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Former NDSU coach Phillips says it was a 'really easy decision' to take Northern State job

Former North Dakota State head coach Saul Phillips has been named the head men's basketball coach at Northern State. He was the head coach at Ohio University previous to Northern State. Brett Davis / USA TODAY Sports1 / 2
Saul Phillips talks to the crowd on hand at the Barnett Center after he was announced as the new men's basketball coach at Northern State University Tuesday morning, June 11. John Davis / Aberdeen American News2 / 2

ABERDEEN, S.D. — Former North Dakota State head coach Saul Phillips is back in the Dakotas. He was named the head men's basketball coach at Northern State on Monday at the Barnett Center.

Phillips is the 22nd head men's basketball coach in program history, taking over for Paul Sather, now the head coach at the University of North Dakota. Sather led the Wolves to the NCAA Division II national title game for the 2017-18 season.

"They've flat out got a program that's been successful year after year after year," Phillips said. "You have a template that you can follow for success. There is a comfort level with that and there's a responsibility with that."

Phillips was the head coach at NDSU from 2007-2014, leading the Bison to the NCAA Division I tournament in 2009 and 2014. He posted a 134-83 record in seven seasons at NDSU. He followed that with five seasons as head coach at Ohio University, posting an 81-77 record.

Phillips is the sixth Northern State head men's basketball coach since 1946. That tradition and stability made the opening attractive for Phillips, who had been a D-I head coach the past 12 seasons with a 215-161 overall record. He said Northern State has the feel of a D-I program when it comes to facilities and fan support.

Northern State averaged 3,680 fans per game in 2018-19.

"The game day atmosphere and the fan support, there are a lot of Division I schools out there that would trade places with this in a hurry," Phillips said. "This was a really easy decision for me."

Northern State competes in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. Phillips is the second former NDSU head coach currently in the NSIC for men's basketball. Tom Billeter is the head coach at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D. Billeter led the Bison from 1992-1997.

Phillips was an assistant coach under Tim Miles at NDSU from 2004-2007, before Phillips took over as Bison head coach. Miles most recently was the head coach at the University of Nebraska.

“When I came to North Dakota State to be an assistant to Miles, I was hoping we would be successful enough so I could get an NSIC (head coaching) job," Phillips said. "I took a different route than I expected to get here."

In March, Phillips didn't have his contract renewed at Ohio. Phillips said it was a priority to get another basketball coaching job for the upcoming season, which he accomplished by landing at Northern State.

"I couldn't watch another episode of Jerry Springer," Phillips cracked. "I had to get back to work. It did concern me that I wasn't going to be able to do that for awhile. It's something I love to do."