simply a miracle.
Mike Young - Wofford
With a history dating back to the American Revolution, Wofford's athletic resources are just as scarce as the Colonies resources were in 1775. Luckily, Wofford too has their own General Washington; favorite adopted son Mike Young. Now 29 seasons on the job, continues to revolutionize Terrier basketball as a top mid major year-in year-out.
Mike Davis - Texas Southern
Curiously located literally across the street from University of Houston yet worlds apart in terms of their resources and budgets, Davis remaines determined and persistent. It’s a system which helps them strengthen leadership and create their own market of multiple All-SWAC players and championships.
Wes Miller - UNC Greensboro
Achieving the most wins in school history last year, Miller is starting to enjoy the fruits of his labor first planted six years ago. The guy literally wrote the book on how to navigate success in North Carolina. ’The Road to Blue Heaven’ is a brilliant marketing strategy for a guy with only one card to play as the nations youngest head coach… his role as fan favorite and key player on the 2005 UNC team.
Richie Riley - Nicholls St
The Colonels maintain the second lowest budget of any team on our list, a high school gym, and a two hour drive, minimum, one way, to play money game after money game. Nonetheless, since arriving on campus, Riley has overachieved and increased the total wins number. To date he is only three wins from tying last seasons high as they keep improving.
Kermit Davis - MTSU
When Davis arrived, the fanbase and facilities alike had become a barren wasteland. MT basketball resembled what those same grounds looked like just after the battle of Stones River during the Civil War. Nonetheless, Davis picked up the pieces and reinvented both himself and the Blue Raiders by continuously keeping his nose to the grindstone until he found a way that worked through innovation and determination alone.
Working with the harshest conditions and less than the average program in terms of budget, facilities, convenience, recruiting, resources and more, these coaches thrive.
*Ranking excludes Ivy League teams