West Virginia Job is a Two Man Race

MORGANTOWN, West Virginia — As I’ve said for nearly a month now, West Virginia University and James Madison head coach Mark Byington have a strong mutual interest in making him the next head coach of the Mountaineers.

I’ve been told that Byington flew to Morgantown to meet with Baker prior to the start of the Sun Belt Championship, which his James Madison team won, and that they agreed that this is what both parties want for their futures. Rather than it officially being a “handshake deal” that guaranteed that Byington would be the team’s next head coach, it’s more likely that Byington and Baker met, both parties were happy with one another, and that barring any changes between then and the time that a head coach would be named, that Byington will ultimately end up at West Virginia.

Now, Byington is the consummate professional, as is Wren Baker, and neither wanted their agreement to get leaked. Byington still has to coach his James Madison team in the NCAA Tournament, and Wren Baker has to make sure that all donors and interested parties are heard about who they want to be the next coach before he ultimately makes his decision. In other words, announcing that Byington will be the next head coach at West Virginia before his team is eliminated in the NCAA Tournament would be bad for Byington and for Wren Baker.

A couple of things could potentially happen that would change Byington to West Virginia becoming a reality: 1.) Byington makes a huge run in the NCAA Tournament next week, takes James Madison to a Sweet 16, Elite 8 or even a Final 4, and then he suddenly becomes the hottest young coach in the nation who is being pursued by the likes of Michigan and Louisville. This is yet another reason why Byington hasn’t already been announced as the next head coach at West Virginia. The coaches hold all of the power during this coaching carousel, with multiple outstanding jobs available and only a select few head coaches to fill those openings. Byington is only 47 and could easily be seen as the next Dusty May with a few wins over the next couple of weeks, and then he could absolutely demand more money from West Virginia, or any other program who wants him.

2.) Darian DeVries impresses Wren Baker so much that Baker can’t help but to offer the job to Devries. Devries, 48, is the current head coach at Drake University. He started his career at Creighton, where he was a long-time assistant coach before accepting the job at Drake in 2018. While at Drake, DeVries has led the basketball program to incredible success.

In addition, DeVries’ son, Tucker DeVries, is a current player at Drake and is the two-time Missour Valley Conference Player of the Year, averaging 21.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game this season while leading the Bulldogs to a 27-6 record this season. Tucker DeVries has two years of eligibility remaining and would almost certainly follow his father to Morgantown if he coaches the Mountaineers next season.

With this said, DeVries is reportedly a top candidate at Michigan, among other programs, and I think West Virginia would have a ton of competition in hiring him. Wren Baker was very clear during his recent press conference that he was not interested in getting in a bidding war for a coach, which leads us back to Mark Byington.

Byington makes the most sense overall. He is a Virginia native and has proven to be an outstanding recruiter, particularly in the Washington DC and Atlanta areas, and would likely bring Sun Belt Player of the Year and former four star recruit, Terrence Edwards, along with him. Edwards, a junior from Atlanta, Georgia with two years of eligibility remaining, averaged 17.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game while leading James Madison to a 31-3 record this year.

Overall, the only two candidates who make sense for West Virginia at this point are Byington or DeVries (with a strong lean towards Byington), and both are absolutely fantastic head coaches.

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Brad Smith
Brad Smith, "The Voice of Morgantown", is the most trusted, accomplished name in West Virginia sports journalism. Smith is the foremost, preeminent authority on West Virginia athletics and a lifelong fan of the Mountaineers. Smith, a proud graduate of West Virginia University, resides in Morgantown most of the year, but has a home in Jacksonville, Florida, where he lives during the winter.