Why I Believe Mark Byington Will Be West Virginia’s Next Head Coach

MORGANTOWN, West Virginia — The West Virginia Mountaineers are in the process of searching for its next head coach, but I believe the decision was made weeks ago. I said over a month ago that West Virginia University and James Madison head coach Mark Byington had a “handshake deal” for him to become the next head coach of the Mountaineers.

The “handshake deal” may have been overstated, but the reality is that West Virginia’s director of athletics, Wren Baker, and Mark Byington have been in contact about the position and both have strong mutual interest. 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, were mutually pleased with each other, 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 is 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.

And remember, the deal isn’t official, and anything can change until he signs on the dotted line. If James Madison makes a deep run in the NCAA Tournament – say, a Sweet 16, Elite 8 or Final 4 appearance – Byington’s stock will skyrocket and he will be heavily pursued by other schools. Let’s say Michigan, Ohio State or Louisville come knocking at Byington’s door if James Madison makes a deep run during March Madness and really want him to be their next head coach. Can West Virginia really outbid any of these three big-time programs? No, unlikely.

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.

All of this is to say that I truly believe Mark Byington will be West Virginia’s next head basketball coach, but the reality is that this is a very fluid situation and anything can happen or change over the next couple of weeks. With that said, I will be shocked if anyone but Byington takes over the Mountaineers’ basketball program.