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Coach Candidate: Dennis Gates is young and successful, could he reinvigorate BC’s program?

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A mid-major head coach with plenty of assistant coaching experience in the ACC

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 23 Milwaukee at Cleveland State Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Coach Dennis Gates of the Cleveland State Vikings is a name that is popping up a lot as Boston College ends its men’s basketball season and looks to hire a new head coach soon. As Cleveland State’s head coach for the past two years, Gates has taken the Vikings from mediocre finishes to the top of the standings with an NCAA tournament berth in a short amount of time.

Dennis Gates has been Cleveland State’s head coach since 2019, posting a 30-28 (.517) overall record and a 23-15 (.611) conference record in the Horizon League. This past year, the Vikings won their conference and earned a trip to the Dance with a 19-7 overall record. Before becoming head coach in Cleveland, Gates was an assistant coach at Florida State for almost a decade and had other stops in Nevada, Northern Illinois, and Cal. He played college basketball at Cal from 1998 to 2002.

Why he’d be interested:

Boston College is a clear step-up from Cleveland State, even when considering the state of the two programs. The resources, branding, conference, and more all offer a bigger appeal. Gates also has not spent a ton of time at his current position, only two years, so he would not be leaving behind a ton of work he’s put into a program already. You may see some hesitancy from other coaches who have put in a decade or more at their current schools, like Mark Schmidt, Porter Moser, John Becker, and others. Plus Gates’s salary at Cleveland State will max out at $300,000 which is a number BC could very easily beat. If Dennis Gates is offered the BC head coaching position and not being courted by any other P6 program, I am fairly confident he would accept it.

Why it could work:

Gates has a fair amount of coaching experience and has shown a lot of promise during his brief period as head coach. His immediate improvements to his current program were so great in his first year that he won the Horizon League’s coach of the year award. And now he has brought the Vikings back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 12 years. His recruiting chops at the ACC level would also give him an edge over other candidates, as he was part of an FSU coaching staff that brought in players like Jonathan Isaac, Malik Beasley, and Dwayne Bacon. The 41-year-old has both the excitement of a young and energetic coach and the college basketball experience of someone who knows what they are doing.

Why it could flop:

Two years is an awfully short amount of time to judge someone’s abilities, and that spark could easily fizzle out as quick as it began. There are plenty of coaches in college and the pros that get promoted too soon and cannot handle the responsibility of full control of a serious program. There have been success stories from those types of coaches as well, to be fair.

It also should be mentioned that Cleveland State was a mediocre, middling program when Gates took over in 2019. They weren’t good, but they also weren’t terrible. Boston College is terrible and in the ACC cellar. This BC program will require a much longer, sustained rebuild. Gates, who does not have much experience in programs struggling that badly, may struggle in this environment.

How likely is this hire?

Gates checks most of the boxes and I would not be surprised to see him hired as Boston College’s next head coach. I’d probably put him in my top 5 likeliest hires (and in my top 3 options overall), but I think BC approaches some other more local candidates first. Gates’s wife, Jocelyn Gates, is the Senior Associate Athletic Director at Boston College, so the BC connection is there and I’m sure the administration is aware of him and will probably give him an interview once the Vikings are knocked out of the NCAA tournament. It’s unclear whether that family connection could have an impact, positive or negative, on the hiring process.