Coomes applies for NIU job; Knight recommends

By Chris Sigley

Illinois assistant men’s basketball coach and former NIU assistant coach, Mark Coomes, is the first confirmed applicant for the vacant head coaching job at NIU.

“I have applied,” said Coomes, talking by phone Wednesday from Champaign. “I have an interest in the position if the circumstances are right.”

However, NIU Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell verified that several other coaches, including Indiana’s Bobby Knight, have called to recommend their assistants. Knight called O’Dell last week to advocate eight-year assistant Joby Wright.

“He (Knight) just called and recommended him (Wright) and felt like he’d be a good match,” O’Dell said.

Both Coomes and Wright are in similar positions of preparing for the finals of the prominent NCAA tournament, which has tapered to 16 teams. Indiana plays Seton Hall in Denver tonight and Illinois takes on Louisville Friday night.

Coomes landed his first year of coaching experience under Lou Henson in 1974 at New Mexico State, where Coomes played his freshman year of college basketball. Coomes trailed Henson to Illinois the following year, where he served as a graduate assistant.

is five-year stint as recruiter at NIU beneath John McDougal began in 1976. His most notable recruiting accomplishments were Honorable Mention All-Americas and pro draft picks Allen Rayhorn (NIU’s No. 1 all-time scorer) and Tim Dillon (NIU’s No. 3 all-time leading scorer).

Before donning the navy blue and orange of Illinois, Coomes acquired his first taste of prominent victory in Huskie cardinal red and black. Coomes was on hand when NIU reigned as Mid-American Conference co-champions in 1980-81 and when the squad advanced to the NCAA tournament in 1981-82—only the second time NIU has ever progressed to post-season play.

Between his stints at NIU and Illinois, Coomes made his debut as head coach at Wabash Valley Community College (Mt. Carmel, Ill.), afterwhich he took the reigns at Indiana State-Edwardsville (now the University of South Indiana).

Wright started all three seasons he was a Hoosier (1969-1972) and ranks ninth on the all-time Indiana career scoring list.

Following two years of professional ball in the United States (Seattle of the NBA in ‘72-73 and Memphis of the ABA in ’73-74), Wright played for two years in Italy. He returned to his alma mater in 1978, where he enrolled in academic counseling. He was hired to assist Knight in 1981. He has a wife, Linda, and two children.