June 10, 2005
Sometimes it's easier to be the big fish in a small pond instead of the small fish in a big pond.
Recently, Bill Herrion had to decide if he preferred to be an associate head coach in a major conference, the SEC, and serve Stan Heath at Arkansas
or run the program at New Hampshire in the America East Conference.
Would it be better to be at a program where the visibility was there, as was the pressure to win? Herrion had a tough choice because the Razorbacks are improving, and he had only recently accepted an assistant's position after being let go as East Carolina head coach after last season. Due to good recruiting in recent years, Arkansas should make some noise next season.
Herrion opted to take the Wildcats' job, even though New Hampshire was 45-125 in its last six seasons. UNH last enjoyed a winning season in 1994-95 (19-9), so this is a real challenge. College hockey is king at New Hampshire.
Herrion did a solid job at Drexel, sporting a 167-71 record there from 1991-99, including three trips to the NCAA Tournament. Remember when his Dragons stunned Memphis in the '96 Big Dance before losing in the second round to Syracuse?
Herrion is the only coach in America East history to earn conference coach of the year honors four times (Drexel, now part of the Colonial Athletic Association, was once part of the America East). He's happy to be back in the America East. Herrion had contacts in the New England area, and New Hampshire was thrilled to get a coach with Herrion's resumé.
Years ago, I remember my broadcast buddy Jimmy Valvano telling me the best job he ever had was at Iona. I asked how that could possibly compare to winning a national championship at NC State. He said there were all kinds of pressure and scrutiny in Raleigh, facing Duke and North Carolina and the hot ACC spotlight. There's something to be said about being the big star at a mid-major or low-major level.
ESPN's Fran Fraschilla was the head coach at Manhattan before he went to the Big East and the St. John's job. When he was with the Jaspers, I'm sure he was able to teach and coach while avoiding the same fire he endured with the Red Storm. That can be a special lifestyle, because some guys find the big-time environment doesn't always work out.
Some coaches take a higher-profile job and fail, and three years later wish they had never left the place where they were a hero.
With 14 years of experience as a Division I head coach, Herrion is prepared for this challenge. New Hampshire made a great decision, and the America East will be happy to see this outstanding coach back in the region.
Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question to Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.