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With or without Odom, UMBC can build on its NCAA tournament breakthrough

A week after its historic victory in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, UMBC is in a bit of a holding pattern.

Second-year coach Ryan Odom contemplates a future that seems likely to result in a more lucrative offer from a larger program, perhaps even from a Power 5 school.

Tim Hall, in his fifth year as the athletic director, is trying to put together the kind of package that could keep the 43-year-old Odom in Catonsville a little — or a lot — longer.

As college basketball fans watch the remaining games of the tournament, many of them are still talking about what the Retrievers did in beating Virginia to become the first men’s No. 16 seed to bounce a top seed.

Recent history shows that even if Odom were to leave, UMBC can become more than an answer on “Jeopardy!” Another school known better by its initials than its full name — FGCU, or Florida Gulf Coast University — has done that in the past five years.

After Andy Enfield led the Eagles to the Sweet 16 in his second season in 2012-13, he turned down a couple of more established mid-majors before Southern California came calling. The Trojans’ seven-figure package was too tempting for Enfield to reject.

FGCU athletic director Ken Kavanagh believes Odom, and ultimately Hall, are in the same situation now.

“If he stays, it’s awesome, and [if] he doesn’t, he fit the description of what anybody wants from anybody, not just your coaches but anybody in any organization by leaving it better than you found it," Kavanagh said in an interview earlier this week.

“There will be a lot more people interested in the position for everythingUMBC’s got going right now. It’s not that way at Butler, where you’re hiring assistants from within — maybe they will go that route — but you’ ll definitely have more interest than when Ryan took over.”

Enfield, a former Johns Hopkins star who had previously served as an assistant at Florida State, took a pay cut to become a first-time coach of the fledgling FGCU program, as did his successor, former Kansas assistant Joe Dooley.

“It’s like anything else in our society, when you have resource opportunities, and they only come about so often at certain times,” Kavanagh said. “It doesn't mean that Ryan would leave. It just means that I would think at this time of year, he’ll have some offers [and] he gets a chance to compare staying or going.”

According to a database of Maryland state employees salaries, Odom is earning a base salary of $225,000, which is less than what Maryland coach Mark Turgeon’s assistants make in College Park.

According to a copy of Odom’s contract obtained by The Baltimore Sun through the Maryland Public Information Act, he will also receive $17,500 in bonuses as a result of his team reaching the Round of 32.

In an interview with ESPN after UMBC’s shocking 20-point win over the nation’s No. 1 team, Hall said: “We need to do within our realm what we can. We obviously can't do what the Power 5 schools can do, or anything near that. I think at some point Ryan wants to do it on a bigger stage. I'm just hoping it's down the road instead of now.

"We're going to put something on the table that will be really good for where we're at. We're going to do everything in our power to incentivize him to stay here."

Hours after the Virginia game, Odom told ESPN: "I haven't even thought about it. Right now, I'm their coach. I'm here. I'm sure they'd like me to be here and I want to still be here."

Odom hasn’t responded to requests for comment.

In a subsequent interview with The Sun earlier this week, Hall said his experience at Kent State has helped him approach the situation at UMBC. Hall was an associate athletic director at Kent State from 2003 to 2007, when Jim Christian took the team to the NCAA tournament in 2006 and again in 2008 before going to Texas Christian.

“We were really good in basketball," Hall said. “And you lose a basketball coach because you're going to the NCAA tournament. And you know they're going to a significantly larger institution. That's a good problem in our level to have.

“Ryan is a unique guy in that he does have a strong executive presence and he is thoughtful, and family and personal-professional balance is important to him. He's been in the business. The phrase I've used is: ‘Sometimes the grass on the other side isn't greener. It's just grass.’ ”

Even if Odom leaves, UMBC doesn’t have to fall back into the kind of basketball abyss the Retrievers found themselves in before he arrived.

Under Dooley, the Eagles went to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and 2017, as well as to the National Invitation Tournament in 2014 and this season.

Corey Evans, who covers mid-major recruiting for Rivals.com, said in an interview earlier this week that UMBC must capitalize on its success while the spotlight is still there.

“Just think about it: You have [America East] programs like Vermont and Albany and Stony Brook. They're not in the national spotlight right now. And UMBC is, and that's the most important word there: national spotlight,” Evans said.

“Most kids probably didn't even know what UMBC stood for. Now, you look at Florida Gulf Coast, what Florida Gulf Coast did, it heightened the brand that Florida Gulf Coast was. That would be ideal, if they could become a Florida Gulf Coast.”

Given the school’s location in a recruiting corridor hotbed, and a new $85 million arena that recently opened, Odom or whoever succeeds him should not have any trouble attracting players, whether they are three-star prospects who have been overlooked, such as point guard K.J. Maura, or high-level transfers, such as Jairus Lyles.

“Recruiting is so intangible. It's like: 'We're trying to paint a picture, but the picture's there.’ You can see it [at UMBC]. 'Hey, you're our next K.J. Maura. Or even Jairus Lyles,’ ” Evans said. “The transfer realm is so important now in college basketball, at any level. So Odom can go out and say, 'Hey, Jairus Lyles barely played at VCU, played two minutes a game, came here, changed the entire program around, became an NBA draft prospect. Why can't you do the same for us?' ”

As FGCU became known as "Dunk City,” UMBC can sell itself as college basketball’s ultimate Cinderella. While FGCU has beaches near its campus, UMBC is in close proximity to four major cities, including New York.

“It definitely is massive that they can have that kind of a platform where everyone in America [on Sunday], for as brutal a game it was, they were watching UMBC basketball,” Evans said of UMBC’s 50-43 loss to No. 9 seed Kansas State in the Round of 32.

First-year Florida Gulf Coast assistant coach David Cason, who was a two-time All-Metro player at Southern, believes UMBC can do what every other No. 16 seed couldn’t since the NCAA tournament expanded in 1985.

“Not only did they get into the tournament, they won a game,” Cason said. “It’s historic, it’s never been done before, a 16 beating a 1. What Coach Odom and his staff have done, they have put the university and the city basically on the map in today’s age of social media.”

Cason, who previously worked at Texas, said Odom has also changed the job profile.

“If Coach Odom does leave, that becomes a great job,” Cason said. “You’re going to have every ACC and Big Ten assistant coach that’s going to be attracted to that job. … UMBC has become a national name. That acronym is now nationally known.”

Five years after the unveiling of “Dunk City,” Florida Gulf Coast is still feeling the effects. Kavanagh, whose uncle Kevin once served as baseball coach and later athletic director at Loyola Maryland, believes the same thing can happen at UMBC.

“We’ll be in an airport or something, people are not exactly sure what our logo means, but they’ll say, ‘Where do I know your school from? Are you that school?’ And I’ll say, ‘Yeah, that’s us,’ ” Kavanagh said. “UMBC is going to get that for quite a while.”

don.markus@baltsun.com

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