You don’t often see much coaching change news in July, but that’s what we have here. On Wednesday morning, Ben Steele of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Marquette associate head coach Brett Nelson would be leaving the program to take the head coaching job at Holy Cross.
Marquette assistant Brett Nelson will be named head coach at Holy Cross, according to a source. Very well-respected in basketball circles, Nelson has been with #mubb since Steve Wojciechowski's first season in 2014-15. He was promoted to associate head coach in 2017.— Ben Steele (@BenSteeleMJS) July 3, 2019
Nelson, a 2004 Florida graduate, has been a Steve Wojciechowski assistant since Game #1 and was promoted to associate head coach in 2017. Holy Cross will be Nelson’s first opportunity to run his own program after stops as an assistant at Marshall, Arkansas, Drake, and Ball State.
In case you’re wondering why Holy Cross is hiring a head coach on the third day of July instead of in March or April like you might expect, there is an explanation. Bill Carmody announced his retirement on June 18th. There’s nothing in this Worcester Telegram article that directly spells it out, but I would expect that Carmody’s retirement was somewhat prompted by the fact that he missed “several” road games this past season because his wife being was being treated for cancer.
Nelson inherits a Crusaders team that never finished over .500 under Carmody either in Patriot League play or overall. You have to go back to 2013-14 to find a winning season for Holy Cross. Carmody leaves with a record of 58-73 in four years, but there are five juniors returning for their senior season next year that will give Nelson a solid starting point.
As for what this means for Marquette, well, we’ll have to wait and see. Over the past few years, Nelson earned a reputation for being The Transfer Whisperer, at least in terms of bringing in transfers to the program. Time will tell if that ends up being crucial to Marquette, but for now, that role isn’t going to be important.
What is important is the fact that there’s a July evaluation period that starts in eight days and MU is currently down one coach that’s allowed to be on the road recruiting. Given that Marquette currently does not have any recruits committed for the Class of 2020, aka the class that can sign letters of intent in four months, it’s not an ideal circumstance for Wojciechowski and the Golden Eagles. It’s also unclear as to which current 2020 targets had a stronger relationship with Nelson as opposed to Wojciechowski and the other two assistants, Stan Johnson and Dwayne Killings.
In the past, Wojciechowski has alluded to the fact that no one particular coach on his staff is individually responsible for any one recruit. If that’s the case, then perhaps all Marquette has to worry about is covering the various recruiting angles that they need to cover going forward until a new assistant can be hired. With Carmody announcing his retirement on June 18th, it’s obvious that Wojciechowski knew that it was possible if not likely that Nelson would be gone by the time the July period rolled around. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that there’s already replacement candidates lined up nor to hear that a new assistant is hired before the live period begins.
There is also the issue of skills development to wonder about. It’s no secret that Marquette has been an exceptional three-point shooting team in general while Steve Wojciechowski has been the head coach. That also applies to the phrase “while Brett Nelson has been on the staff.” Nelson was Florida’s all-time leader in three-pointers made and attempted when he finished his collegiate career, and even today, 15 years later, he’s still in the top five. He jumped into the pool feet first upon being hired at Marquette to launch a shooting training program, and we’ve seen the evidence of his work since then. Obviously Wojciechowski still has records of the drills that Nelson was having the team run, so that kind of thing won’t be lost in the transition. However, there’s something about having the sense of being a highly regarded shooter that helps you teach and refine the skills, and that’s something that MU is losing with Nelson’s job change.