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Ohio Introduces Head Coach Saul Phillips

Phillips posted a 134-84 record in seven seasons at North Dakota State.

April 8, 2014

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ATHENS, Ohio - A new era of Ohio University men's basketball officially began Tuesday afternoon, when athletics director Jim Schaus introduced Saul Phillips as the 18th head coach in program history.

A large contingent of media, Ohio student-athletes, administrators and members of #BobcatNation gathered in the Convocation Center's Phillips Auditorium at 2 p.m. to meet Coach Phillips.

Phillips comes to Ohio from North Dakota State University, where he led the Bison to a program record 26 wins and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. In the Big Dance, No. 12 seed NDSU upset No. 5 Oklahoma in the Second Round, 80-75 (OT). In seven seasons in Fargo, Phillips amassed a 134-84 record, including a 75-45 mark in the Summit League. Overall, NDSU advanced to the post-season four times in Phillips' seven seasons with the program.


Jim Schaus - Director of Athletics

Opening Statement
“It is indeed a great day to be a Bobcat. This is a tremendous day for Ohio Men’s Basketball with the hiring of Saul Phillips. I want to thank all of the people that were involved in the hiring process. Welcome to our family, welcome to Athens and welcome to Ohio University. We are very, very happy and welcome you to be a part of our family.”

“Many of you may know about Saul Phillips’ success as a coach. We look at his nine years as a coach at North Dakota State and the tremendous rise of the program during his time there, the wins, the successes, and this year, topped off with a second round victory in the NCAA Tournament over Oklahoma.”

“During the season, many of you may be aware of wins at Notre Dame, at MAC Champion Western Michigan and throughout his career he had much success. You may know about his pedigree in coaching. He has worked under some tremendous coaches - Bo Ryan of Wisconsin, Tim Miles at Nebraska, Greg McDermott at Creighton. That is extremely important in this business to work under the right people and Saul has worked his way up and had tremendous success in everything that he has done.”

“One thing you may not know is the kind of person that he is. That is really important to us. His character, his pedigree, his quality and enthusiasm. He lit up the room the first time I met him and it never stopped shining. You are really going to enjoy his energy, our players, our fans, our media, administration and staff to be able to work with someone like this. I am so excited and I can’t wait.” 

“Thanks to the people involved in the search process. Parker Executive Search out of Atlanta did a great job of working with me with, hiring so quickly. I’d like to thank President McDavis who helped throughout the process. He supports Ohio Athletics so much and I would just like to thank all of these people today.”

Saul Phillips – Ohio University Head Coach

Opening Statement
“Obviously our strategy here is to have our family outnumber the media so nothing bad can happen. Any tough questions, I got an army back there. First of all, Jim [Schaus], thank you for this whole process. It happened extremely fast. He made me extremely comfortable in a big hurry. I’d like to thank the president [Dr. Roderick McDavis] for giving me his blessing. I actually got off on the wrong foot with him. I got a call from him, I didn’t recognize the area code. I was thinking it was an assistant coach looking for a job so I let it go to voicemail. I asked for a mulligan and thankfully he gave it to me.” 

“My mom and dad, Katie and Charlie Phillips, have supported me the whole way thru. My sister Joan and husband John drove all the way from Milwaukee. They’re going to be driving back after this press conference. You’ve got to find more to do, I mean c’mon [laughs]. Their kids Kate, J.T., Elena, and then most of all proof that I can recruit for Bobcat Nation, my wife Nicole back there. She was a former Miss Wisconsin I kid you not, it’s a 15-2 upset,  because 16-1s don’t happen.”

“My kids Jordan, Charlie, and Benjamin, we’ve got a secret Bobcat handshake that we’ve been working on. I think the biggest thing for everybody in Bobcat Nation to understand is that they’re a big reason why I am making this move right now. I want my daughter to graduate high school here without question. That’s a long way away, I’ve said it before I’ll say it again. I’m not joking about that. I’m going to be here for as long as I can win.”

“What attracted me to the job, listen, I can use the same template that I used for success in Fargo, North Dakota here, and I’ve got more talent in the area than I had. North Dakota State was an unbelievable place for me for 10 years. I loved it there, but we were a long way from a lot of talent bases. We’ve got it here. Let’s go to work and get it. I was driving around with Jason Kemp who will join me on staff - he’s from Toledo previously. I looked to him, he looked at me, and I said, ‘We should have gone to college here.’ Wow! This is college. I can sell this! This is great!’”

“I look around and I say this is what you want to be a part of - what’s there not to like. You talk college town and this is a postcard for a college town. We’ve got great academics. We’ve got beautiful scenery. We’ve got a community that loves the Bobcats. What don’t we have? Let’s sell it. Let’s go!”

“For the guys that are in the program right now? They don’t care what I can sell. They care what I can do for them right now. And I told them it’s tough, I get it, transitions stink. If you’re a player, losing your head coach stinks. There is nothing good about it. But now comes the good part. I’m not going to be their first coach in college, but I’m going to be their last, and that’s a fact. Let’s move this thing forward. Let’s see where this can go.” 

“The men that preceded me were extremely successful, and they deserved the right to move on. This is no bash on them. I’m at a different point in my life. I want to be here. I want this to be home. Period. As far as any cynics out there that say that’s easy to say, just watch me. Watch me stay and watch me not move a muscle to leave town. I like it here. This is good. It’s going to be good for a long time.”

On His Upbeat Personality
“Ask my wife. It’s funny because I think people have this perception of what I’m going to be like on the sidelines. I’d say it’s like a combination of the Tasmanian Devil and a tornado or something like that, but I’m going to teach, too. I just like what I do and I have an enthusiasm for what I do and I’m not going to hide that. But I’m not doing WWE on the sideline either. I’m not throwing chairs on the court. I’m fine with the refs, so it will be fine. Even after a win or loss or whatever, I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing.”

“When I started out in this profession, all I wanted to be was a head coach somewhere. Now look at me. I’m at a beautiful campus and making quite a bit more than my sister ever thought I’d make, I’ll tell you that much.”

On Coaching Influences
“I was with Bo Ryan for 10 years of my adult life. I’ve been with Greg McDermott and Tim Miles. They’re all terrific teachers. There are parts of each of them that I’ve taken from. We’ve going to value taking care of the ball. Every year we’re going to try to decrease our turnovers per a game. I finally got it under 10 last year and that’s probably why they let me leave.”

“With McDermott, some of the offensive things I like to do. You know I used to babysit Doug. He was a pretty good player, and let me tell you, I used to play him one-on-one. He was six, but I didn’t let him get a shot off. And Tim Miles? You talk about personality - I’m decaffeinated compare to him. I didn’t come out of the womb predestined to be a good basketball coach.  I was surrounded by people who really knew how to teach, and if I kept my ears open and my mouth shut. If I listened and learned, I was destined to really do some good things. And I can’t wait to apply that at a place like this.” 

On His Coaching Style
“The biggest thing I want to do is take care of the basketball but I want it to look like we are having fun out there. So many coaches go through and they get beat down by mid-February. This is not brain surgery. It is not rocket science. We can try to make it out to be and maybe I should say it is to sell more instructional DVDs. But the bottom line is, it is and it is always going to be about the players and the program. We have great things there, this team is wonderful, this arena is wonderful, this town is great, our budget and what they allow us to do is wonderful.” 

“But, the most important resource that I have is the players in my locker room. Those are the guys that go out and win or lose games. I am going to get those guys as close to me as I can. I am going to get them to believe in me and put all of the belief that I can in them so that we can move forward as a unit. There are going to be ups and downs. I really doubt that over the course of this contract I am going undefeated. The bottom line is I hope you see a group that looks like a close-knit group out on that court. That needs some work because there has been turnover here as head coach. My predecessors made terrific decisions for them.”

“But, look at what’s left. You have kids that don’t know what system they are running anymore. They just met a guy from North Dakota for the first time that sounded crazy to them. They are going to find out that there is a lot of substance behind this. There are a lot of things that I want to do for them that they don’t know they need yet and that is really where we go forward. I spent all day long meeting with players. Tomorrow we are going to get on the court and start working.” 

“I can’t think of a better medium for me to get to know them and for them to get to know me than on the practice court. That is where I do my best work and that is why they are here. That is what they love to do.  I want tomorrow to be more normal than today was. Just keep stacking normal days in front of each other and trust will be gained. We will keep teaching and go from there.”

On the NCAA Tournament
“There is nothing better. I think ultimately if you are in any league that has a chance to go your goal has to be that. We can talk about everything else but you are trying to make NCAA Tournaments. All I know is that you are trying to create a program that can compete year in and year out and the only thing we can do right now is work on this one so let’s do that. Without a doubt that is the big carrot at the end of the stick. Regular season conference championships have to be our goal…period.” 

On the MAC 
“I love it. That is why I am here. It’s a terrific league and it’s really undervalued. Find me a more stable league that is at a comparable level. The MAC is not going anywhere. You can’t say that about every league. These are schools are brought together because they have a lot of similarities and that makes for compelling recruiting patterns and compelling games.”

“We have dabbled in this league. The farthest I’ve gotten is Western Michigan and that was because it was a BracketBuster game. I love this league. From a student athlete perspective it is not so far flung over the U.S. I’ve played games from Texas Pan-American to [NJIT]. I’ve been all over. It’s nice to get some stability and some familiarity. It has great players and has turned out some great teams. And certainly teams that do well in this league including Ohio have a chance to make some noise in the tournament. It’s extremely appealing to me.”

On Scheduling
“I am going to get the guys out on the court. I am going to work them out a little bit. I know that there are guys playing super aggressive schedules. Certainly, we will have some aggressive schedules. We played the 20th strongest non-conference strength of schedule last year at North Dakota State. That is a suicide mission. You don’t do that. Let’s see how we are first. I could watch tape all day long, which I will, but I would like to get them on the court. That is kicking the tires and looking under the hood. Let’s see where we are at. We still have a big chunk of the schedule left to fill. Ultimately it will be a schedule that will give us the highest RPI possible. That sounds like I am going to go crazy on strength of schedule but you have to have wins in there, too. In North Dakota, we were able to get our RPI up to 35 in the nation. There is a system to it and I’ve got that all right here and you can’t see it.”

On Staffing Decisions
“We are in intense negotiations with former North Dakota State assistant Will Ryan. He is the son of Bo Ryan who has been with me for seven years at North Dakota State. I feel decent that that might happen. The third spot, there are a lot of considerations. There are people in house that I need to consider. There are people outside that I know very well that I need to consider. We will figure out the third assistant. We will put together an outstanding staff. Certainly, my first two hires tip the hand in the direction that we are going.”

On Recruiting
“This program, we are focusing on high school kids. That does not mean that we can not take a transfer. But, we are going to start close to home and work our way out. If we have to fly all over America to recruit then I think we have missed our home base. I really think that I have a lot to sell. I don’t know why a kid from the state of Ohio would not want to go to school here period. High school coaches watch out. I am coming. I will be in your offices before you know it.”