Pittsburgh Sports Report
July 2006

Up Close With the Pittsburgh Sports Report
Ron Everhart

Ron Everhart has a history of turning programs around. This past off-season the Duquesne Dukes took notice of that and named Everhart the new head coach of the men's basketball team. Everhart, a 1985 graduate of Virginia Tech, got his first coaching job as a graduate assistant at Georgia Tech in 1985. After stops at the Virginia Military Institute and Tulane, Everhart took the head coaching job of the McNeese State University Cowboys. He was named the Southland Conference coach of the year leading his team to a 22-9 record and a trip to the NIT in 2000-01. He then moved on to Northeastern, where he performed another rebuilding job. In the 2004-05 season Everhart was named the American East Coach of the Year. During that season he led the Huskies to a 21-10 record and their first ever appearance in the NIT. A native of Fairmont, West Virginia, Everhart brings a career record of 174-172 to the Dukes. PSR editor Tony DeFazio sat down with Everhart during Duquesne's recent Elite Basketball Camp.

PSR: What was your knowledge and perception of Duquesne before you accepted this job?

Everhart: My perception of Duquesne University has always been one of great respect and great appreciation. I grew up in a Catholic family in northern West Virginia, and our faith and ideals as a family kind of revolved around what Duquesne represented. It was kind of the only Catholic university in the area. We always had a great respect and admiration and felt like it was a great way to continue your education. From an institutional standpoint, that was always my perception.

As a kid growing up and being a gym-rat, I remember the Mickey Davis's and the Norm Nixon's. I remember that era where Duquesne University basketball was very highly regarded nationally. My impression of the institution has never changed. I've always felt that Duquesne was a place that was synonymous with good basketball, guys who played in the NBA, teams that go to NCAA tournaments, teams that pack the house, kids who graduate - the whole Catholic education combined with basketball success.

The ironic thing is that I'm coming here at a time when people will say that the tradition hasn't been good, and yet my impression is that is the most inaccurate statement that I've ever heard because as a kid, it was all about such great tradition here.

I went down to McNeese State at age 32,my first head coaching job, and there was a guy there who was Mickey and Brad Davis's uncle, who was a career leading scorer there and a coach, and so they always had Pennsylvania kids there. But even there, 2,000 miles away, there were ties there to Duquesne.

I've always felt like this is a program that should be on the national level. I mean, they've won a national championship here - how many schools in the United States can say they've won a national championship? You know, they just made a movie about Texas Western, and Duquesne won a national championship just like they did. So from a recruiting perspective and the way I perceive this school is that's where we should be. That's the type of basketball program that we should have and I don't want guys going to bed at night thinking that it should be any different than that.

PSR: In addition to what we just talked about, what else made this an appealing job for you?

RE: For me personally, everything about this position was as attractive as it gets. I've never looked at the head coaching position at Duquesne as any kind of stepping stone. For me, this is kind of like a live-all, end-all type of situation.

I spent 13 years in Louisiana coaching basketball. I've been in Boston for the last five, and a lot of places in between. I haven't lived in this area since 1986 after having grown up here. My wife is from this area; she's an attorney. She came from Grafton, WV. We've been married for 18 years and I think we dated for probably three years prior to that. We had children who are now seven years old. So for us to have the ability to come back and live and work in this area, and for our children to get to know their grandparents on both sides of the family…it's really a dream come true for me in a lot of ways.

I've been in a situation as a basketball coach where your persona and job description revolves around having to relocate and be able to adjust to different parts of the country. To have an opportunity to, in my mind, come back home is the best thing that could have happened for me and my family. I just hope that we can work hard and get some of the pride and character back in the program that any team in Pittsburgh would deserve, but especially a high quality Catholic institution like Duquesne. Every day it becomes a personal challenge to make that happen.

I personally don't feel that we're that far away. I really believe we can compete for Atlantic 10 championships here. I think when you say that, it's kind of like (Northeastern) last year in the conference, in that when you're a good team in that league, you're going to be a good team in the RPI and nationally as well. We want to bring back some of the national attention that I think we can have here.

PSR: How do the on-court struggles here the last 20 years or so play into the challenge you just described?

RE: When I meet with my staff and we talk about the direction we want to go and the goals we want to achieve both short-term and long-term, one of the things we talk about consistently is how we represent ourselves. Greg Amodio, our athletic director, has a great way of saying it. He says, "We want to change the perception of the way we do business."

I'm coming at it from a perception standpoint. This is the first time here that we've had an elite basketball camp where we've actually gone out and sought out the most talented guys to attend. They're spending three days with us going through college practices - we're treating these kids like they're our kids. Like this morning, the breakfast place where the kids eat was a mess. So we put them on line and made them run. And if our guys mess up, we're going to get them out here first thing in the morning and make them run. Just to make them understand that this is not acceptable. We want to establish an identity.

I grew up in a coal mining town, a blue collar area much like this area. I've never known any other way than that. I'm a blue-collar guy. I've never been a coach at a university in any situation where we've been highly regarded. I went to McNeese and we were 300 RPI or below, same deal at Northeastern and Duquesne is also the same situation.

I've always thought of myself as a grinder. I don't have one of those pedigrees. I didn't play at a top five school where the coach gets on the phone and gets you a job. That's never been my persona. I just go to work everyday.

We've done this everywhere I've been and we'll do this here. Above our door in the locker room I'll hang a pair of work gloves and a hard hat. And our guys are going to touch that every time we go in and out of this locker room. We're coming here to go to work. It's what we do.

Philosophically, we've always preached three main things: 1) We're never going to look forward and get too excited about what's to come and we're never going to look backwards and get too down or depressed about what's happened - we're going to live today; 2) Never complain because there are a lot of people less fortunate than us, and when you do complain the perception is that you're soft, and we never ever, ever want to be seen as soft - inside this locker room or outside this locker room; and 3) Before we leave the court we'll do two things - we'll say a sort of prayer thanking God for giving us the opportunity to be here, and then we're going to look up at those banners and we're going to salute all those guys who gave their blood and sweat and laid everything on the line for this program, both when it was good and not so good.

We are just guys who are coming after a long line of guys who made things very good here. That's something that you have to respect every day.

PSR: You're no stranger to the challenge of rebuilding basketball programs, but you've given a new meaning to the phrase "starting from scratch" here - a lot of players have left, just two return and there are more than a dozen new bodies. What's the challenge with such a large influx of new kids?

RE: Well (long pause)… As you said, I have done this before but never to this degree. So I think there are a lot of challenges that we don't know are there yet, and I think there are a lot of positives that we don't know are there either. One thing I will say, though: we brought in a bunch of new kids not necessarily by design but because of necessity.

I think the good part about it was that there were a lot of good kids left on the recruiting circuit. And I say good kids meaning good kids. In a lot of ways I don't know how talented some of these kids are, but we got the kind of kids into this program that will give you the shirts off their backs. We've got good human beings in this program. That was the one thing that we wanted, whether we built this thing with two kids in the recruiting class or 22 kids in the recruiting class. The constant is that we want our guys to represent this place the way it's supposed to be. Because your institution deserves that, but I think the kids do too.

I don't want my kids to walk into their own locker room and have to deal with kids who are "bad guys." You don't want any of those guys in your program. If you send your son to play here, you'd want to know that there are good kids in the program. That's as important a part of achieving success as anything. The kids need to know that they can leave their wallets in their lockers and nothing's going to happen. Or that we can sit down to eat and I've got a guy beside me who has given it up for me on the floor as much I've given it up for him. Eliminate the selfishness. Create and environment where the things you need to do to build a team can take place. That all starts with having good people, and that's something I feel real good about right now.

From a negative standpoint, chemistry-wise, we're going to have a bunch of kids that don't know each other and have never played together…early in the year we're probably going to have balls flying off kids' heads and hands, and it's going to take awhile to get that cohesiveness.

Cowher talked about that a lot last year, and being a Steelers' fan my whole life it really stuck with me. He talked about the way Bettis handled a locker room, and when Roethlisberger and some of the young kids got there they all looked to Bettis. And he just laid it out for them, was honest and pulled no punches, and that created a great environment and cohesiveness, and that's what we've got to strive to get. And that's going to be difficult with so many new guys.

PSR: How much can coaches be a part of that? Do the players have to take that upon themselves and establish leadership in their group?

RE: Yeah, I think they do, Tony. And that has to happen right here where we are (in the Dukes' locker room). When the players are sitting here talking, those types of things have got to transpire. But it's not going to happen until we go on the court and develop a working relationship from a basketball standpoint. Then we you come into the locker room and you have good kids, those types of things will take place.

I was talking to Joe Dumars one time, he used to come down to McNeese State all the time and play in our golf tournament. He's a good friend and a great guy - really one of the smartest guys I've ever been around. He doesn't say much, but when he does it's kind of that E.F. Hutton thing - people listen. Anyway, we were in a golf cart riding together and I asked him, "How did a group of guys like you guys had with the Pistons become so good?" Because on paper, they weren't supposed to be two-time World Champs. They just weren't. Aside from Isiah (Thomas) they just weren't supposed to be that good. Bill Laimbeer was not an all-pro center; you had guys like Mahorn, Oakley, Dumars, Vinnie Johnson…when you break down an NBA Championship team on paper, those aren't the guys you breakdown.

So he looked at me and says, "You know, when you've got good people in the organization, you give yourself a chance. I see so many teams out there that have way more talented guys across the board, but they are selfish, they don't give a (expletive) about the guy next to them, guys who are absolutely acting like it's a corporation and are in it only for the money. Well money doesn't mean a thing if you don't have a chance to get that ring."

And when he said that, it dawned on me that he was saying that same thing to those guys in the locker room. That's the same thing that Laimbeer was buying, the same thing that Oakley is buying into, and Vinnie Johnson…those guys are buying that.

If you don't have guys like that in there, and Bettis was that guy last year for the Steelers… Well, hopefully someone emerges as that type of a guy. Philosophically, it comes down to stay humble, stay hungry, be a good person and things are going to work out for you if you keep working hard. That's something that hopefully we can instill as coaches, but they have to be the ones who, as you said, make it happen in the locker room.

And little things play into that off the court as well because there is such a big social component to this, especially in college. You know, things like talking to someone else's girlfriend or something like that. And those are little BS things that as coaches, we'll talk about. A lot of coaches will say, "How do you talk about that with your kids?" And I think, "Man, how do you NOT?"

Those are things that, whether you're a basketball player or not, when you're in a social environment like a college campus, man, those things are important.

PSR: Most fans don't even think about those things when it comes to a player's performance.

RE: Never crosses their mind. Never crosses their mind. Here's an example, and I can't mention any specifics for obvious reasons, but there was a kid who wanted to leave the place where he was and transfer to where I was because one of the coaches on the staff made a pass at his girlfriend. How crazy is that?

So we address those things with our staff, and we also address the fact that we're dealing with 18-21 year old people here. People come from different backgrounds and have different social skills. But with a group of young guys, there are some things that are pretty consistent. So we have to handle those things up front and make it clear to them what kind of environment we hope to create. Now what the do with that is up to them. But we want to give ourselves a chance and not shoot ourselves in the foot.

I tell our staff to just look at the coaching changes in Division 1 basketball over the past few years. More coaches are let go or have to step down for non-basketball related issues. Larry Eustachy is kissing a girl at a frat party. Dave Bliss's player kills a teammate. Even Eddie Sutton. The craziest things you've ever seen. Less and less it's the AD coming into your office and saying, "Hoss, you're just not winning enough games."

So we talk about that kind of stuff. And it doesn't always work out that way, of course, but when you get the players policing themselves, then you've really got something good.

PSR: Over the last few years, the talent-level of high school basketball in Pittsburgh has taken a great leap forward, where there is now legitimate elite talent right here in and around the city. How does that impact Duquesne?

RE: I think it's a double-edged sword for me because I'm the new guy on the block as far as coaching in Pittsburgh. So I'm going to have to do a very good job right away of developing relationships with the guys locally to at least come and take a look at Duquesne. Now I think Duquesne can sell itself once we get kids here. I think that's been proven with this incoming recruiting class, where we've got kids from all over who fell in love with this place. The city has really sold itself to kids from Alabama (junior college transfers Reggie Jackson and Gary Tucker), Toronto (Sam Ashaolu) and from anywhere.

I think, though, to get local kids, we need to get out there in the community and have clinics and camps. Try to expose ourselves to these kids as much as possible. Bob Huggins went through this in Cincinnati and we talked about it, and I've been through it where I've been - if your team has been bad for a long time, and you have kids who are not representing the program appropriately, the local guys don't respect that. There's just not a real big desire to go there to further your education and play basketball. So the first thing you have to do is overcome that with the local kids. A lot of times that takes winning.

And that creates a catch-22 because you can't win with the local kids because they ain't coming. So you may have to go outside of the area and develop a team that has success, and now that puts you in the mix for the local kids.

In a year, if we're in the hunt with one of the big three local guys in the area, I'll be the happiest guy in the world.

PSR: At the same time, you're certainly not writing those kids off. It seems like you're recruiting all of them hard.

RE: Oh not at all. No, I think we provide a great opportunity for those guys. For most kids that I've been around in the 20 years I've been doing this, there is not a better situation than to get a good education, play in a good program, walk out of the locker room and look up and see your family sitting there? There's nothing better than that.

One thing you can never get back is your family not getting to see you play in college. Some families can go eight hours and see their kids play, some can't go two hours. You know, for me, I had three younger brothers with their own activities. My parents were not going to leave Fairmont, WV to drive to Blacksburg, VA because there was just too much going on at home. I didn't think about this when I signed there, but looking back I obviously went too far away.

And the sad thing is you never, ever get that back.

I would tell any of these local kids that if they have the opportunity to play close to home, you shouldn't even look anywhere else until that's not an option.

PSR: How does the team a few miles up Forbes Avenue impact Duquesne?

RE: It affects us positively. I think Robert Morris playing in their conference semi-finals affects us positively. There's good basketball in this town. People are starting to look at Pittsburgh as a legitimate college basketball town. Coach Howland and now Coach Dixon have taken it to a level where they are recruiting well on a national stage, they are playing on a national stage, they are producing NBA draft picks, they have the ability to play for national championships.

Heck, (Duquesne recruit) Stephen Wood from McClancy High School in New York was the leading scorer in the league. One of the things that excites him the most about coming to Duquesne is that he'll be able to play against Pitt and against Ronald Ramon. Kids like that from his neighborhood that he's played with his whole life. That's a great thing, and at the end of the day it's one of the reasons he came here.

PSR: Do you want your kids getting to know the kids from Robert Morris and Pitt, and play ball together over the summer?

RE: Absolutely. That was one of the neat things when I was at Northeastern. Our gym was open all summer. We wanted the local high school kids to come in and play. We used to have the B.C. kids, the B.U. kids, the Harvard kids, even a Celtics player or two would come by from time to time. It was a great environment in the summertime. We wanted to good players in that gym. They got to know each other and it got competitive at the same time. It was good.

It helped us recruit the local kids eventually, too, because they knew where we were. They had access. And it made them feel comfortable. I want that to happen here.

PSR: Are basketball fans across the region itching for Duquesne to do well?

RE: I think so. I saw it happen here before. People from the region took a lot of pride in Duquesne basketball. I think people are waiting for it. There's great tradition here in basketball.


What players did you admire growing up?
Growing up in West Virginia, we always heard so much about Jerry West, so I always followed him with tremendous respect. But I rooted for John Havlicek. Him and Bill Bradley. Both of those guys in my mind were similar because they worked so hard and accomplished more with less than most guys in basketball.

Biggest influence?
My father has been the most important man in my life, and from a basketball prospective he was as good a basketball mind as anyone I've been around.

Best player in the NBA?
Nash is the consensus "best player" because he makes everyone around him so much better so it's hard to disagree with that, except for the fact that they haven't played for the whole deal…so I gotta go with Shaq as the best player. He's still the most physically dominating presence in the league and has been for a number of years. However, there are a lot of old guys who will sit around and watch games with you and tell you Chamberlain would kill him, and Russell would kill him. But in terms of true centers, which there haven't been in a while, Shaq has been the preeminent, dominant player in the NBA.

What CDs are in your car right now?
I don't have a single one. I don't listen to music, I have sports talk on all the time. My wife has all the CDs.

What takes your mind completely off basketball?
My kids. Seeing them have fun, whether it's in the gym, taking them to a movie or going fishing or whatever.


Greg Amodio, Duquesne Athletic Director
We've hired a head coach with a proven track record of turning programs around. His ability as a teacher and passion for the game has enabled him to successfully rebuild programs at both McNeese State and Northeastern.

Ray Mernagh, PSR Basketball Editor/HoopFactor.com
This guy has relationships with the type of places that can supply him with the talent to turn around Duquesne in a hurry. Duquesne fans have a reason for optimism, finally.

Dave O'Brien, Northeastern Director of Athletics
Ron Everhart is an outstanding coach and a first-class person who helped bring the winning tradition back to Northeastern basketball.

Bob Smizik, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Everhart has taken the perpetually gloomy scene surrounding the Palumbo Center and juiced it up with talk of a resurgence.

   Copyright © 1997-2005 Pittsburgh Sports Report [PSR]