College Basketball Nation: Ron Everhart

Here are the salient facts about the Penn State coaching search:
  1. It began because its former coach, Ed DeChellis, left Penn State to take the vacant job at Navy. Yes, Navy.
  2. Its first apparent candidate, Jeff Lebo, declined and chose to stay at East Carolina.
  3. Its latest apparent candidate, Ron Everhart, declined and chose to stay at Duquesne.

This is not the stuff of inspiration. The fact that Penn State is considering such candidates in the first place -- solid but boring coaches with mediocre records -- is bad enough. The fact that it can't lure them to the school is another matter entirely.

The Everhart news came Thursday night, when Everhart texted ESPN's Andy Katz and gave a statement to The Associated Press saying he was happy to stay in his current position:
"There's just a lot of good things going on here at Duquesne, and it's just a good time for us," Everhart told The Associated Press. "It's become a real special place, and this is just the right thing to do. [...] Looking back on the whole situation, I feel that I'm right where I need to be."

For the record: Everhart is 83-74 in five years coaching the Dukes. Yes, the program has improved in recent seasons, but Everhart is hardly lighting the world ablaze: Duquesne has yet to make an NCAA tournament appearance in Everhart's tenure, and the closest it's gotten is an NIT spot after a 21-13 year in 2008-09. Duquesne appeared in the third-tier College Basketball Invitational in 2010 and 2011.

Does Everhart really think he has a better chance of success at Duquesne than Penn State? Is he wrong? If not, what does that say about Penn State's program?

OK, so we know exactly what it says. Penn State is seen as a coaching dead-end, a rebuilding effort with a disinterested fan base and an apathetic athletics administration. It's hard to lure coaches to that sort of environment even in the Big Ten, arguably the premier coaching conference (if such a thing can exist) in the modern college hoops environment.

Despite all this, the Nittany Lions still have candidates to work with. Boston University's Pat Chambers has interviewed for the job, as has Wisconsin-Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter, sources told Katz. After Everhart's withdrawal became news, reports circulated that Chambers would be offered and would accept the job, but that appears to have been a bit premature. Both coaches have experienced recent success at mid-major programs; Chambers got BU to the NCAA tournament in 2011, his second season, and Jeter took a surprising Milwaukee team to the brink of a tournament berth before losing to Butler in Horizon League tournament final. Both are familiar with the area, both are young (Chambers is 39, Jeter is 42), and both at least seem to have some forward trajectory at their current programs.

In the end, perhaps that's the best Penn State can do. The fundamental issues plaguing the program won't go away in one hire. Those are long-term needs that require a fundamental shift in the way the school treats its basketball program. There will be no perfect fits. But if the Nittany Lions can merely approximate some of the traits of its ideal coach -- youngish, mildly successful, somewhat charismatic -- well, hey. It could be worse.
It's a tough time to be a Penn State fan. Talor Battle, the best player in program history, has graduated. Ed DeChellis, the so-so coach who couldn't get a contract guarantee from the school, bolted for Navy. Juwan Staten, the best hope of some talent landing on the Happy Valley shores in coming seasons, will now take his talents elsewhere.

Of course, all this could be a chance for rebirth. With the right hire, Penn State has the chance to revitalize its program from scratch and in doing so send a message to the rest of the hoops world: Basketball is no longer a second-class sport here. We want to win.

Alas, as the coaching search stretches on into the weekend, it's looking more and more like this chance is going to pass by the Nittany Lions. Maybe I'm still reeling from last night's Bulls-Heat finish (OK, I admit it, I'm a mess), but this is borderline depressing.

Instead of splashy, exciting candidates, Penn State reportedly set its sights on the likes of ... East Carolina's Jeff Lebo. Lebo is a decent coach and by all accounts a nice guy, but his record -- 96-93 (with a 36-61 record in the SEC) at Auburn from 2004-2010, a combined 36 wins in two seasons at ECU -- doesn't exactly scream "rebirth." Even worse? Lebo is uninterested in the job. On Thursday, he issued a statement reaffirming his commitment to the Pirates and said he had not been contacted by any institutions about any coaching vacancies.

So, who's next? On Thursday, FightOnState.com reported that former Utah coach Jim Boylen is "in the mix." Boylen is no more inspirational a candidate than Lebo, and that's probably putting it politely. Boylen finished his four years at Utah with a 69-60 overall record and a 32-32 tally in the Mountain West. As proud Utah fans watched in-state rival BYU and national player of the year Jimmer Fredette soar to unprecedented heights, the Utes made one NCAA tournament appearance and didn't go to even the NIT in the past two seasons.

What about other candidates? Drexel's Bruiser Flint and Duquesne's Ron Everhart have both been mentioned by various media outlets (including this one) as possible replacements, and both would be better hires than Lebo or Boylen. But the tenor of this coaching search has been set. No one seems all that interested in the Penn State job; no rising mid-major coaches are scrambling to text their agents to get them an interview immediately. There are few exciting options, but -- as CBS' Gary Parrish wrote yesterday -- maybe it's time for Penn State to start thinking outside the box:
[...] Penn State is a job for a salesman. Which is why athletic director Tim Curley -- and former South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler, who is assisting in the search -- would be wise to try to hire somebody with a recruiting background and/or unusual connections that might prove helpful. Perhaps that's Drexel's Bruiser Flint and his strong ties in the Philadelphia area. Or maybe it's an assistant with a reputation as a grinder. Honestly, I don't know the right answer for Penn State because my guess is that the next coach will likely lose more than he wins just like DeChellis lost more than he won. All I know is the wrong answer for Penn State and the wrong answer is anybody lacking a larger-than-life personality and/or track record of recruiting above his head.

Yes, you want a proven guy, and yes, Penn State should focus on hiring someone who will keep the program above board with the NCAA at all times. (Most programs should do this. Only some actually make it a priority.)

But it's a big coaching world out there. There are hundreds of hungry up-and-coming assistants who might see the Penn State job less as a career-staller and more of a thrilling opportunity to recruit and coach in one of the most lucrative, prestigious and successful hoops conferences in the country. Unless Penn State can nab Flint (or maybe even Everhart), it might consider diving deep into the ranks of obscure up-and-comers who'll jump into the job with enthusiasm and charisma.

Of course, it's important to make sure this guy can actually coach, too. But if you're Penn State and you're staring down the likes of Jeff Lebo and Jim Boylen and your team is bereft of talent and most fans don't seem to care ... well, isn't it time to shake things up?

Bob Huggins hoards hotel points, shoes

April, 28, 2011
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West Virginia coach Bob Huggins had his annual charity roast on Wednesday, and one of those invited to do the roasting was Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin.

The former assistant coach under Huggins and current Big East rival used the opportunity to share (exaggerated?) tales about his former boss, and according to West Virginia Illustrated, he was so excited to do so that he drove to the event after his flight was canceled.
"There's a few things that people don't know in the state of West Virginia about their basketball coach. He holds more Best Western points than any coach in the history of college basketball. We were No. 1 in the country at Cincinnati, and we stayed at Best Westerns all year because Coach Huggins was trying to get a free tractor trailer through their points system from John Deere. It's an obscure fact...And he still records his Delta miles personally because he thinks that he gets cheated."

Cronin also laughed as he talked about Huggins' preparations for retirement in his new home.
"He has been rat-holing free shoes and sweat suits in case he ever retires because he doesn't want to ever have to buy shoes the rest of his life. The sweat suits he's going to order 'em 4X because he knows that that that's the only thing he can fit in as time goes on."

The rest of the stories at the roast will have to be told another day, as according to West Virginia Illustrated, it could not share audio or text of the roast because of the colorful language. Last year's event was so zany that Duquesne coach Ron Everhart apparently suffered a broken toe while roasting Huggins.

It was all for a good cause, of course. The evening raised money for the Norma Mae Huggins Cancer Endowment Fund in honor of Huggins' late mother.

COY: The case for 10 other contenders

February, 2, 2011
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For more on Steve Fisher, Rick Barnes and Jim Calhoun, check out the rest of our Coach of the Year debate in the Nation blog. For now, here are 10 other coaches who deserve praise for a job well-done this season:

Rick Pitino, Louisville: This was supposed to be a gap year for the Cardinals and gap years aren’t traditionally pretty in the Big East. Instead, Louisville -- picked to finish eighth in the league -- is tied with equally surprising Notre Dame (see below) for second. Pitino has reinvigorated his team by going back to his roots, playing a more uptempo offense and solid defense. His buddy and associate head coach Ralph Willard has said this is Pitino’s best coaching job. Hard to disagree.

Chris Mack, Xavier: His best shooter, Brad Redford, blew out his ACL in October. His top reserve, Jay Canty, hurt his knee at the end of December. His best recruit, Justin Martin, was ruled academically ineligible. So what does Mack do with nine scholarship players? The same thing Xavier always does… win. The Musketeers are 7-0 and tied atop the Atlantic 10 standings. They ditched preseason favorite Temple and just roasted Richmond on the road. The beat goes on.

Dave Rose, BYU: Yes he has The Jimmer, but Fredette isn’t the only reason BYU is rolling. Lost in the Fredette Frenzy is the fact that the Cougars are solid defensively, have surrounded their superstar with great talent, are playing unselfish basketball and have hit the boards hard. That’s coaching. Mix in the fact that Rose is the guy managing The Jimmer mania, helping to keep his player and his team from soaring too high in the crowd, and you’ve got a maestro coaching performance to go with a maestro player.

Thad Matta, Ohio State: OK, some might argue: How hard it is to coach a team loaded with so much talent? Well remember, the Buckeyes lost a lot of talent too, in the form of national player of the year Evan Turner. Yet Matta has Ohio State atop the rankings as the nation’s only unbeaten team, exploiting opponents with its balanced offensive attack and solid defense. Is there plenty of talent on hand? Sure. But give credit where credit is due.

Randy Bennett, Saint Mary’s: A season after Saint Mary’s surprising Sweet 16 run and after losing Omar Samhan to graduation, Bennett has the Gaels right back in the thick of things. Saint Mary’s won the first showdown with rival Gonzaga on the road -- its first victory in Spokane since 1995 -- and is in position to score an at-large bid even without a conference tourney title.

Matt Painter, Purdue: For a team that had such high expectations in the preseason, the heartbreaking, season-ending ACL injury to Robbie Hummel on the first full day of practice was absolutely devastating. Many counted out Purdue right then and there. And while it’s true the Boilermakers can’t be considered a true national-title contender at the moment, it’s also true that they’ve hung in there quite fine, thank you. With Painter steadying the ship, Purdue is in second place in the Big Ten and 18-5 overall.

Ron Everhart, Duquesne: Threatening for years in the Atlantic 10, Duquesne appears to have finally arrived. Seasoned by a tough nonleague schedule (aside from a loss to Robert Morris, none of the Dukes’ defeats are bad ones), Duquesne is rolling through the A-10 at 7-0. Standout players Bill Clark and Damian Saunders have been joined by the missing piece to Everhart’s puzzle, a savvy, scoring point guard in the form of freshman T.J. McConnell. The unselfish Dukes lead the nation in assists, averaging 19.2 per game.

Mark Turgeon, Texas A&M: Like his team, Turgeon constantly flies under the radar. Texas A&M isn’t flashy, doesn’t have a turn-the-head superstar and their coach isn’t going out and stumping for attention. It’s possible you haven’t heard of any of their players, but the Aggies are as reliable as an old slipper. They will play lockdown defense, will be in the top 25 and will be in the NCAA tournament.

Mike Brey, Notre Dame: All Brey has done this season is reinvent how Notre Dame plays. Successfully. Reliant on Luke Harangody for four years, the Irish now have gone to the perimeter, relying on the hot-shooting of Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis to lead them to a surprising 17-4 start. Brey may have found a secret to his team’s success at the end of last season when he was forced to slow things down while Harangody was injured. This team is now comfortable going up and down the court (80-75 win against Marquette) or forcing the tempo toward a snail’s pace (56-51 win at Pittsburgh).

Cliff Ellis, Coastal Carolina: Looking for a mid-major to rally around for the NCAA tournament? Why not a Coastal Carolina team that hasn’t been to the Big Dance in 18 years. Last season, Ellis -- the former longtime coach at Auburn and Clemson -- took the Chanticleers to unprecedented heights, winning the Big South regular-season title and a school-record 28 games. What’s changed this year? Not much. Despite losing three seniors and despite having to dismiss star transfer Mike Holmes a month ago, the Chanticleers haven’t lost since Nov. 18, reeling off 18 consecutive victories to improve to 20-2.
A few weeks ago, at West Virginia coach Bob Huggins' charity roast, Duquesne's Ron Everhart had his routine down pat. He was going to fall in front of Huggins -- poking fun at Huggins' recent spate of injuries, including one he suffered when he fell in his Las Vegas hotel room this summer -- the crowd would laugh and that would be that. Pretty good comedic plan, all things considered.

One problem: Everhart hurt himself, too. Talk about your all-time backfires!

The coach told Fox's Jeff Goodman that his fall -- the video of which you can see here -- ended up breaking his toe. No joke:
"My toe got caught in the chair,” Everhart told me last night. "I fell pretty hard and had to grab the podium from falling again.”

"My toe was huge afterwards,” he added. "But that’s what I get for making fun of my friend.”

Karma is rarely so immediate. But look at it this way: If Huggins continues his three-summers-strong streak of semi-embarrassing self-inflicted injuries, he can always just say he hurt himself making fun of his friend for making fun of him. It's the circle of life. Or something like that, anyway.

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