Missouri turns to Cleveland State’s Dennis Gates as coach
Missouri has hired wildly successful Cleveland State coach Dennis Gates to help rebuild its long-floundering basketball program, which has churned through seven head and interim coaches since Norm Stewart prowled the sidelines.
The university’s Board of Curators approved Gates’ hiring on Tuesday.
The 42-year-old Gates took over Cleveland State’s program in 2019 and, after winning just 11 games in his first season, engineered one of the biggest turnarounds in Division I basketball. The Vikings went 19-8 and made the NCAA Tournament last season, then went 20-11 and lost in the first round of the NIT this season.
Gates replaces Cuonzo Martin, who was fired after his third losing season in five years at Missouri.
One of the up-and-coming coaches in college hoops, Gates signed a revised contract in May 2021 that paid him $550,000 a year and made him the highest-earning coach in the Horizon League. Gates will be paid far more handsomely by Missouri, though, which lavished upon Martin a seven-year contract that guaranteed him $21 million total.
“I have been so fortunate throughout my career to work at some outstanding institutions with incredible people,” Gates said, “(and) it is clear that Missouri is a tremendous opportunity with unlimited potential.
“We will build a program that all Mizzou fans will be proud of, for how we play, how our student-athletes represent the University of Missouri and how our togetherness and work ethic will lead to on-court victories.”
Gates is the first significant hiring by athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois, who arrived at Missouri in August. She replaced Jim Sterk, who fired Kim Anderson in 2017 and hired Martin as his replacement.
“After a comprehensive and efficient national search, during which we had the privilege of speaking with an impressive group of coaches, it became clear Coach Gates was what we needed in the next leader of our basketball program,” Reed-Francois said. “He’s smart, driven and focused on winning. He’s a proven recruiter, a strong evaluator of talent, an innovative teacher of the game and has a unique enthusiasm and passion for his work and for his student athletes.”
The pressure is on for Reed-Francois’s move to work out. Her decision to fire Martin, who was 78-77 with the Tigers but had helped the basketball program — and the athletic department — navigate several years of social unrest on campus, was met with almost universal scorn from those within the close-knit college basketball coaching fraternity.
“Desiree Reed-Francois is focused on a results-driven, championship culture that supports our student-athletes,” Missouri president Mun Choi said. “We all agree Coach Gates fits into that vision and will take Mizzou basketball to new heights.”
Missouri has not won an NCAA Tournament game since 2010, a period of ineptitude that in part cost not only Martin and Anderson but also Frank Haith their jobs. They also went through years of scandal tied to Quin Snyder, and famously have never appeared in the Final Four, despite regular NCAA tourney trips during Stewart’s long Hall of Fame tenure.
Gates grew up in Chicago and was a three-time captain for California before embarking on his coaching career, first as an intern for the Los Angeles Clippers. He spent time at Florida State and Marquette as a graduate assistant before stints on the bench at California, Northern Illinois, Nevada and alongside Leonard Hamilton at Florida State.
He helped to recruit lottery pick Jonathan Isaac and stars such as M.J. Walker and Terance Mann to Tallahassee.
Gates’ wife, Jocelyn, was hired as a senior associate athletic director at Ohio State last summer. It’s unclear whether she will remain there or if a job will be become available within the Missouri athletic department.
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