DUQUESNE SHOULD PURSUE PROVEN WINNER
By Ray Mernagh
Duquesne fired head basketball coach Ron Everhart Friday. While the move surprised many, you could see it coming if you’d been paying attention to the program on the Bluff over the last few years. Player turnover was a definite problem. If Everhart, a great guy and a good coach, had been axed on a Friday in March of say 2013, or 2014, it would’ve been understandable. That kind of timing would’ve allowed for his latest class, featuring two really talented kids, to have a season under their belt and possibly get the Dukes back to an A-10 final like the memorable run Aaron Jackson had led them on back in 2009.
Duquesne’s AD Greg Amodio came to the campus in Uptown with great fanfare due to his time at A-10 power Xavier. In his first signature move he hired Everhart.
It was a great hire.
Duquesne wasn’t in the basement of D-1 basketball, it was in the bomb shelter attached to the basement by the long tunnel through the sewage. And no matter how much Dukes fans wanted it to be true, neither Norm Nixon or Sihugo Green were walking through the doors of the Palumbo.
And Everhart, some incredible obstacles notwithstanding, has made it so the program is no longer residing below ground. Amodio expressed that while he was grateful for the job Everhart had done, he didn’t think the program would be able to take the next step without a change being made. There’s a strong faction of folks who obviously felt the same way. Fair enough (why the email from the President of the University to the Duquesne board ever got out, and why an email was ever sent, is beyond me –pick up the phone folks — but that’s another topic for another time. Amodio made the call and that’s his job, to make tough, sometimes controversial decisions in order to move his program forward. Well, he did it.
Now comes the hard part — targeting and landing a coach who can take the incredible support we keep hearing about within the program and turn that support into results that warrant NIT, and eventually, NCAA bids. The names have been tossed out and we’ll go over some of them before getting to the one Duquesne should go after.
First of all, forget John Groce from Ohio — it’s not happening. Groce will leave Ohio this year for probably only one job and that’s Illinois. Maybe Mississippi State or South Carolina though I doubt either one intrigues him. Groce is either staying at Ohio and making another run next year with the same team or taking a Big Six job for 1.8-2.3 million a year.
Orlando Antigua is another name, currently an assistant at Kentucky. Was at Pitt for a few years before heading to Memphis to work for Cal and followed him to Kentucky. Antigua has resided in Rolls Royce land for quite a few years now. He’s known as a great recruiter, a label he didn’t have while at Pitt, but one he’s taken on under Calipari’s wing. The elephant in the room is can he coach? One would think he’s learned a ton at the knee of Calipari but he’d still be a first time head coach who’s never run his own program. The same can be said for Kenya Hunter, Brandin Knight, and Jeff Boals.
Everhart was hired because he had a history if being a coach who turned really terrible situations into better ones. Mission accomplished. Everhart even threatened to take them to the next level, during McConnell’s freshman season last year they were rolling…then they fell apart. What’s done is done.
Now the stated goal by the powers that be is to get a coach that can take the program beyond 16, 17 or 18 wins a year. They want a coach who, after a year or two of growing pains, can consistently turn out teams that win 20-plus games and finish high enough in the A-10 to warrant yearly postseason consideration. So intelligence would dictate that they now go after a guy that’s built a program that’s sustainable at a level below the A-10, but one that approaches it. And there’s a perfect candidate about 112 miles down the road. A guy who at one time wondered if he’d ever get another chance to coach at the D-1 level — because of a mistake in judgement as a young coach — has now redeemed himself as one of the best coaches in college basketball.
Akron’s Keith Dambrot has built, arguably — Ohio and Kent State would argue — the top program in the Mid-American Conference.
He’s been to the MAC Tournament Finals six years in a row.
The Zips, in a one bid league with extreme parity, have earned two NCAA berths and two NIT invites in the last five years, plus another NIT in Dambrot’s second season at the helm. They’ve beaten Temple at Temple in one of those NIT appearances, plus have gone 3-1 against the Dukes. Dambrot is 183-85 in his time at Akron and he’s built that program on the backs of four year guys. He decided to go that route on the advice of a guy he managed to keep at Akron for a few years when he got the head coaching job — Shaka Smart. That’s the other thing about Dambrot — he hires great staffs. Boals (Ohio State assistant), Smart and Lamont Paris (Wisconsin assistant) are just a few of the guys he’s hired that have moved on to higher levels.
Here are his win totals at Akron — 19, 23 (NIT), 26, 24 (NIT), 23 (NCAA), 24, 23 (NCAA) and 22 (NIT) — and six straight MAC Title Games (they lost a one possession game to Ohio a few weeks ago in #6). That’s Dambrot’s tenure at Akron in a nutshell — a place that had one year of postseason success (under Bob Huggins) before Dambrot took over.
I don’t know if Dambrot would consider the Dukes job.
Dambrot’s father, Sid, played at Duquesne in the 1950′s. Dambrot is extremely close with LeBron James who he coached in high school, so close that James’ NIKE line sponsors the Zips. Keith Dambrot would be content to continue to build a mid major power at Akron if only because at one time he thought he’d never have a chance again.
Danny Hurley just received a six year deal at Rhode Island reported to be worth more than $4 million dollars. That’s figuratively the bar that’s been set for Duquesne.
This next hire is huge for Amodio and the program. They fired a good coach. They now need a very good coach, a coach who’s proven it. Not sure there’s anyone out there fitting that description who would consider the Dukes job. Dambrot fits the description, the question is would he be tempted by the challenge to take the Dukes to the next level? A higher level is always appealing to a coach, especially one as confident and competitive as Dambrot. Who knows if he’d come back to his father’s college — but I bet if the phone rang, and the offer was attractive enough, he just might listen.
Somebody should make that call.