Next up at Detroit Mercy? Nine candidates to watch

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
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For the second time in his five-year tenure as Detroit Mercy athletic director, Robert Vowels is going shopping for a new men’s basketball coach.

Vowels on Monday fired Bacari Alexander after just two seasons on the job, albeit two tumultuous seasons — the worst two-year span in the history of the program, record wise, capped by a record 24 losses, sandwiched around a seven-game suspension, in 2017-18.

Vowels has yet to grant an interview since firing Alexander. Detroit Mercy announced the firing in a two-paragraph statement.

Jermaine Jackson Sr., an assistant on Alexander’s staff and once a member of his wedding party, is the interim coach.

Bacari Alexander was fired as Detroit Mercy coach on Monday.

The Final Four is this week in San Antonio, where hundreds of college coaches will gather — and where Vowels ideally would begin his search. There are some unknowns here, however, most notably how much Detroit Mercy is willing to spend. It reportedly spent handsomely on Alexander, 41, and it’s not known what, if any financial settlement, was reached amid his departure.

The next hire also will come as Detroit Mercy is preparing to cut tuition by 30 percent this fall in an effort to attract more students.

Being a private school, Detroit Mercy is not required to open its books to share salaries, budgets and, if any, deficits.

All that said, here are nine potential candidates to keep an eye on:


Jermaine Jackson Sr., right, is an assistant coach at Detroit Mercy, where his son, Jermaine Jr., also plays.

Current gig: Detroit Mercy, interim head coach

Outlook: By most accounts, he appears to be the leader in the clubhouse. He is believed to have finished runner-up to Alexander when Alexander was hired in 2016, taking over for the fired Ray McCallum Sr. Jackson also served as interim head coach during Alexander’s seven-game suspension this season and compiled a 4-3 reocrd in that span, including some late-game wins, something Alexander rarely pulled off during his brief tenure. Like Alexander, Jackson, 41, is a Detroit Mercy alum, whose head-coaching experience includes a short stint at Mount Clemens High School, following lengthy professional playing career. His son, Jermaine Jr., also stars for Detroit Mercy.


Lou Dawkins coached seven years at Saginaw High.

Current gig: Cleveland State, assistant coach

Outlook: A legendary coach in the state of Michigan, he is best-known for coaching Saginaw High for seven seasons, leading the team to the Class A state championships in 2007 and 2008. He was Draymond Green’s high-school coach, and is said to be very interested in the Detroit Mercy job, following his first season under Dennis Felton at Cleveland State. Dawkins also has been an assistant coach at Northern Illinois. Fair or not, though, Dawkins could be a tough sell, given his last name is toxic in the college-basketball world at the moment. He is the father of Christian Dawkins, who is among the central figures in the FBI’s ongoing investigation into corruption in the sport.


Andy Bronkema just led Ferris State to the Division II national championship.

Current gig: Ferris State, head coach

Outlook: Few coaches’ star has risen us much this season as Bronkema, 34, the heavily bearded coach at Ferris State, which just won the Division II national championship — the first Michigan team ever to do so. He’s spent five years as head coach in Big Rapids, after serving as an assistant the six before that. He’s a Michigan native who played high-school and college ball in the state, and most importantly from Detroit Mercy’s perspective, he has a strong recruiting record around here. The Division II coach of the year had Drew Cushingberry (Romeo), Noah King (U-D Jesuit) and Jaylin McFadden (East English Village) among impact players this season.


Dane Fife, left, joined Tom Izzo's staff at Michigan State in 2011, walking away from a head-coaching job at IPFW.

Current gig: Michigan State, assistant coach

Outlook: There’s been a theory in college circles for a little bit that Alexander was one of those coaches who makes a great assistant, but not necessarily a great head coach. Fife is a guy who actually doesn’t mind being an assistant vs. a head coach, having walked away from the head-coaching job at IPFW in 2011 to join Tom Izzo’s staff at Michigan State. Previously, he flirted with a Purdue assistant job. He also had a chance last year to possibly get back into Division I head-coaching, at Duquesne, but he bowed out to stay with the Spartans. So it’s unclear if Fife, 38, the son of Clarkston head coach Dan Fife, even wants to get back into the stresses of being the top dog.


Cornell Mann was an assistant coach at Oakland for one season (2016-17).

Current gig: Missouri, assistant coach

Outlook: At some point, Mann deserves to get a head-coaching job. It's pretty surprising it hasn't happened already. He's going on two decades as an assistant coach at the Division I level, his career taking him from Central Michigan, to Western Michigan, to Dayton, to Iowa State, to Oakland, and now to Missouri. He's a Royal Oak Township native and former Ferndale High prep star who knows the Detroit recruiting terrain well. For instance, at Iowa State, he got Flint's Monte Morris to go there, and he's now in the NBA on a two-way contract with the Denver Nuggets. At five of Cornell's six coaching stops, he's helped his team get into the NCAA Tournament.


Mark Fox, right, a friend of Greg Kampe's, was recently fired by Georgia.

Current gig: Unemployed

Outlook: Who knows how big a name Detroit Mercy actually will shoot for, but it doesn’t hurt to make the call. Fox was just fired by Georgia after a nine-year stint that included two trips to the NCAA Tournament. Before that, he spent five years at Nevada, which he led to the NCAA Tournament three times. At Georgia, he took over for fired Dennis Felton, who is rehabbing his head-coaching career in the Horizon League, at Cleveland State. Maybe Fox, 49, is inclined to go that route, too. He also knows Michigan’s talent, having recruited SEC player of the year Yante Maten. A side note: He’s friendly with Greg Kampe, coach at rival Oakland; not sure that works.


Former Ohio State coach Thad Matta has history in the Horizon League, as a player and coach at Butler.

Current gig: Unemployed

Outlook: Probably the most unrealistic name on this list, but the former Ohio State coach — who left for health reasons a year ago — is said to be ready to get back in the game. Reports say he interviewed this spring for the Georgia job (that went to Tom Crean) and the Pittsburgh job (that went to Jeff Capel). He does have ties to the Horizon League, too, having spent one season as head coach at Butler, where he also played in college, and also was an assistant for several years, in two stints. Matta, 50, also was head coach at Xavier before landing the job at Ohio State, which he took to the NCAA Tournament nine times in 13 years, including the Final Four in 2012.


Drew Valentine, left, and Saddi Washington -- good friends from their Lansing days -- will square off in the Final Four, with Loyola-Chicago and Michigan, respectively.

Current gig: Loyola-Chicago, assistant coach

Outlook: Now, this would be the ultimate heel move right here — a former Oakland Grizzlies star player (four years, two NCAA Tournament appearances), who also spent two seasons on Greg Kampe’s staff before leaving last year for, of all places, Final Four-bound Loyola-Chicago. At 26, he’s considered one of the top up-and-coming coaches in the college game. At 26, he also would be the youngest Division I head basketball coach, by far. He’s an excellent recruiter, though. Whether he is overly eager to leave Chicago, already, is another question. He loves his life there, with his new wife, and his brother, Denzel, plays for the Chicago Bulls.


Saddi Washington has been an assistant coach at Michigan since 2016.

Current gig: Michigan, assistant coach

Outlook: Here's another coach with long-time ties to Oakland, and such a hire sure would spice up that rivalry. Washington was on staff under Greg Kampe from 2006-16, the last few years as an associate head coach, before he joined Michigan's staff in 2016. He's long been considered a head coach in waiting, and his recruiting chops in Metro Detroit are second to few, if any. But the problem with both Drew Valentine and Saddi Washington (good friends growing up in Lansing), if either were to get offered and take the job at Detroit Mercy, that might cost them any chance down the road of taking over at Oakland when Kampe decides to retire.

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