Dan Mannix saw the coach in Todd Golden during what he called “a magical season” in 2002, when Golden was a fiery, long-range shooting point guard, leading Sunnyslope (Phoenix) to its first state championship.
“During the heat of the moment in games, he would come up and make suggestions,” said Mannix, now retired but still a consultant for coach Ray Portela at Sunnyslope. “I told him he had ownership of the team. Many times, we would make adjustments based on his suggestions. He saw the game very intelligently.”
Golden’s vision, fiery, competitive nature, ability to knock down any shot anywhere on the court, helped Saint Mary’s College to two NCAA Tournament appearances during his playing days.
Now, after moving from basketball operations to being an assistant coach at Auburn in two years and helping recruit some current Auburn players headed to the Final Four, Golden is ready to take his coaching game up a notch.
Golden has been named San Francisco’s head coach, sliding in for Kyle Smith, who has taken the head job at Pac-12 Washington State.
From Mannix to Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett to Auburn coach Bruce Pearl to Smith (an assistant coach at Saint Mary’s when Golden played), Golden has had many influences in his path to getting his first Division I head coaching job at age 33.
“It started in high school, playing for Dan Mannix and Steve Rosenbaum,” Golden told The Arizona Republic in a phone interview Tuesday. “They gave me the confidence and vision to let basketball take me places. They gave me the confidence to be a Division I player.”
Golden said Pearl helped him grow as a coach during his time there.
To see the Tigers reach the Final Four, Golden said, “It’s amazing.”
“I’m thrilled for those guys,” he said.
On Pearl: “He’s always been supportive. He was great when I left. He understood I wanted to get back to the West Coast and build my career over here.”
He played for Smith in college when Smith was an assistant under Randy Bennett.
Golden was one of the smartest and competitive players Mannix ever had in his coaching career.
“If you beat him in H-O-R-S-E, you’d still be there until he beat you,” Mannix said. “He was not big in stature, but a really tough kid. He’d block out guy much more athletic than him.”
Sunnyslope went 29-1 in Golden’s last year. That team featured Mike Nixon at center and Jon Simon at guard.
In the state final, against Page, Mannix said he instructed, “If you’re open and we practiced that shot, it’s a great shot.”
“We’re up by six late in the game,” Mannix said. “He gets an open 3 let’s it go and missed it. We got a stop and came down and scored. I started subbing players, and when Todd came out, I said, ‘What are you doing taking that 3?’ He said, ‘Coach, I practiced it a lot, I was open and I took it.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s right.'”
Golden still get out on the court and shoots with the players.
“It helps me connect,” he said. “They know I played and play (pro basketball) overseas.”
Golden said he has seen how the basketball grassroots landscape in Arizona has grown immensely in the last five years and with prep academies. He said he will tap into Arizona during his recruiting trails.
“Arizona has done a great job in the past 10 years with the high schools,” he said. “The prep schools have grown. The grassroots programs have done a great job over the last few years. There are better players. We’ve got to know where everybody is.”
Mannix believes Golden will be a successful Division I head coach.
“He’s great at making adjustments,” Golden said. “I’m so delighted for him to get this opportunity.”