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Jeff Kolpack, Published April 05 2013

Kolpack: Bison coach Phillips worthy of interest from Ball State, others

Fargo - He’s been at North Dakota State for nine years. In the world of college basketball, that’s a pretty good run. Saul Phillips has treated Fargo well and Fargo has treated him well.

It’s been a good marriage.

He led the Bison to the NCAA tournament in his first year as the head coach in 2009, and his 108 victories in the six years of being the top guy make him the fourth-winningest coach in school history. After a drop in 2010, he’s steadily built a winner despite the location disadvantage and the recruiting eyesore of the Bison Sports Arena. (One of these days I’m going to stop bashing the place, but until the renovation begins, I just can’t help it).

He came within one game and one player – South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters – of making the NCAA tourney this season.

With nearly everybody returning, the Bison will be favored to win the Summit League next season.

Whether Phillips is behind the bench may not be a certainty. After giving nine years to this program, he should be given a pass to see what else is out there, and it appears that’s what’s going on.

There was interest between Phillips and Ball State University (Ind.), but Phillips said Saturday morning that it was now off the table.

Athletic director Gene Taylor was not available to discuss that search.

But what doesn’t need to be confirmed is Phillips has built himself into an attractive candidate. He’s got Big Ten Conference experience as an assistant at Wisconsin on his resume. His team won 24 games this year. He’s 108-77.

The timing may not be the best with all of the talent returning, but also remember Tim Miles took the Colorado State position after the junior seasons of Ben Woodside, Brett Winkelman, Mike Nelson and Lucas Moormann. Ball State would have been a good career move.

It’s considered an upper-level program in the Mid-American Conference, which presumably would bring a large pay raise from NDSU. Phillips signed a five-year contract in 2008 at $121,900 with annual raises of 4 percent. His deal, by the way, expires on June 30.

Muncie, Ind., is located in prime recruiting real estate. The MAC is a better league than the Summit. BSU has a top-notch facility in 11,500-seat Worthen Arena. There are plenty of reasons to make a move. The Cardinals appear to be scoping the country for candidates and taking their time. Billy Taylor was fired in mid-March after going 84-99 in six seasons.

The Star Press newspaper in Muncie is reporting the school will talk to Arizona assistant James Whitford at the Final Four this weekend.

Phillips was in the mix and he should be.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia