Jerrod Calhoun left his mark on Youngstown State hoops | News, Sports, Jobs


Staff file photo / Greg Macafee
Youngstown State men’s basketball coach Jerrod Calhoun shouts out direction to his players during their road matchup against Cleveland State.

YOUNGSTOWN — It almost seemed inevitable, perhaps because it was.

Jerrod Calhoun’s departure from Youngstown State comes as no surprise. That’s the life of mid-majors, particularly lower mid-majors, in the college basketball landscape. The more you win, the more your coach gets noticed.

But that doesn’t make Calhoun’s departure to Utah State any less of a bummer for YSU and its fans, because man, did those wins pile up.

Calhoun inherited a YSU program mired in irrelevance in 2017. The Penguins had gone above .500 only three times between 2000 and when Calhoun’s tenure with YSU’s languishing program began in 2017.

Now, the Penguins have amassed five consecutive winning seasons and back-to-back 20-win seasons. Youngstown State’s last sub-.500 campaign was the 2018-19 season.

Calhoun leaves Youngstown with a record of 118-105, but if you remove his first two seasons — an 8-24 mark in 2017-18 and a 12-20 season a year later — it’s a mark of 98-61. Simply put, Calhoun built Youngstown State into a winning program and has left it better than how he found it.

The seeds were planted early on as Calhoun built his foundation on three freshman recruits — Michael Akuchie, Garrett Covington and Naz Bohannon — in his first signing class. A year later, he added another key piece in Darius Quisenberry.

By the 2019-20 season, it paid dividends. YSU turned in an 18-15 overall record and a 10-8 mark in Horizon League play. It was YSU’s first winning season since 2013 and its first winning record in conference play since 2012. Each of those four earned All-Horizon League honors at varying points in their respective tenures in the red and white.

While those pieces were critical in laying the foundation, it was Calhoun’s use of the transfer portal that truly took things to the next level.

Despite losing Bohannon to Clemson and Quisenberry to Fordham, Calhoun and his staff were able to pull in more all-league talent. It started in 2021 with the transfer addition of future all-league first teamer Dwayne Cohill Dayton, who was coming off of a torn ACL. The 2021-22 Penguins finished 19-15 and 12-9 in league play behind Akuchie and Cohill despite Covington sustaining a season-ending Achilles injury just three games into the campaign.

And then, in the following offseason, the Penguins hit the portal even harder — and better.

Two-year starter Brandon Rush joined from Fairleigh Dickinson. All-Horizon League forward Adrian Nelson came in from Northern Kentucky. Malek Green, who the Penguins faced in nonconference play during the 2022-23 season, transferred from Canisius, and point guard Bryce McBride came on board from Eastern Michigan.

By the end of the 2022-23 season, those four and Cohill encompassed YSU’s starting five — one made entirely of transfers.

The result was a 24-10 overall record that included a league-best 15-5 mark during the regular season. Though the Penguins were knocked out in the Horizon League semifinals by NKU, they were rewarded with the Horizon League’s auto-bid to the NIT for earning the regular season title.

And in that NIT matchup against Oklahoma State, held at home no less due to scheduling conflicts at Gallagher-Iba Arena, YSU pushed its Big 12 foe to the limit before ultimately falling 69-64.

Cohill made the All-Horizon League first team, while Nelson and Rush made the third. Green very well could have found a spot in that mix, too.

For his part, Calhoun was named the Horizon League Coach of the Year.

Cohill, Green and Nelson exhausted their eligibility and departed YSU afterward, while Rush came back for his final year in 2023-24. Meanwhile, the Penguins picked up another strong transfer class with Ziggy Reid (Merrimack), DJ Burns (Murray State), Imanuel Zorgvol (NKU), EJ Farmer (Toledo), Brett Thompson (Tennessee Tech), Jaylen Bates (Florida A&M) and Bryson Langdon (NKU).

YSU finished 22-10 — its first back-to-back 20-win seasons in the program’s Division I history — before exiting in the league tournament quarterfinals. Once again, several Penguins earned league honors. Burns and Reid made the second team, and Thompson made the third.

Off the court, Calhoun made his mark, too. In a statement released Saturday, YSU athletic director Ron Strollo noted Calhoun was “a driving force in facilitating our upcoming Beeghly Center renovations.”

What I’ll personally remember most about Calhoun, however, was how open to the media and friendly he was. During the offseasons, stopping by practice was never an issue, and that really helped develop a rapport and familiarity with the players and staff.

During the 2022-23 season, the Penguins visited my alma mater, West Virginia, for a nonconference game. During a one-on-one interview a few days before the matchup, Calhoun, who served as an assistant at WVU, asked if I was going. Upon learning that I was making the trip down to my home state, he invited me to the team dinner the night before the game.

While chatting over dinner in Morgantown, he further extended the invitation to the team’s shootaround the morning of the game.

Behind the scenes, he never shied from pulling the curtain back to give an inside look into his program and its inner workings. One such example was he and his staff discussing their use of analytics and how it helped them transform the program.

That level of trust isn’t common in today’s college sports media landscape, but it seemed like it was natural to Calhoun and his staff.

Perhaps eager to continue the momentum Calhoun provided YSU’s program, the Penguins reportedly are staying internal for Calhoun’s replacement. CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein reported Saturday evening that assistant coach Ethan Faulkner will be promoted to head coach. The Tribune Chronicle’s Neel Madhavan noted Friday that Faulkner was the early favorite.

Calhoun leaves big shoes to fill, but, as Calhoun’s top assistant, Faulkner could be up for the challenge.

Have an interesting story? Contact sports editor Joel Whetzel by email at Follow the sports department on X, formerly Twitter, @TribChronSports.

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