Why Rob Ehsan is a natural fit as UIC's next men's basketball coach

At his introduction on Monday, Rob Ehsan had to clarify a quick point to his son, Ryder.

Ehsan had just been offered the head coaching job at Illinois-Chicago. Rob shared a few fist pumps with his son, before Ryder came to a realization.

"I looked at Ryder and asked him if he was ready to move to Chicago to coach a new team, he said, ‘Yes Daddy,’" Ehsan said. "He started to look at me in awe for a few seconds. I asked him, 'Ryder are you okay?' He said, "daddy you are going to coach my Michael Jordan?'"

Not Michael Jordan exactly, but Ehsan is now taking over as the Flames head coach in the basketball community Jordan built with a chance to make his own mark in that basketball community and with a program that's looking for consistency in the Missouri Valley Conference.

That drive, mixed with his history, is why he's a good fit for the UIC program.

"Throughout my career, I've spent a lot of time recruiting Chicago in the surrounding areas," Ehsan said. "I have many friends, former co-workers here and I know how great of a basketball town and state this place is."

The common denominator across UIC's search process was the need for a leader.

UIC Director of Athletics Michael Lipitz said Ehrsan stood out in his interviews, and commended Ehsan's leadership skills in the announcement of his hiring. 

"Rob is a dynamic and dedicated leader who shares UIC’s values and has a clear vision to advance Flames Basketball in the Missouri Valley Conference," Lipitz said in a statement. "He is an elite recruiter with extensive experience in Illinois, nationally, and internationally. He is innovative on the court and invests deeply in his relationships with his players off the court. We are excited to welcome Rob, his wife Lindsey, and their children, Katelyn, Davis, and Ryder, to our Flames Family."

AUSTIN, TEXAS - DECEMBER 03: Head coach Rob Ehsan of the UAB Blazers shouts directions to his players at The Frank Erwin Center on December 03, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)

Ehsan is an offensive-minded coach. From everything said about him before his hiring and in the official announcement, this offensive success is made known.

Part of that includes his past stops as an assistant.

During his coaching career, which includes stops at Maryland, Virginia Tech, and Stanford, Ehsan has been a part of three conference titles and four NCAA Tournament appearances. He has helped recruit and develop future NBA Draft picks, such as Greivis Vasquez and Alex Len.

With UIC's new ventures from the Horizon League to the Missouri Valley Conference beginning in 2022, the Flames need to find a way to keep up with the rest of the league. That's easier said than done, but he has the results to show for it.

As an assistant at Stanford the last three seasons, the Cardinal's offense improved steadily. Stanford averaged 66.4 points per game in Ehsan's first season, which improved to 70.3 and 76.5 in his second and third seasons as an assistant, respectively.

As a head coach, he didn't instill the kind of offense Stanford had, but he claims a winning record.

In four seasons leading Alabama-Birmingham, Ehsan never had a losing season. He won 20 games in consecutive seasons, and could have won 20 games in three-straight years but the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2019-2020 season before the Conference-USA tournament could crown a champion. UAB fired him in March 2020. 

AL.com columnist Joseph Goodman wrote after Ehsan was fired that he deserved better, and he has a point.

In Chicago, Ehsan has a chance to recruit the Chicagoland area, the entire state of Illinois and more, while also establishing UIC as an attractive destination for transfer portal players.

It's easier said than done but if he can usher in winning seasons at UIC, he'll be granted the time to make this program into what he wants it to be. That baseline is a good place to begin, as UIC has had three winning seasons since Jimmy Collins retired in 2010.

Given Ehsan's track record as a head coach, it makes him a good fit.

"We are delighted to welcome Rob to UIC and our vibrant campus community," Chancellor Marie Lynn Miranda said in a statement. "Coach Ehsan brings both deep experience and strong leadership on and off the basketball court. He has demonstrated a fervent commitment to ensuring the success of student-athletes in all the many dimensions of their lives. Coach Ehsan brings an impressive track record to UIC, and we look forward to working with him as he elevates Flames Basketball to the next level."

UIC fired Luke Yaklich after four seasons, none of which finished with a winning record. Ehsan has set his goals for much higher than just a winning record.

Ehsan wants to win Arch Madness, claim MVC titles and return UIC to the Collins days when the program contended for NCAA Tournament bids.

He'll have a near blank page to start with, as nine Flames players have entered the transfer portal after Yaklich's dismissal.

Right off the bat, Ehsan will have a chance to prove his mettle as a recruiter.

"My family and I are coming to Chicago and this great University to lead the Flames program to be legendary," Ehsan said. "It's something you'll hear me say quite often as the head coach to mentor and develop these young men on and off the court to play a style of basketball that the players enjoy."


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