How UND athletic director Bill Chaves picked new basketball coach Paul Sather

GRAND FORKS — When former men’s basketball coach Brian Jones announced his departure May 1, University of North Dakota athletic director Bill Chaves didn’t know Paul Sather personally.

There was only one minor connection. Two years ago, Chaves watched the NCAA Division II national championship game in Sioux Falls, S.D., where Sather’s Northern State team lost 71-69 to Ferris State.

On Monday, after Sather was introduced as UND’s next head men’s basketball coach during a press conference at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, Chaves detailed the process that made Sather go from unknown to the fourth UND head coach in the last 49 years and just the second in the school’s NCAA Division-I era.

Chaves, who was hired to UND from Eastern Washington in January of 2018, started his highest-profile coaching search in Grand Forks to date by reaching out to some of the biggest names in UND basketball history: former coaches Rich Glas and Dave Gunther and former star player Phil Jackson.

Glas and Gunther were in attendance Monday at the Betty.

During what Chaves called the “dead period” between when the job was posted and the deadline to apply, he texted back-and-forth with Jackson.

“It was more philosophical in nature,” Chaves said. “It was more about fits and how a coach coaches his team and what to look for with this and that.”

Chaves also had two phone calls with Glas and one with Gunther.

With background on the program, Chaves used that information throughout the search because as the process plays out, he doesn’t want to reach out to anybody.

“If you reach out to one, you have to reach out to everybody,” he said.

There was also input gathered on campus. Quickly after Jones’ decision to leave for an assistant job at Illinois State, Chaves met with the UND team to explain the hiring process.

At that point, Chaves asked the remaining players what characteristics they would like in the next head coach.

“They were incredibly thoughtful,” Chaves said. “I thought that was a real help. They’re the ones in that locker room. Having said that, this is a longer-arcing issue. It’s not just about these guys but what comes after them. But they’re sitting in that chair today.”

In a bit of a unique move, Chaves elected not to use a search firm — which can offer a variety of services during the hiring process. As a veteran athletic department employee, Chaves knows search firms well and said at least a half dozen of them approached him to offer services.

But Chaves elected to keep the entirety of the process internal, just as he’s done throughout his career.