In just a few weeks Saluki fans will witness the dawning of a new era of Southern Illinois University athletics.
There will be new head coaches in five sports. That kind of turnover may have happened previously, but it’s a unique situation over the past four decades.
That number is slightly skewed by the inaugural season of women’s soccer.
History will be made at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 23 when Grant Williams will unveil the first-ever Saluki soccer team. SIU plays host to Illinois-Chicago in this historic match.
With the United States women’s team coming off its second straight World Cup championship, the timing feels right for the new sports. The Salukis will have a distinct Southern Illinois flavor with Harrisburg’s Devin Butler, Marion’s Blake Clark and Marissa Basi and Carbondale’s Ashley Moore.
Volleyball will also have a new look this fall as Ed Allen takes over the struggling program.
The Saluki volleyball program is just four years removed from an NCAA appearance. SIU was 23-10 in 2015, losing to the University of Illinois in postseason play. However, the team scuffled to an 11-39 mark over the last three years.
And, of course, the most high-profile change is in men’s basketball where former Saluki great Bryan Mullins succeeds Barry Hinson.
This will certainly be an interesting basketball season. Mullins was a prohibitive favorite among Saluki fans to succeed Hinson. Not only has the coaching staff changed, but virtually the entire roster has turned over.
The Salukis should be strong at guard with starters Aaron Cook and Eric McGill returning. Brendan Gooch, who saw limited action last year, is the only other holdover that stepped foot on the floor last year.
Mullins rebuilt the roster partially through high school recruits and Division I transfers. At this point, it’s difficult, if not impossible to get a feel about this team. But, without a doubt, it will be fascinating to watch the basketball season unfold.
That leaves baseball and swimming, where two fixtures in SIU athletics were replaced.
Ken Henderson, who had been with the SIU baseball program for nearly three decades, was replaced by former University of Missouri assistant Lance Rhodes. This year’s version of the Salukis were young, so Rhodes may or may not be faced with a major rebuild.
With a bit of a late-season surge, this year’s squad finished with a 26-29 record, but SIU struggled in the Missouri Valley Conference, limping to a 5-16 MVC mark.
Finally, Geoff Hansen takes over the swimming and diving program from Rick Walker. Walker, who seems destined for the SIU Hall of Fame, ran a solid program for 32 years.
Because of the swimming program’s success under Walker, there may be more pressure on Hansen to succeed than any of the other new coaches.
As the 2019-20 school term unfolds, Saluki fans will experience new beginnings every month or so. And, the next few years will also serve as a personal referendum for athletic director Jerry Kill. Kill has been on the job less than two years, but has virtually remade the department.
Personally, I’m itching for the year to begin.