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Murray's Mailbag: Mountain West's most overrated and underrated coaches

Tom Hilbert
Tom Hilbert is a name you should know if you're a fan of Mountain West athletics. (YouTube)

Nobody reads the intro, so let's just get to the questions for this week's Monday Twitter Mailbag. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries.

(Note: If you're not seeing the tweets, it's probably because you're not using Google Chrome. Use Google Chrome.)

I've been doing some all-time Mountain West coaching lists of late, including the 13 best football coaches in conference history and the 13 best men's basketball coaches in conference history. I guess we can do some underrated and overrated, too, although I don't really like calling coaches overrated.

For underrated, my pick is Colorado State volleyball coach Tom Hilbert, who has won 12 MW coach of the year honors in the league's 21-year history. Every one of his Colorado State teams have made the NCAA Tournament (each year since 1997). His Rams teams are 560-136 overall (81.3 percent winning mark) and 298-40 in MW play (88.2 percent) during his tenure. He is seventh in wins among active volleyball coaches with 764 and ninth in winning percentage at 78.6 percent if you include his time at Idaho. Colorado State has won 16 of 21 MW regular-season titles under Hilbert and five of nine conference tournaments (when those used to be held). Maybe this is the best stat: Since the MW was created, the conference has handed out 30 conference titles in volleyball. Colorado State has won 21 of them. Everybody else has combined for nine. For those who know, Hilbert clearly isn't underrated, but how many MW fans know the name "Tom Hilbert?" Not as many as there should be.

I'd also nominate Nevada diving coach Jian Li You, a nine-time conference coach of the year who has coached six pupils to conference diver of the year honors (for a total of eight such awards) and was the 2016 NCAA diving coach of the year. The MW basically stopped giving her coach of the year honors because she won it too many times (she was conference coach of the year seven straight seasons from 2012-18). Finally, I'd include Boise State women's basketball coach Gordy Presnell, who is 295-181 during 15 seasons with the Broncos. He has a career record of 691-308, good for a 69.2 winning percentage, if you include his time at Seattle Pacific. He's 21st among active women's basketball coaches in career wins. Boise State has won 10 conference titles under Presnell, including four straight MW tournaments for the first time in the conference's history. His teams have made six NCAA tournaments, although he is 0-6 in those games.

For overrated, I guess I'll go with Fresno State baseball coach Mike Batesole. I hate calling people overrated, so let me call a national championship coach overrated so he can tell me to "kiss the ring." Batesole has been Fresno State's head coach since 2003 and has posted solid win-loss totals, including 590-451-1 overall (56.6 winning percent) and 273-194-1 in league (58.3 percent). He's won 16 WAC and MW titles in 17 full seasons. He's made seven NCAA Regionals. But his reputation is largely built on the 2008 national championship, which was, and I mean this in the kindest terms, lucky. That team entered the postseason with a 33-27 record, including a 7-10 record in its previous 17 games heading into the WAC Tournament. Baseball is a fabulously dumb sport, so that team went on to win the national title anyway. Outside of that season, Batesole hasn't led a Fresno State team to a Super Regional, going 7-12 in the NCAA Tournament in his other six appearances there with the Bulldogs. Ten of Batesole's 18 teams have finished three games above .500 or worse. They've been average teams. Batesole's WAC Bulldogs were much better than his MW Bulldogs. He was 360-264 in the WAC and is 230-187-1 in the MW. You're talking about winning 55 percent of your games with one NCAA Regional appearance during seven seasons in the MW. But he's a two-time national coach of the year and college champion, so he can tell me to go to hell. Just much of his reputation was built on that 2008 tournament run.

I'd also nominate Colorado State football coach Steve Addazio, who was thoroughly average at Temple and Boston College (57-55 overall, 29-42 in conference) yet was hired by the Rams this offseason and is making an upper-level MW salary ($1.5 million annually) after Boston College fired him after failing to surpass seven wins in any of his seven seasons with the Eagles.

I don't see it happening. There's just going to be so much inexperience on the roster. I ranked all of the Mountain West basketball teams in 2020-21 and placed Nevada sixth, and that was generous. That's the highest I could feasible see the Wolf Pack finishing next season. San Diego State, UNLV, Colorado State, Boise State and Utah State all have clearly better rosters. Yes, maybe one or two of those teams suffers injuries or bad luck, but Nevada would have to hop three of them to finish in the top three in the conference. If that happens, Steve Alford should be the MW coach of the year. Nevada has one of the most inexperienced teams in the nation and hasn't had a full offseason to try and gel the pieces together. Anything above .500 would be a good season. Desmond Cambridge, Zane Meeks and Warren Washington will all have to play at an All-MW level for Nevada to finish in the top three and depth will have to emerge from the freshmen. That's asking a lot.

Realignment has settled down for the time being, but there seems to be a shift every decade or so, and it's been about seven seasons since the last massive changes, so it could be coming soon. I'd go with an American Athletic Conference school, so UCF, Cincinnati, Houston or Memphis. I'll take Houston out of that group given its size and competence in the revenue sports. From the Mountain West, UNLV could be in the mix if it ever gets its football program sorted out; Boise State will always be limited by population and academics; San Diego State could make the jump once its new on-campus football stadium opens; and Colorado State has potential but the market is too small and it hasn't won big in the major sports.

You could look at it two ways: (1) Given all the uncertainty COVID-19 has caused, you could see conferences hitting pause until things are more settled; or (2) you could see COVID-19 increasing the split between the Power 5 and Group of 5 with the Power 5 grabbing a couple of top mid-major programs and leaving the rest behind in a true split. I'm guessing you will see the first of those two things happen. I don't see massive realignment in the next year or two as programs have enough to worry about on their own campus with COVID-19 impacting revenue streams. I doubt they want to divide their media rights deals and conference distributions even more with new members. With the MW, I see the conference standing pat. Commissioner Craig Thompson said not too long ago that contraction is more probably than expansion. The conference should always be concerned about losing Boise State or San Diego State, its top two departments, but it can only do so much on that front. If a Power 5 conference offers, those schools are gone.

Head coach Chris Ault: Retired in south Reno after spending time as an offensive consultant for the Chiefs and head coach for the Milan Rhinos.

RB coach Jim Mastro: Serves as the running backs/run game coordinator at Oregon after stints at UCLA and Washington State.

WR/ST coach Scott Baumgartner: Serves as the running backs coach at UNLV after a stint at New Mexico.

TE coach James Spady: Serves as associate head coach in charge of tight ends and special teams at Florida A&M after a four-year run as head coach at Alabama A&M (he went 15-30).

OL coach Cameron Norcross: Serves as offensive line coach and run game coordinator at UNLV after stints at Fresno State and Vanderbilt.

DE coach/associate head coach Ken Wilson: Serves as the linebackers coach at UCLA after a stint at Washington State, a job he took after not being retained by Brian Polian in 2013.

DT coach Barry Sacks: Serves as defensive line coach at Montana after stints at Cal, New Mexico, San Jose State and Humboldt State after leaving Nevada following the 2012 season.

LB coach/defensive coordinator Andy Buh: Serves as the outside linebackers coach at Arizona after stints at Wisconsin, Cal, Kentucky, Maryland and Rutgers.

CB coach James Ward: Served as Nevada's cornerbacks coach until 2012 before not being retained by Polian; was at Ohio from 2013-2015. Not in college coaching today. His Twitter page seems to indicate he is now in travel booking.

S coach Mike Bradeson: Died almost one year ago today after a long battle with cancer.

That's a pretty strong staff. Six of Nevada's nine assistants coaches either moved on to the Power 5 level as an assistant coach or got a head job.

For a national show, it'd be the Colin Kaepernick story if I had full access to Kaepernick. If it was geared for local audiences, it would be the Kirk Snyder story and what he is currently up. I find his rocket rise and even swifter fall fascinating.

The best part is a dead Bernie dancing in the conga line in Weekend at Bernie's II, which spawned the line, "So what he's a great dancer? I can bench press a Buick!" while also spawning Bernie dry humping the beach at the 3-minute mark in the video below.

And that, of course, led to the "Moving Like Bernie" Movement, which you can see here. God bless Terry Kiser for giving us Bernie Lomax. One of the great characters in cinema history.

I published my Nevada football projected depth chart last month. My starters were:

Offense

QB: Carson Strong*, 6-4, 220, So.

RB: Toa Taua*, 5-9, 210, So.

WR: Elijah Cooks*, 6-4, 215, Sr.

WR: Romeo Doubs*, 6-2, 195, Jr.

WR: Melquan Stovall, 5-8, 185, So.

TE: Reagan Roberson, 6-1, 250, Sr.

LT: Miles Beach*, 6-4, 280, Sr.

LG: Gray Davis, 6-4, 305, Jr.

C: Tyler Orsini, 6-2, 300, Sr.

RG: Aaron Frost*, 6-5, 290, Jr.

RT: Nate Brown*, 6-4, 300, Sr.

Defense

DE: Sam Hammond, 6-5, 275, Sr.

DT: Dom Peterson*, 6-0, 295, Jr.

DT: Chris Green, 6-2, 305, Sr.

DE: Kameron Toomer, 6-3, 270, Sr.

LB: Giovanni Miranda, 6-2, 230, So.

LB: Lawson Hall*, 6-0, 230, Sr.

LB: Trevor Price, 5-10, 225, Jr.

CB: EJ Muhammad*, 5-11, 190, Sr.

CB: Berdale Robins, 5-9, 180, Sr.

SS: Tyson Williams*, 5-9, 195, Jr.

FS: Austin Arnold*, 5-10, 190, Sr.

Specialists

K: Brandon Talton*, 5-8, 165, So.

P: Julian Diaz, 6-2, 215, Sr.

LS: Austin Ortega*, 5-8, 205, So.

* - denotes returning starter

In terms of a Nevada-UC Davis betting line, you're probably looking at 12.5 points in favor of the Wolf Pack.

The university has put a coronavirus-inducted freeze on hiring, and I would not be surprised if Kory Alford's director of player development spot isn't filled. That's not a position Nevada had before Eric Musselman was hired, but the staff really expanded under his tenure. The Wolf Pack will have some budget cuts upcoming (Steve Alford told me Friday the annual players retreat probably won't happen to save money), so I could see a graduate assistant filling the role of player development to save money.

I spoke with Coach Alford about this topic last Friday (not specific players since he can't name targets, per NCAA rules) and will have a full story on that later this week. But it sounds likely Nevada pockets that final scholarship if it can't find a player who makes an immediate impact. The Wolf Pack would prefer not to use the scholarship on a sit-out transfer, which would leave it with zero scholarships available in the 2021 class.

Today marks the first day college basketball coaches can call or have electronic correspondence with 2022 prospects, so I'm sure Nevada will start that grind. The Wolf Pack doesn't have very many scholarships available in the near future with only one in the 2021 class and two in the 2022 class, but I'm sure the Wolf Pack will do its due diligence with those classes. All of the AAU events were canceled up to this date, so the 2022 class might take a little longer to develop.

Even without fighting Bruce Lee, I don't know why Kareem Abdul-Jabbar isn't in consideration for GOAT basketball player. He's a six-time league MVP (most ever), a six-time NBA champion (as many as Michael Jordan), the NBA's all-time leading scorer, third in rebounding and blocks and eighth in field-goal percent. He's a 19-time All-Star (most ever), 15-time All-NBA (tied for the most ever) and had the most unstoppable shot in NBA history (the sky hook). He also was a three-time NCAA champ and three-time NCAA player of the year. I prefer LeBron James over Kareem given LBJ's versatility, but Kareem is probably the best basketball player ever. He just doesn't get the credit because we don't like to call big guys the best ever.

I agree with you. I don't think we've ever had a "pure" baseball era. Major League Baseball was segregated until 1947, so Babe Ruth hit all of his home runs when blacks players weren't allowed in the league. You had the expansion era in the 1960s and 1970s when the talent was diluted. You had the amphetamine era in the 1970s and 1980s, and those might actually help more than steroids. You had the steroid era in the 1990s and 2000s. Now you have the illegal sign-stealing and juiced ball era, which has driven up home run totals. There is no "clean" era for home run totals.

It's the assumption he used steroids that will keep him out forever, unless some future veterans committee votes him in. The writers aren't voting him in. Unlike Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, Sosa was not presumed to be a great player before his alleged use (he hit 95 homers in his first six seasons before those dinger totals became bloated). Additionally, his career 58.6 WAR isn't Hall of Fame level even without the steroid suspicion. Sosa hit a lot of home runs (609 to be exact), but he didn't do much else and was only great for six seasons. Usually voters want to see greatness for a decade. Reggie Smith, Bobby Abreu, Dwight Evans and Gary Sheffield all have better career WAR totals from right field without getting into the Hall of Fame, so Sosa falls short for a number of reasons before we even think about corked bats.

I'd be perfectly fine without pitchers hitting. Pitchers are horrible hitters. If they could hit .200, it'd be worth keeping them in the batters' box. But in recent years, pitchers have slashed around .115/.145/.150. They're sac bunting more than ever and being pinch hit for more than ever. While Madison Bumgarner is regarded as a great hitting pitcher, he's a career .177 hitter who has struck out 255 times in 594 at-bats (43 percent of the time). That's pathetic. The owners don't want a National League DH because it adds more money to the players' pot. But it's time to use uniform rules, and it shows how incredible Shohei Ohtani is. He could be an All-Star pitcher or hitter. He'll be the unofficial last starting pitcher to hit a home run since the Angels plan to keep him a two-way player. But, technically speaking, I believe the Dodgers' Hyun-Jin Ryu is the last player to hit a home run as a starting pitcher. He hit one Sept. 22 against Colorado's Antonio Senzatela. Ryu's homer came with a bat flip (and with broadcaster Joe Davis losing his friggin' mind). So if the DH is here to stay, Ryu will hold that distinction.


1. Pretty cool Nevada had two academic All-Americans this season, and both were from local high schools (Reed's Julia Jensen and McQueen's Lucas Weber).

2. Sorry.

3. Yes. There haven't been any major setbacks yet, although several teams that are starting to practice are seeing positive COVID-19 tests, so the real battle will be separating those cases as quickly as possible to avoid major outbreaks within teams. My best guess is Nevada has a partial season rather than a 12-game season, but nobody knows how this will play out. Things are on track for a season, but things could fall apart really quickly.

Here's what Nevada AD Doug Knuth said last month: “We can’t predict the future, of course, but every week that goes by I get a little more optimistic that we’re going to have a fall sports season, that we’re going to play football and we’re going to be able to keep our students safe, our coaches and our staff safe and keep all of our families safe. I feel better about it almost every week because there’s new information, and we as a community in Northern Nevada have done a really good job. Hopefully we continue that trend, and if we continue that trend I think we’ll have a positive outcome.”

1. Lake Tahoe

2. Black Rock Desert

3. Sand Mountain

4. Ruby Mountains

5. Burney Falls

I'd also throw Virginia City, Hickison Petroglyphs and Walley's Hot Springs in there. And don't forget The Crystal Mine.

We're assuming both of these games are played, and I'm not sure they will be given how long the travel is and the fact Arkansas might want back some of its $1.5 million payout to Nevada if it is unable to allow a full crowd due to COVID-19. But if the games are played, the Arkansas and South Florida matchups rank as the two hardest this season for Nevada, per these metrics. The only MW teams I would plug in ahead of Arkansas and USF are Boise State and Air Force, and Nevada doesn't play either of them. Arkansas and USF would be lumped in with San Diego State around third in my MW power rankings if Arkansas and USF were in the conference.

I'd want to stay on the West Coast, so it'd have to be a Pac-12 school. And I'd pick based solely on location, so I'm thinking either Washington or Colorado. Let's go with the Buffaloes because Boulder is a great place to live if you can afford it.

I addressed that to start last week's Mailbag and pegged the odds at an NFL team signing Kaepernick at 30 percent. The online only betting odds I could find put the likelihood at 16.7 percent. The odds are certainly increased, but NFL owners are so risk adverse I don't think it will happen. Although a smart owner would do so. You're basically looking at a starting-caliber player (the last time we saw him) potentially being signed at a mid-level backup salary. Additionally, recent polling shows public sentiment on Kaepernick's side, so while you would lose some fans by signing him, you'd almost certainly gain more net followers as Kaepernick has an army of supporters, especially from the black community. You'd basically be improving your roster and increasing your fan base by signing him. Ultimately, however, owners, general managers and coaches don't want their backup quarterback being a talking point, so I don't think it happens. I'd love to give commissioner Roger Goodell truth serum to see if he really wanted a team to sign Kaepernick. My guess is "yes" in an attempt to undo the wrong the NFL made by blackballing him the last few seasons. They now know they'll be on the wrong side of history if he never again plays in the NFL, although that should have been obvious in 2016.

1. I think Colin Kaepernick has done plenty for the cause, but I'm sure his face amid protesters would be a powerful image. It'd also be exceptionally risky and could lead to a riot given how famous he is now and how much some cops would like to make an example of him. I'm comfortable with his current role in the protests.

2. I still don't think a team will sign Kaepernick, but if it does, he has to be prepared to start as a backup making backup money. There's no way he's being signed as a day one starter. If he wants starter money immediately, he's for sure never playing in the NFL again. But given how often quarterbacks in the NFL get hurt, he'd get his chance eventually, and getting in half a season of practice reps before playing would be good for him given how much rust he'd have.

It depends on what kind of a situation the team is in. A non-existent 2020 would supremely help a franchise like the Giants that has a lot of bad contracts that would either fall off the books or be cut down immensely. For a team like the Tigers, a lost 2020 season would be a bad thing because so much of Detroit's future is tied up in its minor-league players (MLB.com ranks Detroit's farm system fifth in the game). Those young players are not going to develop as quickly if there isn't a 2020 minor-league season. It takes in-game at-bats and innings to develop as players, so teams with good farm systems are hurt disproportionately by a 2020 season because those players are missing a full season of development. I'd also put teams like the Marlins, Padres and Mariners in that mix as big losers.

They've been talking about opening the Ormsby House for as long as I've been an adult. It closed in September 2000 for remodeling was supposed to reopen in 2001 but has been closed for the last 20 years. It was sold in 2019 with the expectation of being converted into housing and retail space before escrow fell through last October. I don't see it ever opening as a hotel/casino again. Perhaps it has a second life as condo space. I'm going to go prepare my offer to buy the Ormsby House now. See y'all next week!

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. He writes a weekly Monday Mailbag despite it giving him a headache and it taking several hours to finish. But people seem to like it, so he does it anyway. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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