IOWA CITY, Ia. – Saul Phillips was a hot item on the basketball coaching market this spring.
His North Dakota State team upset Oklahoma in a second-round NCAA Tournament game, and finished the season 26-7. The week of the Final Four, Ohio University contacted Phillips about its coaching vacancy. Phillips got the blessing of his athletic director, Gene Taylor, and agreed to meet.
As Taylor arrived at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, to watch the national semifinals April 5, he ran into Phillips.
"I said, 'How did it go?' " Taylor recalled. "He said, 'I don't think anything's going to happen.' "
Later that night, after Connecticut and Kentucky had advanced to the championship game, Taylor got a call from Phillips.
"He said, 'Hey, boss, I'm taking the job,' " Taylor said.
When Taylor got back to his hotel, he went to Phillips' room. Nebraska coach Tim Miles was also there, as well as Phillips' assistant at North Dakota State, David Richman. After Richman left, Phillips and Miles went into recruiting mode.
Hire Richman, they told Taylor. Later, Creighton coach Greg McDermott phoned and offered the same advice. The next day, Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson did the same thing.
"When successful coaches talk about how good he's going to be … it was a pretty quick process," Taylor said.
So hire him he did. Richman's team visits Carver-Hawkeye Arena at 7 p.m. Monday for a regional game of the 2K Classic against Iowa. But here's the rub. Taylor has switched sides. He was hired as Iowa's deputy athletic director in June.
"It was very hard, but it was the right time for me," Taylor said. "And coming here was a special opportunity."
It will seem strange, Taylor admitted, rooting against his old school and the coach he hired.
"Just because it means so much to me, what we accomplished there," said Taylor, who saw the Bison win three straight FCS national football titles (2011, 2012, 2013) under his watch. "I will probably never get it out of my system. It will be different for me, watching David coach and wearing black and gold."
North Dakota State lost at No. 10 Texas Friday, 85-50, in Richman's debut. The Bison lost their top three scorers from last season's Summit League regular-season and tournament championship team.
"This was a big challenge for him, going to Texas and Iowa back-to-back," Taylor said.
Gene and his wife, Cathy, had the North Dakota State team to their home for dinner Saturday. The Taylors' daughter, Casey, is a sophomore and manager for the men's basketball team.
"I'm still pulling for them, every day," Taylor said.