Mar 21 / Rob

Why We Like the Mark Byington Hire

Mark Byington was hired to replace Louis Rowe as the Head Coach for JMU Basketball. Byington has coached Georgia Southern since 2013 and led the Eagles to a record of 131-97. He’s a Virginia native who won a state championship as a player in Salem, before moving on to UNCW where he was a three year starter. After college he had a few gigs as an assistant, with the majority of his experience coming under Bobby Cremins at College of Charleston.

Hiring Byington was unexpected, with rumors only starting to circulate that he was a candidate yesterday. And admittedly, he’s not a guy we were tracking or that familiar with before this. After digging into things a bit though, we’re really excited about the hire and on the bandwagon. Here are three reasons why.

He’s Managed a Rebuild

If you’re not very familiar with Georgia Southern basketball, that’s probably because it’s Georgia Southern basketball. The program is a bit of an afterthought at a school that has tremendous support for a successful football program. (Sound familiar?) When Byington took the job there in 2013, the school had a total of 37 wins in the prior three years. He turned things around to the point where the Eagles won 20 games in each of the last three years. That’s a big deal at a place like GSU, a school that hasn’t had much success to speak of since the early 90s. While we’d all like to think that JMU is a sleeping giant, the reality is that the program needs a coach who can rebuild it from the ashes. And Byington’s success at GSU shows he can do that. He’s not a guy who inherited a high performing program and kept the trains running. He took on a difficult job and made it work.

He Was an Apprentice Under a Great Coach

There are different pathways to success. Some guys bounce around serving as assistants at multiple programs. Others dig deep and settle in at one spot. The benefit of spending significant time as an assistant in one place, is it can give assistants a chance to learn how to manage all aspects of a program, in ways that go beyond Xs and Os. Byington had two stints as an assistant at College of Charleston, with the longest lasting 5 years. During that stretch, he worked for Bobby Cremins, a guy who not only won at CofC, but completely rebuilt Georgia Tech and Appalachian State as well. Byington was right there by Cremins side. He played a huge role in recruiting and was largely responsible for helping secure CofC’s only 5-star recruit, Adjehi Baru from Richmond.

JMU Committed to Him

For the past 20 years, JMU has shown tremendous support for athletics as a whole. Football is the obvious example, but it’s far from the only one. Men’s basketball has been a bit of an outlier though. The athletic department never seemed to be on the same page with Matt Brady, and even forced him to coach as a lame duck one season. Lou Rowe was a great guy, but in hiring him the school was giving him a shot to develop, rather than committing resources to a guy with a track record of success. JMU is reportedly giving Byington a 6 year deal with a $375,000 annual base and $75,000 of supplemental pay. That sort of contract shows JMU is all in. And while fans might want an immediate turnaround, the 6 year contract also indicates that JMU probably understands this might take time. But JMU finally is paying a market rate for a coach. And giving him a beautiful new arena to coach in. The school is all in on Mark Byington and JMU hoops. And so are we.

2 Comments

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  1. Mike in Columbus / Mar 21 2020

    thanks for posting something so quickly about the hire. I feel positive about the new coach but will not be surprised if it takes a while to turn things around. Most people felt Coach Rowe was a good recruiter but not a good game coach. I am not sure Coach Byington is left with a lot of good players. We kept expecting the current team to turn things around the last 3 years but they never did. Some of it was coaching but it really could be the talent isn’t there. From what I read Byington recruited good talent to GSU. Hopefully he can do the same for us. Really glad they did not go with Ralph Sampson who I heard was interested. that would have created some buzz but it just would have been too risky given the lack of recent success for the program. Got to get some wins and create some excitement to get students and the community to attend games and that really is sustained by building a program that consistently competes for NCAA tournament spots. Byington has been a head coach and had some success which is the opposite of what they hired when they brought in Rowe. Also liked Byington’s welcoming video. Time to start bringing men’s basketball up to the level of success our other programs have. Let’s go Dukes.

  2. CJ / Mar 25 2020

    Great job circling the wagons around Coach B and putting as positive spin on this hire as possible. For the record, I hope he succeeds and brings JMU MBB back to where it should be…which is a very heavy lift.

    But fans deserve a reality check. And there’s definitely two sides to this story.

    At a time when JMU MBB needs a shot in the arm and a splash hire, Coach B is “meh.” Hey, it is what is is. Sure, I give him credit for getting a struggling program back on the right track. And putting together a few 20-win seasons (JMU only dreams of that). But no NCAA or NIT appearances? No signature wins? No proven track record of winning on the big stage?

    I probably would have advocated for Mike Jones over Coach B. Overall record speaks for itself. Or even a superstar D II Coach.

    Here’s the ugly truth…. JMU is simply not in a position to command quality candidates. After years of floundering, and further deterioration under coach Rowe, no coach worth his salt would want to attempt to right this sinking ship. A new arena and a marginal increase in salary can’t sway a Coach Jones, Forbes, Miller, or any other coach worth his salt. simple career strategy…why leave a program you’ve built into a success to go back to rock bottom at JMU? No good coach would choose that. I bet a lot of good candidates simply turned us down.

    If nothing else… here’s a message to AD Bourne. How much are you spending on a head coach search consultant? I’m sure you won’t answer that. Well, whatever the fee it’s way the hell too much. Because I think you spent good five figures to find us coach Rowe four years ago and now coach b. I don’t think we’re getting our money’s worth on our search firm. It would be assets better allocated elsewhere.

    I know negativity isn’t welcome, but this is real stuff. nobody hears me though.

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