Five thoughts on new Mizzou basketball coach Dennis Gates | Mizzou Sports News

COLUMBIA, Mo. — For the third time in the last decade and fifth time in 16 years, fans flocked to Mizzou Arena on Tuesday to hear from Missouri’s new basketball coach on his first day on the job. This time, it’s Dennis Gates, the 42-year-old Chicago native who spent the last three years lifting Cleveland State out of the Horizon League gutter and now inherits a Mizzou program coming off a 21-loss season.

Gates had a lot to say at his introductory press conference, as did his new bosses. Here are five takeaways.

1. Nets, trophies, banners

When UM president Mun Choi introduced new athletics director Desiree Reed-Francois eight months ago, he promised “business as usual goes out the window.” He talked of winning championships at Mizzou, not just competing for championships. (Mizzou has won two SEC championships, both in volleyball.) Choi’s new basketball coach isn’t one to diminish expectations, either. Mizzou has appeared in just two NCAA Tournaments over the last nine years and hasn’t won an NCAA game since 2010.

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But in his impassioned 10-minute opening statement, Gates challenged the fans to be part of his drive for championships. Plural.

“To our fan base, to our student body, you may not have chosen me, but I choose you,” he said. “I asked you today to do the same thing I have done, do the same thing that our administration has done: Let’s do it together. One day, we will cut down nets, hold up trophies, we will raise banners. I one day will sit in the green room with a first-round (NBA) draft pick. You will, too … watch or listen to that person get drafted. How do we do that? We do it together. We do it the Mizzou way. To our student body, our fans, our alumni and former players along with everyone who loves Mizzou, everyone who has created unbelievable memories at this great institution, I invite you, wherever you are, I invite you to create some new ones. … Come support these young men. Come support the future. Come support us. And you too will cut some of that net down. You too will raise that banner. You, too, will raise that trophy.”

All of which begs a question: What exactly did Choi, Reed-Francois and the UM Curators express to Gates as their expectations for this program? What do they expect from a program that was in the NCAA Tournament 12 months ago and ranked No. 10 in the national polls in February 2021, only to fire its head coach — and pay him $6 million — a year later. Mizzou hasn’t had sustained success in a long time, hasn’t made consecutive NCAA Tournaments since 2012-13 and hasn’t finished nationally ranked in consecutive seasons since 1994-95.

So, what kind of expectations does Gates inherit?

“Guys, I’m gonna be measured,” he said. “I know the business and profession I’m in. I realize that. I am not running from it. I’m here to tussle with it. I’m here to fight against our opponents. Not just the SEC but in the country. I understand that. I understand expectations, because my success can open doors for other people. I understand that. So the word is not just ‘national championship.’ It’s not just an SEC championship. It’s also to watch our kids walk across the stage. That’s what it’s also about. So a win may not be visible on ESPN, and a sports ticker, but wins come in different ways, opportunities that we get. I want to see kids graduate, walk across the stage. That’s also a win. I want to see our institution be nationally recognized as an athletic department, sport among sport. I’m here because I know it’s possible.”

2. Details, details, details

OK, how much is it going to cost? Missouri did not make the terms of Gates’ contract available to the media. They’re still being finalized. He agreed to general terms — and they are “substantially less” than what Martin was making, a university source said Tuesday. Martin had a seven-year, $21 million deal with a pricy buyout package. Gates’ contract was described as “reasonable” and “not cheap,” but the university didn’t “overdo” the guarantee.

What about his staff? Gates declined to comment on whom he will hire, but it sounds like he has assistant coaches in mind.

“I can’t talk about individuals right now at this stage, simply because I want to keep that private for not just for myself, but for them,” he said. “I don’t want to put them in any compromising situations publicly or even with their fan bases or any anything else right now.”

One name to eliminate from consideration is Armon Gates, the coach’s younger brother who is an assistant at Nebraska. Armon attended Tuesday’s press conference, but a source confirmed he’s not a candidate for the staff.

How about Mizzou’s current roster? Most players were in class Tuesday and didn’t attend the press conference. Gates met with them as a group since he’s been in Columbia. Here’s what he said about that meeting: “I just allowed them to see who I was as a person, as a man, as a head coach here. It’s sometimes territorial or even tough to look at because I’m a coach who’s coming from somewhere else. We’re in transition. When young people go through transition, you’ve got to protect their hearts. Desiree, you protected their hearts in that transition, and I appreciate that.

“They were receptive. I told them my vision, my plans, the core values that I’ve listed to you guys today, but more importantly, I wanted them to ask me questions. I wanted those guys to be able to control the environment. Because too often as adults, we don’t listen to young people in those traumatic stages. Trauma for anybody, we have to pay attention, too. We have to listen. We have to open our hearts, open our ears, and I just wanted to listen. So I told them my background, where I’m from. I even cracked a joke, and they all laughed. I said, ‘You guys Googled me, didn’t you?’ And they all did. So it was fun and it was exciting.”

3. DRF’s first big test

How exactly did Gates appear on Reed-Francois’ radar? It happened well before he coached a game at Cleveland State. Gates’ eight years as a Florida State assistant overlapped with Reed-Francois’ time as an assistant AD at Virginia Tech in the ACC.

“We kept wondering, how was Florida State turning it around so much?” she said. “So I started asking people and they said, ‘Dennis Gates. He is an incredible recruiter. He’s the real deal.’”

Those recommendations put Gates on Reed-Francois’ short list of potential candidates to consider when she took over as AD at UNLV. She’d make two hires there, T.J. Otzelberger and Kevin Kruger, but didn’t forget about Gates. When she and consultant Eddie Fogler put together separate tiers of candidates for the Mizzou job, she said Gates was in the top tier. MU spoke with multiple candidates in person and on Zoom, she said.

Reed-Francois said she wanted to hire someone whom she’d trust to coach her own son — literally in this case because last year Jackson Francois committed to play for Mizzou as a walk-on when he arrives on campus later this year.

“He might have to re-recruit him,” she joked. “He has not decided to enter the transfer portal, my child, so that’s a good thing. Because I’ve already put in a deposit on tuition, so that would be bad.”

But what sold her on Gates? She was blown away by his turnaround job at Cleveland State, where he was the last Division I coach hired in the 2019 offseason, not landing the job until the final week of July. Reed-Francois and other university leaders were especially impressed that he turned a gutted roster into an 11-win team and earned Horizon League coach of the year honors by his peers in the conference.

“I like selfless, smart, hard workers, someone who has turned a program around, someone who’s a proven winner, someone who has an edge, someone who has a competitive drive and just a relentless devotion to the game of basketball,” she said. “Someone who is going to be so passionate to not only recruit, but to bring people back, bring people together.”

This matters, too: All eyes were on Reed-Francois the last couple weeks. This was her first major coaching hire at Mizzou. She works for a hands-on system president who likes to dabble in athletics. But as the process unfolded, Mizzou leaders insisted this was Reed-Francois’ hire — not the Curators’ hire, not the president’s hire, not the boosters’ hire.

University leaders are now especially emboldened by what’s happening at Iowa State. Why? Otzelberger won two games in the NCAA Tournament last week. Three years ago Reed-Francois hired him as the head coach at UNLV. He lasted two seasons in Vegas then turned around Iowa State from a two-win team to the Sweet 16. Iowa State’s NCAA Tournament wins over LSU and Wisconsin are two more than Mizzou’s last three head coaches have combined in the Big Dance. Campus leaders see what Otzelberger is doing at ISU and believe Reed-Francois’ latest hire can have a similar effect at Mizzou, similar to what Eli Drinkwitz has delivered to the football program as his career trajectory ascends.

4. Recruit the world

Like Drinkwitz, Gates’ instant impact at Mizzou will be measured by his ability to reel in recruits. Five times during their opening remarks, Choi, Reed-Francois and Curator Jeff Layman used the words “tireless” and “relentless” to describe Gates on the recruiting trail.

Where will Gates recruit? Everywhere.

“We’ve had kids from Long Beach, California. We’ve had kids from Detroit. We’ve had kids from Florida. We had kids internationally. We had kids from Chicago,” he said. “But we also had kids from home. That will be important. … For me we have to have our recruiting base be international, not even just national, because there are young men at every corner of this country and the world that can help this program, help us play an exciting style, where fast-paced offense meets fast-paced pressure defense. There’s a lot of student athletes that can help, but we have to put a fence around our state.”

Off the podium, I asked Gates for his early impressions of the Mizzou roster and scholarship situation he inherits.

“I’m gonna continue to analyze the stats and see the component that we need to insert,” he said. “But also you’ve got to recruit certain skills. You have to fill in certain holes based off the current roster. That’s what we’re gonna do.”

5. Gates on Martin

Last but not least, what about the last guy? Here’s an interesting angle to the Gates hire. He counts Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton as one of his essential mentors in life and basketball. Someone else does, too.

“If there’s such a thing as a mentor in this profession, he’d be one for me. I’ve talked to Leonard for years. A lot of respect for him and the way he goes about his business.”

That was Cuonzo Martin in March 2018, right before his Tigers were set to play Hamilton and Gates’ Seminoles in the NCAA Tournament, a game FSU won 67-54. Now, one of Hamilton’s disciples is replacing another.

I asked Gates about his relationship with Martin and what he knows about the program Martin ran here for the last five years.

“I have a relationship with a lot of coaches. I’m involved in a lot of things on the NCAA level and the NABC,” Gates said. “This is a small community and small fraternity as a profession. So I’m not just one person’s friend. I know that entire tree. (Former Purdue coach) Gene Keady’s tree is long and extensive, and he’s a Hall of Famer in his own right. So for me, definitely decompressing all the information. I have a relationship with Cuonzo. He’s done a tremendous job here at this institution but also throughout his career and getting to where he’s been.”

COLUMBIA, Mo. — For the fifth time in 16 years, Missouri has a new men’s basketball coach. The UM System Board of Curators went into closed executive session Tuesday morning and approved the contract for newly hired coach Dennis Gates, the university announced 30 minutes later.

Gates, 42, will be formally introduced at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. He replaces Cuonzo Martin, who was fired this month following the Tigers’ 11-21 season. Contract terms for Gates’ deal were not immediately available. Martin had a seven-year contract with an average salary of $3 million per year. Mizzou owes Martin a buyout of $6 million. 

“After a comprehensive and efficient national search, during which we had the privilege of speaking with an impressive group of coaches, it became clear Coach Gates was what we needed in the next leader of our basketball program,” Missouri athletics director Desiree Reed-Francois said in a released statement. “He’s smart, driven and focused on winning. He’s a proven recruiter, a strong evaluator of talent, an innovative teacher of the game and has a unique enthusiasm and passion for his work and for his student athletes that draws people in. He shares our vision of where Mizzou basketball can and will go. It is our privilege to welcome Coach Gates, his wife Jocelyn, and their family to Mizzou.” 

“I have been so fortunate throughout my career to work at some outstanding institutions with incredible people, and after doing my research and speaking with Desiree and President (Mun) Choi, it is clear that Missouri is a tremendous opportunity with unlimited potential,” Gates said. “We will build a program that all Mizzou fans will be proud of, for how we play, how our student-athletes represent the University of Missouri and how our togetherness and work ethic will lead to on-court victories. I want to thank President Choi, the Board of Curators and Desiree for an outstanding opportunity.” 

“The Board of Curators supports this decision and we offer a warm welcome to Coach Gates and his family,” Board Chairman Darryl Chatman added. “As a board, we support setting higher expectations and making progress in all that we do as a university, and that applies to research and academics, as well as athletics. We look forward to all that Coach Gates will bring to the court and to our student-athletes.” 

“Desiree Reed-Francois is focused on a results-driven, championship culture that supports our student-athletes,” Choi said. “We all agree Coach Gates fits into that vision and will take Mizzou basketball to new heights. We’re excited to welcome Coach Gates into the Tiger family of students, staff, faculty, alumni and friends.” 

Gates spent the last three seasons as the head coach at Cleveland State, where after an 11-win debut season he won the Horizon League regular-season championship each of the next two years, including an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2021. The Chicago native spent the previous eight years as an assistant at Florida State and also has coached at California (his alma mater), Marquette, Nevada, Northern Illinois and with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Before Tuesday’s public Board meeting went into closed session, Curator Maurice Graham asked the other Board members if they read Tuesday’s Post-Dispatch feature story on Gates. Curator Greg Hoberock, after making it clear he does not get the Post-Dispatch, said he understands the public sentiment on Gates was “50-50,” but added the Board decides who gets hired, not the fans. Board chairman Darryl Chatman retorted that the Board does indeed take the fans’ opinions into consideration. Chatman then quickly motioned for the meeting to go into closed executive session.

How Dennis Gates’ rise from Chicago prep guard to Cal freshman captain leads him to Mizzou

When he first arrived on a college campus, Dennis Gates wanted nothing more than to be a team leader. At 42, he’ll get to lead Missouri’s program, pending the UM Board’s approval Tuesday.


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