Could WVU find it's next men's basketball coach in it's own backyard?

This dark horse option brings all the tools necessary to succeed in Morgantown

A view of the WVU Coliseum.
A view of the WVU Coliseum. / G Fiume/GettyImages
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As we inch closer to the end of the 2023-24 college basketball season, there is increasingly more chatter about who may helm the WVU men’s basketball program come next season.

Current Interim Head Coach Josh Eilert was awarded a chance at the job after the resignation of Bob Huggins last year, but it was made clear that a coaching search would be conducted after the season concluded. 

With the Mountaineers currently sitting 8-16 on the season, it's becoming increasingly unlikely that Eilert will be considered for the full-time gig. So where does that leave WVU?

There are a number of attractive options on the market, and some prominent names have been tossed out for the job. Coaches across the nation from Colorado to Florida have been mentioned as potential candidates.

Sometimes, though, the splashiest hire isn’t always the best choice — and the best bet can be hiding in your own backyard.

There’s one name that hasn’t been mentioned amongst the various choices WVU Athletic Director Wren Baker is looking at, and he currently resides approximately a half-hour down I-79 from Morgantown. 

This is an option that brings head-coaching experience, a winning culture, and intimate knowledge of coaching the sport collegiately in The Mountain State: current Fairmont State University men’s basketball coach Tim Koenig.

Koenig is currently in his fifth-season at the helm of Fairmont State’s program, which competes at the NCAA Division 2 level, and his eleventh season overall as a head coach. Koenig has seen no shortage of success leading Fairmont — since he took over in 2019, the Falcons have made four straight NCAA Tournament appearances, and have won a pair of Mountain East Conference Tournament championships. As of Fairmont’s most recent win, Koenig is 101-34 in his time with the program, and 194-122 overall as a head coach.

During Koenig’s first year at the helm for Fairmont, he secured a 22-6 regular season record, which marks the winningest debut season in the history of the program. Then-Fairmont State and current Nürnberg Falcons BC guard Isaiah Sanders — who followed Koenig to Fairmont State from Notre Dame College (OH) in his sophomore collegiate season — praised Koenig’s coaching style during that first season.

“He’s a great guy, and a great coach — I’m not surprised at all, and he deserves everything he’s earned,” Sanders said in an interview with the Times West Virginian. “He helps keep our heads on our shoulders, and he never lets us get too high or too low. Just making sure every day we have fun, play hard, and stay together, that’s what he emphasizes as a coach.”

Coaching at Fairmont State, Koenig has also gained an appreciation for leading a program where basketball culture runs deep. The program ranks 12th all-time amongst Division 2 schools in win percentage, and 6th all-time in total victories. The program has appeared in both NAIA and NCAA national championship games, has won countless conference championships, has maintained a constant postseason presence during most of its 100-plus year history.

Koenig has fully embraced the community in Fairmont, for which this program means so much. Each week, he joins the local radio station for his own show  to keep the fanbase up-to-date. And in my experience watching the Falcons play on their home court, long after media interviews are finished and the opposing team has boarded the bus home, you’ll often catch Koenig mingling with lingering fans in the arena. He aims to be accessible to — and in many ways just another member of — a community that maintains a fervor for college basketball.

“Until I got here and really got ingrained a little bit and got into the season I didn't know how enthusiastic and passionate this town was about Fairmont State basketball," Koenig said in an interview with the athletics’ website for Fairmont State. The town, the community and even our players – the expectation for excellence is really special.

As a program, Fairmont State also tends to produce basketball coaches who have success at higher levels of the sport. Before Koenig, the most recent men to helm the program were Jerrod Calhoun and Joe Mazzulla — Calhoun is the current head coach at Division 1 program Youngstown State, while Mazzulla is the current head coach for the Boston Celtics of the NBA.

And it is clear Koenig has an eye for scouting and developing talent. Between his stops at Notre Dame College and Fairmont State, Koenig has coached a number of exceptional players. Other than Sanders, who earned spots on the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) D2 All-Atlantic Region First-Team and in the NABC Division 2 All-Star Game his senior season before playing professionally in Germany, others that suited up for Koenig include current NBA G-League player Will Vorhees and current Ohio State and former Baylor roster member Dale Bonner. 

With a full five years experience leading a West Virginia-based collegiate program this spring, Koenig also has an intimate familiarity and a treasure trove of in-state connections at this point. This state can be a hard place to attract talent — and it can be tough to keep players with college-level talent from chasing greener pastures.  Koenig brings experience doing just that, and winning games while doing so. He’s also managed to do it at a smaller school with less resources than WVU.