LARAMIE – Consider Jeff Linder initiated.
Linder was named the University of Wyoming’s men’s basketball coach Tuesday morning after spending the last four years leading Northern Colorado in nearby Greeley, Colorado. Linder won 69 games over his final three seasons with the Bears, including 26 victories in 2017-18. He won Big Sky Coach of the Year a season ago.
Linder has the type of track record the Cowboys coveted after Allen Edwards was relieved of his duties last week. UW has had a rough go of it recently, winning just 17 games over the last two seasons. Despite a Cinderella run to the semifinals of the 2020 Mountain West tournament, Edwards was fired.
UW athletics director Tom Burman admits he began exploring a potential coaching change before the conference tournament began, and he was adamant that the new man leading the Cowboys have head coaching experience. Linder checked every box.
After seriously speaking with seven or so legitimate candidates, Burman chose Linder, who has been well-received by the majority of Pokes fans.
But the icing on the cake? In his first teleconference with the media, Linder, a Colorado native, invoked local lore. While skiing in Guernsey, Linder said he took a nasty spill on his head and ended up receiving stitches. It’s a wound he’s proud to bear, especially now.
“I have scars, so hopefully the Wyoming natives will know that I’m Wyoming tough,” Linder said with a laugh.
Linder, along with Burman, spoke with the media Wednesday for the first time since the hiring became official. In a somewhat strange time in sports, given the COVID-19 pandemic, each showed extreme gratitude for the news, despite the circumstances.
Burman said Linder’s deal is for five years with a base salary of $225,000, and can be worth up to $260,000 a year with incentives. Linder said he has not decided on the rest of his coaching staff at this point, but did note that Shaun Vandiver, one of Edwards’ assistants, would remain on staff. Vandiver also coached with Linder at Boise State.
“We’re in unique times in our history, and I appreciate you continuing to pay attention to this when there are clearly more important things to be paying attention to,” Burman said.
Linder is well-versed in the MW, having helped lead Boise State to a pair of NCAA tournament appearances as an assistant under head coach Leon Rice. It also doesn’t hurt that he is fairly local and vividly remembers watching UW greats like Fennis Dembo.
“I was really grateful. In this profession, a lot of what we do, it’s hard ... it’s hard being a coach ... you have to find the right people and the right fit,” Linder said. “UW was the right fit for me.”
Having seen Linder’s Northern Colorado teams defeat the Cowboys three years in a row, and having been familiar with the teams he helped coach at Boise State, it was hardly a leap of faith for Burman to put his trust in Linder.
“I remember watching their offense when they were at Boise,” Burman said. “(Familiarity with his offense) had an impact.”
It’s not just those involved in the hiring of Linder who believe he will take UW back to the promised land, though. Count Rice as one of the believers in Linder: if anyone is going to get the Cowboys back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015, it’s going to be his former associate head coach.
“What a tremendous hire by Tom Burman. Linder has a great wealth of experience and a great basketball mind,” Rice told WyoSports. “He will do a terrific job of leading Wyoming back to its winning ways.”
Former Boise State player Ryan Watkins, who played for the Broncos from 2010-14, had similar praise for his former coach. Watkins was a key cog in the 2013 BSU team that made it to the NCAA Tournament.
“He’s a genius. One of, if not the best basketball mind I’ve ever been around,” Watkins said. “He knows how to get the most out his guys and where to put them on the floor for everyone to be successful.”
Linder has hit the ground running, having already paid visits to Colorado natives Kwane Marble II, Kenny Foster and Hunter Maldonado in an attempt to sell them on remaining with the program. Several UW players took to social media following the MW tournament to voice their support for Edwards, including Marble and Maldonado.
“(Trust) is not something that’s created overnight,” Linder said.
All things considered, Linder believes the state of the team is solid as is, but pointed out that he puts an emphasis on shooting, something UW did not excel at last season. UW shot 40.9% from the field overall (313th nationally), ranked 235th in 3-point field goal percentage (32.1%) and 335th in points per game (62.7). Linder’s teams at Northern Colorado ranked in the top third nationally in scoring average each of his last three seasons at the helm.
“We do need to add some pieces. I really value shooting. Shooting is something I will not sacrifice in recruiting,” Linder said. “That will be something that we look for going forward.”
Linder also was adamant that he doesn’t see UW as a rebuilding project. Following an 11-win season in his first year at Northern Colorado, Linder led the Bears to 20 or more wins in three-straight seasons. While UW had lost 20 games in consecutive seasons, he firmly believes the Cowboys can compete immediately in the Mountain West and, given the altitude, can have the best home-court advantage in college basketball.
Being the only show in town and having a passionate fan base doesn’t hurt, either, he said.
“We’re not going to lose. We’re going to win next year. You have to believe that. I wouldn’t have left my situation there if I didn’t think we could have a winning team here from day one. It’s not unrealistic to do some great things,” Linder said. “We can get there ... we can win a Mountain West championship at the University of Wyoming.”