Tonia Walker, the athletics director at Winston-Salem State, was caught off guard as she began the search for the school’s ninth men’s basketball coach.
Soon after Walker didn’t renew Coach James Wilhelmi’s contract, she started to receive resumes by e-mail and also getting plenty of texts and phone calls about the vacant position.
Once the job was posted on the school’s website, more and more coaches reached out to her. After just seven days, Walker closed the application process.
More than 100 applications were received from candidates looking to take over one of the most tradition-rich basketball schools in the country.
“We opened it up nationally, knowing that we had to post the job for a minimum of seven days,” Walker said. “There was a lot of interest, and we exceeded 100 applicants.”
Walker had the job posted for the minimum of seven days, and said there was no reason to keep it open any longer.
“I didn’t realize the interest would be so vast,” Walker said. “I was surprised that we did get that many applicants in such a short time.”
Walker wouldn’t reveal who is interested in the job, but those who have expressed interest include Chucky Brown, a former N.C. State and NBA player who is an NBA scout, Michael Grant, a former Coppin State coach, and Corey Thompson, a former WSSU center and former assistant coach at Fayetteville State.
Those are just a few of the known applicants, and Walker said the next step is for the committee to go to work. An 11-person committee will examine the candidates’ resumes and give Walker and Chancellor Elwood Robinson a list where the campus interviews will start.
Walker doesn’t know how many finalists she and Robinson will interview. She did say some of the early interviews would be done by via Skype.
“There will be a select number of applicants who will come on campus for interviews, and then the committee will present those who they think should get interviews to myself and the chancellor,” Walker said.
Walker said her goal is to have a basketball coach in place by July 1, which will coincide with the start of the new school budget year.
Before Wilhelmi was named head coach four seasons ago when Bobby Collins left for Maryland-Eastern Shore, there were three finalists for the job. Thompson, who played on the 1999 and 2000 CIAA championships teams at WSSU, was one of those finalists and got an on-campus interview.
Walker did reveal that the resumes have come from every level of basketball.
“The applicants came from all divisions in college, from the high school ranks and past players who were in the NBA,” Walker said. “It’s a very diverse group. This is a great problem to have to have so many folks who are interested in the job.”
The coach hired will have to be the right fit, according to Walker.
The program will likely have about six scholarships to work with in the competitive CIAA. Four starters are expected to return from a team that went 5-22.
“I’m excited about the new direction we will head in men’s basketball at Winston-Salem State,” Walker said. “I’m looking for the right fit. When I say fit, I want somebody who can bring the tradition of winning back to our university.”
Among the applicants is interim head coach Andrew Brown, who is leading the team through offseason workouts with fellow assistant Paul Davis. Walker says she’s been impressed with how the two coaches have run the program this spring.
“They have a good pulse on the team,” Walker said.
Walker, who made her first major decision in the program when she named Wilhelmi as head coach after he was an assistant for three seasons with Collins, has another key decision to make. She spent this past weekend filling in interested alumni about the status of the vacant position. The national alumni association had meetings at WSSU over the weekend that coincided with a spring football scrimmage Saturday.
“I think the interest has really surprised me this time,” Walker said. “And I’ve been surprised at how many different ways they are making it known they are interested. Not only has my e-mail been inundated, but I’m getting texts and phone calls from all over with referrals. I just spoke with the head coach of Ohio State (Chris Holtmann) who was recommending somebody, so I’ve definitely heard from a lot of people.”
Without getting into specifics, Walker said the new coach will have to work through a budget issue. The new coach also will have just one full-time assistant coach, while Wilhelmi had the luxury of two full-time assistants.
“It’s refreshing that despite some of the issues we are having the interest is there, and we’re going to be OK,” Walker said. “We just have to get through the process.”