The NEC championship game hasn’t even been played, but the coaching carousel doesn’t wait for anything. When the Rhode Island Rams decided to part ways with head coach Jim Barron three NEC coaches found themselves thrown into the rumors. Two of those coaches are coaching on Wednesday and all three will hear their names mentioned many more times. It’s possible though that all could stay at their respective institutions.
That sounds weird, because the NEC is a single-bid conference near the bottom of Division I by almost any metric, but all three have lots of reasons to be excited about the future of their respective programs and each has more to do. In turn the league should benefit and continue to rise in 2012-13. Will they all stay? Let’s take a look at each’s unique situation.
Dan Hurley: Destined for big things
When Dan Hurley came to Grymes Hill he was already a high school coaching legend, with a career record of 223-21 at Saint Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey. He has a famous father and brother and was expected to succeed from day one, even as he stepped into a program that had won just five games the year before he took over. Two seasons later the Seahawks lost at home in the semifinals of the NEC Tournament after going 15-3 in conference play. They also beat Pittsburgh, Princeton and Penn in non-conference play. Hurley’s name was being thrown around in Twitter rumors for the URI while the semifinal was still in progress.
There will always be jobs out there for Hurley. He’s got the name, the pedigree and the system to shoot for the biggest of jobs when he decides to leave Staten Island. His defensive system will play anywhere and as he moves up the ladder he’ll just be able to get more and more talent.
That ability to acquire talent is one of the reasons that Hurley shouldn’t leave Wagner after this season. Chris Martin and Tyler Murray both graduate, but the cupboard is far from bare. Former Michigan Mr. Basketball Dwaun Anderson may be eligible next season. He’ll complement Latif Rivers, NEC Defensive Player of the Year Kenneth Ortiz and the developing Naofall Folahan and Mario Moody in the paint. Once again Hurley will have the talent to compete for an NEC title.
Jim Ferry: Building a program
If he wanted to LIU Brooklyn head coach Jim Ferry could’ve left after last season. He accomplished pretty much everything an NEC coach can by winning the conference regular season and tournament titles and claiming a 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Manhattan came calling last off season and it seemed like Ferry might go, until he didn’t. Instead he returned and once again won the NEC regular season title.
Now, after back-to-back seasons with NEC titles, Ferry is in charge of one of the premiere programs in the conference. He took eight seasons to build the foundation for this success and it’s going to take the perfect job for him to leave. Like Hurley’s Seahawks the Blackbirds will be loaded against next season. NEC Player of the Year Julian Boyd will be back for his senior season with Jamal Olasewere and Jason Brickman is there to run the floor with them. Ferry will need to find some more front court depth, but Brandon Thompson could be starting in the NEC right now and more talent is surely on the way.
Andrew Toole: The youngster
It’s a testament to Mike Rice, the Robert Morris program and Andrew Toole what has happened in Pittsburgh the past few seasons. When Rice got the opportunity to go to Rutgers Toole took the reigns and has never faltered. The Colonials played in the NEC title game last season and are there once again after their upset of Wagner on Sunday. Like their coach, the Colonials are a careful blend of experience and youth. Just one player, Lawrence Bridges, will graduate at the end of this season.
Toole is the youngest head coach in NCAA Division I. He’s been a head coach for just two (albeit very successful) seasons. Is he ready to leap? Will the struggles his mentor Rice has had at Rutgers serve as a cautionary tale? Toole is a shooting star, but it’s obvious that success can be sustained at Robert Morris. There are athletes to be found in that area of the country who can play the switching defensive system that RMU so deftly employs. The majority of the roster comes from the area surrounding the city. There are lots of gems to be found in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which make up more than half the roster.
And there’s this wildcard, Karon Abraham, arguably RMU’s most talented player, will return next season. He was suspended all season due to violating school rules. It was a gutsy move by a young coach, but it’s paid dividends and showed Toole wasn’t afraid to make tough decisions.
More to come
Where does that leave us? Could all three return? Surely. If they did the NEC would probably be prepared for the best season in conference history. These three programs should be joined by others like Central Connecticut, St. Francis (NY) and Monmouth next season. Seven of the league’s top 10 players return. It could be a banner year for the conference, but it’ll only be as strong as possible if Hurley, Ferry and Toole resist the siren’s song of other jobs and come back to finish what they’ve started.