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Taking on WNBA coaching chance, Matt Wilber calls leaving DWU a 'really tough decision'

Mar. 19—MITCHELL — Dakota Wesleyan University head men's basketball coach Matt Wilber resigned from his position after 11 seasons on Tuesday.

Wilber will be joining the coaching staff of his former colleague Nate Tibbetts, who was hired as the head coach of the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury in October 2023.

In his tenure at DWU, Wilber led the Tigers to a 224-125 record, including a 14-15 season in 2023-24. Athletic director Ross Cimpl announced a national search is underway for the program's next coach.

"This was a really tough decision, even though maybe on paper it doesn't look like it should be, because leaving these guys and leaving the Dakota Wesleyan basketball program, which I care deeply about, was really tough, because this program is about players, they're the ones that are fighting and scratching and clawing everyday, " Wilber told the Mitchell Republic in an interview on Tuesday afternoon.

Tibbetts, who is Wilber's friend and fellow former co-owner of the Tibbetts Instructional Basketball School, was hired as the Mercury's coach in October. According to Wilber, Tibbetts offered him the job after DWU's season concluded on Feb. 28.

While contemplating the decision, Wilber took a trip to Arizona, where he met the people a part of the organization, and said he was "blown away" with the whole experience.

"It just was one of those crazy opportunities that came together late and, it's bittersweet, obviously with DWU, but I'm excited for the opportunity," he said.

As of now, Wilber doesn't have a specified coaching role, but said he'll have some leadership duties with a male practice squad, which comes in to help the team train, and he'll also be involved with player development and scouting duties.

"I'm just getting started so it'll be whatever they want me to do and I'm willing to do whatever," he said.

Wilber's departure marks yet another change within the Tigers' program in the past few months. Athletic director Jon Hart left the department in December to assume the athletic director role at the University of Sioux Falls. In February, football coach Ross Cimpl was promoted to the athletic director position, and hired offensive coordinator Alex Kretzschmar to be the head coach.

However, there remains some continuity. Wilber's wife, Lindsay, who is the head volleyball coach at DWU and has led the program to multiple NAIA national tournaments, will remain in her position, and their family will stay in Mitchell. Women's basketball Jason Christensen, whose program will compete in the NAIA Round of 16 on Friday in Sioux City, is in his 14th season as head coach.

For the men's team, the entire roster, aside from two players, forward Diang Gatluak, and guard Nick Wittler, has eligibility to return next season.

"I think the next basketball coach is jumping into a great situation," Wilber said. "Jon Hart left here in a great situation. We got a great president in Dr. (Dan) Kittle and then Ross Cimpl and Jason Christiansen are going to keep moving and they're going to do great things here.

"Matt and I started at DWU at about the same time," Cimpl said in a press release. "We have been on this journey together at DWU for a very long time. I consider him a tremendous colleague and friend. While I am extremely happy for Coach Wilber, he will be truly missed. ... We feel that our basketball program is in a tremendous position. We are looking forward to bringing in the best possible candidate to build on the success we have had. We are not looking to rebuild or start from scratch. We have some critical pieces already in place with a young roster and will begin our search immediately."

Wilber's success at DWU included a 158-114 career record in Great Plains Athletic Conference play, and a 93-40 mark at the Corn Palace. DWU posted winning seasons in Wilber's first eight seasons.

Wilber, 46, guided DWU to six consecutive NAIA national tournaments during his tenure. That success was highlighted in Wilber's second season with an appearance in the NAIA Division II national championship game in 2015 in a 32-5 season, and five straight 23-win campaigns. Wilber also coached 13 All-American players.

A graduate from Dell Rapids High School, Wilber was a walk-on basketball player at Augustana College but eventually was a two-year starter. He then became a student assistant coach for the Vikings and worked as a full-time assistant at the University of Sioux Falls and South Dakota State University over the next three seasons. Wilber then co-owned and directed the Tibbetts Instructional Basketball School, working on skill development with basketball players around the Sioux Falls region, which is the position he held when he was hired by DWU on June 20, 2013.

He said what he'll miss about coaching at DWU is his relationship with his players.

"Regardless of the success or failures, the relationships and how close we were able to get with a team and with individuals, that's for sure the best part of the job," Wilber said. "I missed that before I got here. I was missing that in my professional life, even though I had a great gig there too. But being able to get back into this and into the locker room and onto the court. I just can't stress how much I loved our guys.

"I wasn't great at the other parts of being a college coach. But I put a flag in the ground and said, 'Hey, my energy and my time, 98 percent of that is going into our roster.' And I'll stand by that. And I just appreciate what those guys did. Because I've got lifelong relationships I'm taking away from here because of those guys."