LARAMIE – It turns out the solution to University of Wyoming’s coaching search was less than 100 miles southeast of Arena-Auditorium.
UW has hired Northern Colorado’s Jeff Linder to be its new men’s basketball coach, the school announced late Tuesday morning. Linder replaces Allen Edwards, who was fired March 9 after four seasons.
Linder served as the Bears’ coach starting in 2016, and held an 80-50 record in four seasons. Northern Colorado won at least 20 games each of the past three seasons, and Linder was named the Big Sky coach of the year following the 2018-19 campaign. Linder also led Northern Colorado to the College Insider Tournament championship last season.
Linder took over a Northern Colorado team that was coming off a 10-21 season in 2015-16. After going 11-18 in his first campaign, the Bears went 69-32 over Linder’s final three seasons, including a 26-12 record in 2017-18. Northern Colorado beat the Cowboys in 2017, ’18 and ’19.
“(Linder) turned around the basketball program at Northern Colorado and developed his team into one of the premier programs in the Big Sky Conference.” UW athletics director Tom Burman said in a statement. “Jeff possesses many important qualities I was looking for in a new head coach for Cowboy basketball.
“First and foremost, he is a proven winner as a head coach. Jeff also has great knowledge of the region and the Mountain West Conference. His brand of basketball will be great for our Cowboys fans to watch, as his teams play with great offensive efficiency and play a tough, hard-nosed style of defense. We couldn’t be more excited to have Jeff lead Wyoming basketball into a new era.”
Prior to his time with the Bears, Linder served as an assistant at Boise State for six seasons under coach Leon Rice, the last three as Rice’s associate head coach. Boise State won its first Mountain West title with Linder on staff, and made a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances during his tenure. Linder has also been an assistant at the University of San Francisco, Weber State, Emporia State and Midland Junior College.
Linder is a Colorado native and played his college basketball at Western State, located in Gunnison, Colorado.
“I would like to thank Coach Linder for what he has done for UNC and our men’s basketball program,” Northern Colorado athletics director Darren Dunn said in a statement. “Under Coach Linder, our basketball team has excelled in the classroom and on the court, and they have been great representatives of UNC. We wish Jeff, Kelli and their family all the best.”
Despite a surprise run to the semifinals of the 2020 Mountain West Tournament, Edwards was fired after winning just 17 games over the past two seasons. UW has lost 20 or more games six times in program history; two of those came in the past two seasons. Edwards will be paid the remaining year of base salary left on his contract in the amount of $220,008.
Edwards was a member of former UW coach Larry Shyatt’s staff for five seasons and took over when Shyatt retired following the 2015-16 season. Edwards’ first two years were successful, with the team winning 43 games and a CBI title in 2017.
The Cowboys’ most obvious struggles in 2019-20 were on the offensive end, as the team ranked 335th of 350 Division I teams in points scored per game (62.7). While Maldonado emerged as a legitimate scoring threat following the graduation of star Justin James (now of the Sacramento Kings), no other UW player stepped up as consistent shot makers.
The Cowboys shot 40.9% from the field (312th nationally) and ranked 239th in 3-point field goal percentage (32.1%). UW also struggled mightily rebounding, ranking 348th in rebounds per game and dead last nationally in offensive rebounds per game.
In his last three seasons with Northern Colorado, Linder’s teams ranked in the top third nationally in points scored per game, including a 2017-18 season where the Bears averaged 81.1 points, which ranked 35th of 351 teams nationally.
“I’m extremely excited for the opportunity to be the men’s basketball coach at the University of Wyoming,” Linder said. “Wyoming has a rich basketball tradition, which at a young age I was introduced to on the Sports Illustrated cover that featured Cowboys great Fennis Dembo. From that time on, growing up down the road in Denver, I was always rooting for the Cowboys.
“For me to now have the opportunity to lead this acclaimed program is an honor that I won’t take for granted. I will work to build on the storied past built and laid before me and diligently work to make Wyoming basketball a force to be reckoned with.
“The University of Wyoming basketball job is an incredible fit for me and my family. Having grown up in the region, and having coached in the Mountain West Conference, it was almost too good to be true when Tom Burman called me. My staff and I will make recruiting Wyoming and the region a priority while scanning the globe for student-athletes who fit the characteristics we want in Cowboy basketball players.”