COLUMN: Thoughts on Bowen and basketball turnarounds

Jonathan Lintner

Talk of Clint Bowen and the coaching carousel seemed a bit premature when it was brought up at Head Coach Willie Taggart’s Nov. 9 press conference.

“He knows what we’re doing here and what we’re building here,” Taggart said. “From everything I get, Coach Bowen enjoys Bowling Green and enjoys being a part of this progress, and he loves our kids.”

Taggart reassured that Bowen wanted to be here, and a second thought didn’t rise until it was reported on Wednesday that Bowen was heading to North Texas to be the Mean Green’s defensive coordinator.

WKU was lucky to have Bowen for as long as it did — and really lucky to have the former Kansas assistant at all. He took the WKU defense from 118th in the nation in 2009 to 68th overall in 2010, which ranked third in the Sun Belt Conference.

Now Taggart, who was out recruiting players this week, must recruit his second defensive coordinator in a year. Or he could keep Bowen’s theories rolling and promote from within.

Either way, WKU’s defensive mastermind is gone. And what’s most concerning about the move was that it was completely lateral. North Texas finished 3-9 in 2010 and fired coach Todd Dodge mid-season.

But Bowen had at least a few reasons to leave: five of his nine class of 2011 recruiting prospects on hail from Texas. The North Texas campus is now attractive, since it will open a new $78 million stadium next season that seats more than 30,000.

Oh, and then there’s money.

Taggart’s base salary at WKU is $225,000, while new North Texas coach Dan McCarney’s contract pays him $500,000 annually.

You can bet that figure will trickle down to assistants, too. And so, we can’t blame Bowen for walking.

Wait to judge these Toppers

Times have been better for the WKU men’s basketball program, which sits at 4-5 after snapping a four-game losing streak at Bowling Green State on Wednesday night.

But they’ve certainly been worse, and maybe when you’d least expect it.

Remember the last time the Toppers made a run to the NCAA tournament in 2009? They had early losses — and really bad losses — to Houston (73-64), Murray State (89-61) and Evansville (72-40).

Losses this season to Minnesota, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Memphis, who sported a combined 27-4 record as of Wednesday, don’t look so bad now. The Davidson loss still can’t be explained, but at No. 93 in the latest Sagarin Ratings, the Wildcats are the only glaring defeat on the Toppers’ resume.

So as students prepare to leave for a five-week winter break, they shouldn’t judge WKU’s current condition as how it will end the year.

Instead they should judge upon how a similar season ended in Head Coach Ken McDonald’s first try at WKU.

It was then that he took another group that had little chemistry coming into the season to an NCAA tournament. Everyone knew that team had talent, but it took all season to really get it together on the court (the win over Louisville aside).

People probably were expecting some losses early this season with a nightmare of a non-conference schedule. It’s just how the losses are coming that’s most disturbing — anemic shooting, unforced turnovers and an unsure leader at point guard.

But all this can be fixed with time. So wait about five more weeks to decide if this team can make a turnaround of 2009 proportion.