Coming off a historically successful season, it was obvious to Ron Strollo, Youngstown State University’s executive director of athletics, that the women’s basketball players had formed an extremely close bond with former head coach Bob Boldon.
When Boldon left YSU for Ohio University on March 28, Strollo knew it would be tough on the team.
“They were really close to Coach Boldon and that staff, and we were really sensitive,” Strollo said. “That’s a reason we wanted to move really quick.”
Indeed they did, as it took only eight days after Boldon’s departure for the Penguins to find their man. John Barnes, who served as the associate head coach at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay last season, has been hired to pick up where Boldon left off.
“We’re extremely happy, and we needed to move quickly because we were behind the eight ball,” Strollo said. “A lot of the other searches had been out there for two or three weeks. But we earmarked a couple candidates and moved as quickly as we could for a variety of reasons.”
While the staff moved forward in an impressively short amount of time, they also hired an impressive basketball mind. In his 17 years as a college basketball coach, Barnes has a 73 percent winning percentage.
From 2003 to 2010, Barnes was the head coach at Division II Michigan Technological University. During that time, he compiled 156 victories and led the Huskies to five NCAA tournament appearances.
His best season at Michigan Tech came in 2009-2010, as his Huskies went 31-3 and advanced to the Elite Eight of the tournament. In his final three seasons, Barnes was named the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s Coach of the Year.
Following his time at Michigan Tech, he spent a season at the University of Michigan and a season at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before joining Green Bay last season. Under Kevin Borseth, head coach of the Phoenix, Green Bay went 29-2 and won the Horizon League conference.
Strollo said Barnes’ familiarity with the Midwest and with the Horizon League made his resume even more attractive.
“He has head coaching experience and is very familiar with our league,” Strollo said. “I think he’s very well-rounded in our region and is more than ready to be a head coach in Division I.”
Barnes will have no small task in continuing the improvement that the Penguins experienced under Boldon. They ended with a 23-10 record last season — the most victories for the YSU women’s basketball team in more than a decade. When Boldon took over the team in 2010-2011, he inherited a team that went 0-30 the previous season.
Strollo said YSU did everything it could to keep Boldon around, but, in the end, couldn’t match the $170,000 annual salary he received from the Bobcats.
“We changed his financial package and things like that, but, obviously, we weren’t able to match the numbers that Ohio University was offering,” he said. “I think he really enjoyed his time here. But when he sat back, professionally, he felt that was the best move for him.”
As for Barnes, the financial portion of his multi-year contract is still being finalized.
He inherits a team that returns four of its starters and loses only two seniors. However, one of the seniors is Brandi Brown, who was recently named Honorable Mention All-America by the Associated Press.
And while Strollo knows Brown’s departure poses a major challenge in itself, he said it is one that the “highly-recommended” Barnes can handle.
“He’s been part of a variety of different programs and helped rebuild that Michigan Tech program as a head coach,” Strollo said. “He’s been in many different situations, and I think those experiences will bode well here.”