The Rams parted ways with Jeff Neubauer on Tuesday, who only won 37% of his games in 6 seasons at the helm. Who should replace him?
By Jake Zimmer Twitter: @JakeZimmer12
It was truly only a matter of time before the curtain closed on Jeff Neubauer’s time at Fordham, and he got the news that college basketball pundits and fans alike had been expecting for quite a while. Fordham announced on Tuesday that they’ll part ways with the sixth-year head coach, a move that some marked as “long overdue.”
After a 17-14 effort in his first campaign during the 2015-16 season, Neubauer will forever be tied to a dismal 61-104 (a solid 37%) marker for the rest of his time leading the Rams.
Neubauer leaves a team, program, and athletic department that, to speak candidly, is in shambles. Many believe that his only saving grace from not being terminated after a 9-22 effort in the 2019-20 season was their athletic director Dave Roach’s early retirement - it may have bought him another season. Unfortunately for him, Neubauer only survived another nine months - and one win - in the Bronx.
While new fans of college basketball wouldn’t necessarily appreciate the appeal of the Fordham head coaching job, pundits and experts understand its significance. The Rams led the NCAA in total program wins for most of the first two-thirds of the 20th century, and made 6 NIT appearances over a span of 11 years through 1958-69. Fordham made the NIT every year for five consecutive years under Tom Penders from 1981-85.
Reports are out that the new Fordham coach can potentially rake in an annual salary of just under a million dollars, which certainly sweetens the deal.
With Twitter wasting virtually no time identifying replacements for Jeff Neubauer, let’s look into some potential names you may hear associated with the Fordham Rams’ coaching vacancy over the next few months.
Kyle Neptune, Villanova assistant coach
Any Jay Wright coaching tree product would be a great hire, and Brooklyn native Kyle Neptune is no exception. Neptune, a standout at Lehigh in the mid-2000s, has a well-rounded coaching resume at Niagara and Hofstra, and begins his 8th year as the “wright-hand man” (sorry). Respected by many basketball coaches on the East Coast and beyond, it’s only a matter of time before Neptune needs to spread his wings. Take it from his boss, Jay Wright: "Kyle has demonstrated all the qualities you want to see in a young coach - commitment, passion, and the ability to communicate with young people.” And, on his development skills: “He is one of the best individual development coaches we’ve had at Villanova.” In a program that so desperately needs leadership, a recruiting expert, and a developmental guru, Kyle Neptune might be the answer. I’d love to see Neptune get his shot to build a program from the ground up, and Fordham would be an excellent place for him to do it.
Grant Billmeier, Seton Hall assistant coach
Billmeier’s name has been associated with a few head coaching vacancies over the past few years, and rightfully so - he was named the second-best BIG EAST assistant coach last year in Jeff Goodman’s survey for Stadium. I’d always considered him a great fit for an NEC team - especially with rumors of Greg Herenda (we’ll get there) potentially leaving Fairleigh Dickinson for other more high-profile New York-area jobs. Billmeier is well-known for his development of big-men, which might in theory be a bit less of a fit for a Fordham group that desperately needs perimeter shooters. But Billmeier’s above-average recruiting ability, his track record, and his high praises from Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard make him worth a phone call.
Kimani Young, UConn assistant coach
We’ve established two major needs for the next Fordham Rams head coach: recruiting and perimeter shooting. Kimani Young is an expert in both of them, and the comments are consistent across the board. Now in his third year with Dan Hurley at Connecticut, Young’s resume includes working with Richard Pitino during his stints at Minnesota and Florida International, and proved himself to be an excellent resource for developing three-point shots. But it’s not just the athletic skills that Young continues to grow in his players - Young’s background and connections in NYC grassroots basketball programs, mainly from his stints at New Heights Youth & the Aim High Foundation in Brooklyn, would be a lethal force to recruit, attract & retain new talent.
Luke Murray, Louisville assistant coach
Murray was not a name that was originally discussed when Fordham gave clues they may part with Neubauer in the spring, but it’s hard not to think that his time is coming. Murray more than likely has the best resume on this list - his stints under Dan Hurley at Wagner and Rhode Island, Sean Miller at Arizona, and now Chris Mack at Louisville are some of the most impressive accomplishments of any active assistant coach in the NCAA. The 2019 Louisville recruiting class, ranked 9th in the nation by ESPN, was largely the work of Murray, according to Chris Mack: “He’s one of the most organized, detailed and high-energy recruiters that I’ve ever been around,” he said. Murray was the third-highest assistant coach to make the ESPN 40 Under 40 list in 2020. It truly is only a matter of time for Murray’s first head coaching gig, and it’d be natural for a native of Palisades, New York to be considered for the Fordham job.
Greg Herenda, Fairleigh Dickinson head coach
Let’s start with some hard-hitting analysis - everyone loves Greg Herenda. The fun-loving head coach of the FDU Knights enters his 8th year as the head coach in Teaneck, and has had his share of cutting down nets as well. Fairleigh Dickinson, a perennial force in the Northeast Conference, punched its ticket to the Big Dance in 2016 and 2019, and won a play-in game against Prairie View A&M in their most recent appearance. Herenda’s strengths are certainly in recruiting New Jersey and NYC metro-based talent, so he’d be worth an interview to rebuild Fordham’s ailing program. He also hosts “The Greg Herenda Show” on the student radio station at FDU, so doesn’t it feel only right to move it to WFUV?
There are also folks that will be associated with the job that I don’t believe we’ll see becoming the next head coach at Fordham.
Jared Grasso, Bryant head coach (former interim Fordham coach in 2009-10)
Grasso is one of the hottest names on the market right now, and Twitter was quick to throw his name out for the Rams job. After all, Grasso has quite a few ties to the area - he grew up in Syosset, helped Tim Cluess build a championship program at Iona, and even served as the interim head coach for the Rams in 2010. While I agree that the prospect of returning to NYC and bringing home more than $900k to support his family must be appealing (per sources, this would multiply his current salary by more than 4x), there are a few reasons why Grasso should pass on this job.
Grasso is in the middle of architecting one of the best turnarounds in NCAA history. When he took over the program from Tim O’Shea in 2017-18, Bryant was 3-28, finishing dead-last in the Northeast Conference. Through what he describes as a “relentless pursuit of progress,” Grasso built a strategically layered culture based on hard work, a desire to see the team succeed, and grooming players to become professionals. While the team is currently 10-3 (6-2 in conference play) with its only non-conference loss coming by 1 point against Syracuse, take it from Grasso himself: “(As a program), we’re not nearly where we need to be yet.” At his introductory press conference in 2018, Grasso made a promise to cut nets down. He’s a man who honors his word, and I believe he’ll keep it until he establishes some enduring success at Bryant. If he’s able to to live up to it, he’ll have much bigger offers waiting for him in a few years.
Shaheen Holloway, St. Peter’s head coach
Many of my comments on Grasso will apply to Shaheen Holloway (or “Sha” as he’s affectionately known), who is already a rising star in the head coaching scene for St. Peter’s. Holloway, a four-year starter at Seton Hall, enjoyed a nice professional career overseas and in the USA before spending 7 years as an assistant for Kevin Willard at his alma mater. After a less-than-ideal 10-22 finish in his first season, Holloway led the Peacocks to an 18-9 mark last year. While his strengths are in recruiting and guard development, Sha would be best served by waiting a few years for his success to develop...for all we know, it could heighten his ceiling.
Steve Lavin, former St. John’s & UCLA head coach, FOX analyst
It is genuinely hard for me to see Steve Lavin finding the energy and drive to turn this program around. Even though he’s a decorated coach that has achieved success at St. John’s and UCLA, I feel that Lavin at Fordham would be a similar situation to Pitino at Iona...a fun experiment that’s high-risk/high-reward, with more risk to go around. There’s also no way Lavin would take this job for less than $1 million - take that as you will.