After four years on head coach Shaka Smart’s staff with the Texas Longhorns, associate head coach Darrin Horn has agreed in principle to become the next head coach for the Northern Kentucky Norse, according to Gary Parrish of CBS. A sportscaster in Lexington confirmed the report shortly thereafter and Northern Kentucky announced the hire on Tuesday evening.
“It’s a thrill for me to be named the head coach at Northern Kentucky,” said Horn in a statement released by Northern Kentucky. “It was a job I’ve had my eye on for a while now. There is great momentum and energy surrounding both the basketball program and University. Norse Basketball is a winning program with players who know what it takes to win. I am impressed with the vision that both Ken [Bothof] and President Vaidya have for the program and University. My family and I can’t wait to join the Norse family and Northern Kentucky community.”
Horn is the second Smart assistant in the last two years to land a head coaching job after Mike Morrell took over at UNC Asheville a year ago. Unlike the UNC Asheville program, however, Northern Kentucky is in good shape after John Brannen’s four years at the helm — the new Cincinnati head coach went 81-51 in Highland Heights, with two NCAA Tournament appearances in the last three seasons.
Accepting the Northern Kentucky job marks Horn’s first head coaching job since he spent four seasons at South Carolina following a successful five-year run at Western Kentucky, where he played in college. He’s also become the seventh Smart assistant to land a head coaching job, a group that includes LSU’s Will Wade and VCU’s Mike Rhoades.
During his time at Texas, Horn was known for his ability to successfully develop the frontcourt players for the Longhorns, including the last two Big 12 Freshmen of the Year, Jaxson Hayes and Mo Bamba. Along with Jarrett Allen, Bamba was also a first-round draft pick and Hayes is projected as a potential lottery selection. Horn’s best work in Austin, though, might have been turning Prince Ibeh into the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year following the foot injury suffered by Cameron Ridley in Smart’s first season.
“I’m very excited for Darrin and his family about this terrific opportunity,” Smart said in a statement released by the school. “Over the past four years, he’s been a valuable asset to our program and impacted our team and staff in many ways. We are extremely grateful for all that Darrin has done at UT and will follow his success at Northern Kentucky with great excitement.”
So the loss is a significant one for Smart, as Horn was also a strong recruiter who helped land Hayes. Now Smart will have to find someone who can replace Horn as a recruiter and also has a strong track record of developing frontcourt players during the most important offseason of his coaching career.