Been meaning to get to this since it went down last week, but the firing of Ron Everhart by Duquesne is an interesting occurrence. A defensible decision in my view, that Duquesne managed to make into a massive mess.
To review the history, Everhart was hired back in 2006. He was one of three targets by Duquesne: Everhart, Jim Christian and John Groce. Groce was an Ohio St. assistant and didn’t want the job. Groce later opted for the Ohio University gig and is on the verge of becoming the Illinois head coach. Christian was the Kent State coach after Stan Heath, and is now the TCU head coach. Christian — who had been a Pitt assistant in the Willard error — “withdrew” his name the day before Everhart was hired.
There was no question that Everhart was hired as much for his ties in the mucky recruiting world as it was for his turnaround history at McNeese St. and Northeastern. And when you look at where Duquesne was when he took over to where it is now, he has done a very good job of making them a competitive team once more. But Duquesne apparently wants more. You know, after all the focus they have put basketball after slashing the rest of their athletic department. Axing baseball, swimming and other sports.
Duquesne, however, was not nearly as unified in this decision as they pretended. Almost as soon as Everhart was fired, someone leaked the letter from Duquesne’s President to the Board.
We are very grateful to Ron for bringing our program out of a long moribund period, a skill he demonstrated at two previous universities and the very reason we hired him. However, as was the case in his two previous posts, he has stalled at a modest plateau with our program. It is clear that we will not be capable of moving to the next level of excellence with Ron at the helm. By next level, I mean annual contention for the top of the A10 conference, regular appearances in the NIT and periodic appearances in the NCAA tournaments. We reached the conclusion that this kind of performance was impossible under his leadership due to uneven recruiting, large turnovers among his student athletes and coaching staff, an overall average win-loss record and a losing record in the A10, poor performance in close games, the predictable collapse of our teams late in the season, and a general disorganization and lack of communication that is clear to those close to the program. The recent loss of TJ McConnell and other players from the team is part of an unfortunate pattern and an indication of the current decline in our program.
The University has invested a great deal in our men’s program. Since Ron has been with us, the Palumbo Center has been nearly totally renovated at a cost of over $5m. We have increased the program’s operating budget by over 75%. On critical occasions, I have aided Ron directly by meeting personally with leading student prospects and their families to talk about Duquesne and our support of the basketball program. It is reasonable to expect a higher level of excellence for this kind of University commitment.
The immediate future will be a bit bumpy; difficult personnel decisions always are. Ron has his supporters and he is well-liked as a person. But long term success in our men’s basketball program is best served by acting decisively now and making clear that we are committed to greater excellence here—as we are throughout Duquesne University.
To be honest, I thought this was a remarkably upfront letter — which explains why it was not intended to be seen by the public. Perhaps a touch delusional in the overall expectations for Duquesne, but at the end of the day most coaches are hired and fired based on their wins and losses. Clearly Duquesne’s president knew that Everhart had supporters and the school would take a hit. He obviously didn’t realize that the support included at least one board member who leaked the letter.
As Ray Mernagh noted, that’s why you don’t put this stuff in a medium that can be leaked. Unsaid in the letter and elsewhere is the position of Duequesne basketball in Pittsburgh. A case could be made that Duquesne has managed to fall behind Robert Morris in the hierarchy of local college hoops. Robert Morris has made the NCAA Tournament. They are contending for their conference championship annually (albeit in the NEC), they have beaten Duquesne the past two seasons, and are 4-4 vs. Duquesne over the last 8 years. All this, even after another coaching change.
I went to school at Duquesne, and I’ve heard quite a bit over the weekend about what might have gone into Everhart’s firing. I know a lot of folks are angry. In the broader context, though, I’m inclined to take the word of Amodio that he was dissatisfied with the Dukes’ failure to reach the next level. Indeed, they were 3-6 in Atlantic 10 tournament games, with all three wins coming in that 2009 run to the final vs. Temple.
That’s fine. It’s the right of any university president or AD to fire based upon performance.
But isn’t it also fair to expect that the men making such calls have at least a cursory interest in the basketball program beyond whatever anger they manufactured Friday?
Would you expect that, if Dougherty rips Everhart for his “general disorganization” in a letter to the board of trustees that was sadly leaked to CBS Sports, they wouldn’t have taken away Everhart’s secretary three years ago and replaced the position with a ticket-taker?
No administrative help was hired again until last year.
Would you expect that, if Everhart and his players wanted to enter their 16-15 team in the College Basketball Invitational tournament this month — the one in which Pitt is competing — the school would step up and foot the bill?
Dougherty and Amodio didn’t. And it deeply disappointed the staff and players, including terrific sophomore guard T.J. McConnell just before he announced he was leaving the program.
Would you expect that, if the coaching staff had an exceptional recruiting class on the way for 2012-13, the administrators would at least be aware of the players on the way?
Dougherty and Amodio didn’t know those names, according to Alan Robinson, who served as Everhart’s basketball administrator the past year and previously was a respected reporter for the Associated Press for 35 years. Neither Dougherty nor Amodio ever asked Everhart about his recruits after the initial signing period last fall.
The most shocking thing to me in that article is finding out that Alan Robinson was no longer the Pittsburgh AP sportswriter. Potentially disturbing to think that the AP either didn’t pay well enough any longer, or he thought there was more stability working in Duquesne basketball.
Now with Everhart and the issues of the transfers and recruiting, there may be more going on behind the scenes than Duquesne is really saying. Either way, with the stated desire for Duequesne to win more, the pressure is on Duquesne to back up what they claim. That means a hire that doesn’t look like a reach or desperation. Given the way Duquesne hired the firing, I wouldn’t bet strongly on that possibility.