Coaching Overhaul: Klinkefus last remaining from Nagy’s staff

Changes are on the horizon for the SDSU men’s basketball program and the Brookings community. 

ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported Sunday afternoon that Scott Nagy was on the verge of accepting the head coach position at Wright State University. On Monday, both Wright State and South Dakota State University made it official in separate press releases. 

Nagy, who spent the last 21 years leading the Jackrabbits, was officially introduced as the Raiders head coach in a press conference Tuesday, April 5. 

“Every step of the way, in terms of the phone interview, the interview on campus,” said Nagy during his introductory press conference at Wright State, “I knew that this was the right place for me.”

The now-former SDSU coach had been courted for other head coaching positions in the past, namely by Northern Illinois University after the program’s 2012 NCAA Tournament appearance and Ball State University after its 2013 appearance, but returned to the Jacks each time. 

Some former players had mixed feelings upon hearing the news of Nagy’s departure, many spending Sunday night on the phone talking to each other about the situation. 

“I was a little surprised,” Zach Horstman said, “but when you think about it, it was coming at some point. You wouldn’t fathom you’d see an overhaul from a program (of this caliber).” 

A native of Winner, South Dakota, Horstman played for SDSU from 2011 to 2015 and was part of two Summit League regular season championship teams and on the roster for each of the Jacks’ first two NCAA Tournament appearances. 

A new head coach is not the only thing SDSU will need to find for the men’s basketball team. Along with Nagy, assistant coach Brian Cooley, director of basketball operations Clint Sargent and director of player development Nick Goff will also join the Wright State staff. 

On top of that, assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft will be joining the University of Wisconsin staff under new head coach Greg Gard, announced Monday. 

Though the loss of Nagy was expected by many to come at some point, losing mostly the rest of the coaching staff was a difficult pill to swallow for some. 

“That’s one thing I’m really surprised about,” Horstman said of the losses of the four assistants. “From a player standpoint, it feels like your connection [to the program] is gone.”

With these departures, only one coach from the 2015-16 staff remains: assistant coach Rob Klinkefus. 

Klinkefus, who has been with the Jackrabbits coaching staff and Nagy’s top assistant for the past 10 years, will now apply to become the new head coach. 

A number of other names have surfaced as potential candidates for the job, many of which have ties to the state of South Dakota. Three names other than Klinkefus continue to pop up in speculation of SDSU’s new head coach: Ryan Miller, Tom Billeter and Matt Margenthaler. 

Miller is currently an assistant coach at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and the younger brother of two-time NBA All-Star and Mitchell, South Dakota native Mike Miller. The Miller family name pulls significant weight in the state due to Mike’s NBA success. Macy Miller, Mike and Ryan’s cousin, plays for the SDSU women’s basketball team. 

The disadvantage for Miller is his lack of experience as a head coach, which could make his resume appear weaker to other potential candidates. 

“SDSU’s going to get some tremendous candidates,” said Carlson, “so it might be hard (for Miller) to top those guys.” 

Billeter is currently the head coach at Augustana University, who just captured the program’s first Division II national championship. 

His head coaching experience dates back 1992 when he became the head coach for North Dakota State University where he stayed until 1997. Prior to that, Billeter spent two years servicing as an assistant to legendary head coach Lute Olson at the University of Arizona. 

Margenthaler has direct ties to SDSU as he spent six years (1996-2001) as an assistant coach under Nagy before becoming the head coach at Minnesota State University-Mankato. During his time with the Mavericks, Margenthaler’s teams have finished with 20 wins or more in 11 of the past 12 years and appeared in the Division II NCAA Tournament 11 times as well. 

“Hopefully it will be a short timeline,” SDSU athletic director Justin Sell said, “but we want to make sure we follow all of the steps we need to and a lot of that just comes down to timing. We’re going to make sure we follow all the steps that we want to and do all the homework we need to, to get it right.”

Though some people outside of the program have called for an outside hire, current and former players prefer to keep it in house by giving the job to Klinkefus, citing his familiarity with the athletic department and giving the returning players some sort of stability moving forward. 

“My hope is that Klink gets a shot as the head coach,” Brayden Carlson said. “He’s the guy for the job. Why ruin a good thing? He’s as ingrained in that program as anybody besides Nagy.” 

Carlson, a Brookings native, spent five years with the Jackrabbit basketball program, playing under Nagy, Klinkefus and Cooley throughout the duration of his career and was part of the program’s first two NCAA appearances. 

“If I’m a high school player being recruited, knowing what I know now, I’d play for Klink in a heartbeat,” Horstman said.

Sell also said that the players will meet with prospective candidates, but their input won’t ultimately decide who gets the job. 

Should the head coach position go to somebody other than Klinkefus, the number of losses from the 2015-16 roster and staff will rise to 13, with possibly more to follow. 

In addition to the five coaches, the Jacks will look to fill the void left by five graduating seniors — George Marshall, Deondre Parks, Jake Bittle, Cory Jacobsen and Keaton Moffitt — as well as two transfers in Logan Doyle and Connor Devine. Hiring someone other than Klinkefus could result in the few players left to look into transferring into other programs. 

Rumors had surfaced about the possibility of other players transferring prior to the coaching shakeup. Those rumors will likely intensify within the coming weeks, as is customary in college basketball with coaching changes. 

Nagy spent the past 21 years with SDSU, so the situation is new for everybody involved, but it is not lost on former Jackrabbit players about the current ones possibly looking to play elsewhere. 

“This is a very unique situation,” Carlson said. “Some guys are best friends with one of the coaches and the coaches [could be] a lot of the reason to pick the school. They have to consider what’s best for them.” 

Carlson said each player should look at their individual situation and make a decision, open themselves up to the recruitment process all over again and go from there. Horstman says the players should consider the community and fan support they receive in Brookings and on the road from Jackrabbit fans and alumni. 

Because the situation is foreign to those at SDSU and in Brookings, news of the coaching changes shook up the community, some likening it to a family member passing away. Carlson said that’s a bit much for this situation, but understands how some can take it harder than others. 

“At the end of the day it’s just a coaching change,” Carlson said. “It’s strange because he’s been here for 20 years and Brookings is a small town, so it’s a bigger deal.”

Sports reporter Andrew Holtan also contributed to this article.