Marquette men’s basketball officially had a vacancy on their coaching staff for just two weeks. On March 20th, Loyola Marymount announced that Stan Johnson was their new head coach. On April 3rd, exactly two weeks later, Marquette and head coach Steve Wojciechowski announced that Johnson’s spot on the MU staff would be occupied by Arizona assistant coach Justin Gainey. That’s a literal spot filling, as Gainey will have the title of associate head coach, just as Johnson did.
Gainey was part of Wojciechowski’s staff from the get-go at Marquette, serving as director of basketball operations for three seasons. He left to take an assistant coaching job at Santa Clara, and then moved on after one year to join Sean Miller’s staff at Arizona for the past two seasons.
Here’s Wojciechowski’s commentary from the official press release:
“We are excited to welcome Justin and the Gainey family back to Marquette,” Wojciechowski said. ”Justin is one of the nation’s top rising coaches and his talents, ability to build meaningful relationships and myriad of experiences alongside some of the game’s best teachers will serve our program, and most importantly our players, incredibly well.”
And here’s Gainey’s statement in the release:
“My family and I are humbled and excited to return to the Marquette basketball family and this great University,” Gainey said. ”Marquette is a special place, with amazing people who make it one of the best Universities in the country.
”I’m grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with one of the best college basketball coaches in the country, as well as one of my mentors, Steve Wojciechowski,” Gainey added. ”I’m excited about the future of Marquette basketball and all the great things that lie ahead.”
Gainey’s experience includes assistant coaching stops at Appalachian State for four seasons and one year at Elon. He was also on Sidney Lowe’s staff at NC State for three seasons as an administrative coordinator and director of basketball operations. All of that was before he came to Milwaukee to join Wojciechowski’s staff, so he’s been around the block for a while since his playing career at NC State in the late 1990s and his professional career in the early 2000s.
The obvious upside is that Gainey is a well seasoned assistant coach with recruiting connections all over the country after working on both coasts and in the midwest. Even better, he already has a rapport with Wojciechowski as well as the Marquette administration, so he’ll fit right in. While Gainey was never employed at Marquette at the same time as any of the current players were enrolled, he was a part of the staff while Brendan Bailey was recruited and signed in the same class as Markus Howard, as well as for the recruiting and signing of Jamal Cain, Theo John, and Greg Elliott. They might not have a close relationship with Gainey, but they’ll at least be familiar with him.
If you want to look a little deeper, Arizona was at least to some extent in the process of recruiting Michael Foster (#9 in the class per 247 Sports) and DaRon Holmes (#113) for the Class of 2021. Both of those guys are also on Marquette’s recruiting lists. It’s unclear as to how much Gainey had to do with recruiting either of them, but if Gainey does have an existing relationship with either one, that has to be beneficial for the Golden Eagles. Arizona is on the 247 Sports interests list for TyTy Washington (#81) without an offer, but he’s on 247’s list for Marquette offers for the Class of 2021. Washington hails from Chandler, Arizona, so you would have to figure that a Wildcats assistant like Gainey would at least be a little bit familiar with what was a local kid for his old job even if UA hadn’t offered him a scholarship.
There are, of course, downsides to hiring Gainey.
I think we can probably disperse with any conversation about Gainey being a part of Sean Miller’s staff at Arizona in terms of actual problems. If my math is right, it appears that Gainey was hired to replace the fired Book Richardson after his arrest by the Feds, and Miller has been essentially clear of any public problems since then. That would essentially leave Gainey clean in that regard, although we would be shortsighted to not point out that HBO released their Christian Dawkins documentary earlier this week that included audio of Sean Miller discussing things that could be NCAA violations before Gainey’s time in Tucson. If part of leaving Arizona was to avoid an incoming maelstrom, well, good for Gainey.
The actual downside in terms of Marquette basketball is that Wojciechowski didn’t look outside his sphere of comfort when hiring to replace Johnson. I’m not expecting Wojciechowski to hire a complete stranger. Hiring someone you know is generally how these things work. I’m not surprised that he hired someone he knows to join his staff. That’s fine. The problem is that Wojciechowski hired someone who already knows how things are run in Milwaukee. After back-to-back collapses down the stretch, one with MU’s All-American injured and one with him operating at full capacity, the absolute last thing that Wojciechowski needs is a comfort level with the guys on his staff.
What it would seem that he needs is a new voice in the room. At the very least, it would seem that Wojciechowski needs a voice in the room to say “Hey, coach, ever thought about doing things this way?” Instead, Gainey looks like a guy who was hired to say “yeah, I know how you like to do things, coach, let’s keep that going.” At a moment when fresh viewpoints appear to be desperately needed at 770 North 12th Street, Steve Wojciechowski appears to have gone in the other direction.
Maybe it works out okay. Maybe Dawson Garcia is a world beater and a game changer, and that’s all that really matters for the Golden Eagles going forward. Time will tell, but for the moment, you can put me in the category of “not particularly excited.”