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A Lost Era

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Ron Everhart defied the odds and turned Duquesne basketball into a respectable program. But after five years he was dismissed and the Dukes' short-lived success came to a screeching halt.

It has been more than four years since Ron Everhart was terminated as the basketball coach at Duquesne, despite having more success than any coach in 30 years at the program.

Everhart—now an assistant under Bob Huggins at West Virginia—was replaced by Jim Ferry. In four years under Ferry, the Dukes are 50-75 with one post-season appearance – numbers that are not too far off from the pre-Everhart era.

“Duquesne is a very tough place to coach, but Everhart did what no one else could at Duquesne,” said Ray Mernagh, a longtime sports writer who has covered college basketball for several publications, both locally and nationally. “You’re talking about a place where the coach before him won three games one year. A place where Darrell Porter couldn’t win. No one had won since Mike Rice (in the late 70’s/early 80’s).”

Before Everhart, Duquesne’s basketball team had won 11 games in the previous two seasons combined, and suffered 23 losing seasons in the previous 25 years. In his first year, Everhart went 10-19. He never had another losing season.

Everhart’s first season may have been his most impressive. Before the season started, five of Duquesne’s basketball players were shot on September 17, 2006, while returning from an on-campus dance. One of those players shot was Sam Ashaolu, considered the Dukes’ best recruit. Ashaolu, shot in the head, returned to a relatively normal life but suffered from seizures and migraines and never played basketball again.

“Some of the bad years that Ron had, which actually weren’t that bad, can be attributed to some bad luck,” Mernagh said.

The Dukes had a chance to make a NCAA tournament appearance in 2008-2009 in what would have been the first time in 32 years. Duquesne made it to the Atlantic 10 Championship game, but fell to Temple 69-64. That year the Dukes made the NIT, their first postseason appearance in 12 years. 

Despite his unprecedented success, there were issues between some of the university’s higher-ups and Everhart, according to Mernagh.

“Ron had a lot of transfers, but I thought the way they fired him was ridiculous,” Mernagh said. “An email got out talking about how disorganized he was. There were big-money boosters that were dissatisfied. They didn’t like the fact that they didn’t have productive big men and that the team always hit a wall towards the end of a season.

An email sent by Duquesne president Charles J. Dougherty to boosters before the school announced Everhart’s firing was leaked to the media. The email, in part, said:

“As was the case in his two previous posts, he [Everhart] 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.. 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.”

“Honestly, I could have written that letter,” Steve DiMiceli, co-founder of the sports blog “The Point of Pittsburgh,” said. “At the time he was fired I couldn’t speak to the organizational issues. I have heard a lot about that since from people close to the program.”

The email also stated that it was Athletic Director Greg Amodio who recommended to Dougherty to terminate Everhart as the head coach. Amodio left Duquesne in 2015 to be the AD at Quinnipiac University.

“You also have to look it as, ‘What was Amodio thinking if he didn’t have someone who was markedly better?’" asked Mernagh. "He hired someone who was basically a .500 coach and had two good years. No disrespect to Jim but it seemed like a rash decision to fire Ron, especially in the midst of recruiting season.”

Ferry had a ten-year record of 150-149 at Long Island University in the mid-major Northeast Conference when Amodio tabbed him to replace Everhart. In his last two seasons at LIU, he led the Blackbirds to consecutive NCAA tournament appearances in 2011 and 2012.

Ferry just completed his first non-losing season with the Dukes this year, going 17-17. The Dukes, however, ended January with a 15-7 record, including 5-4 in the A10. They finished 2-10 down the stretch and 1-8 in the A10.

“In some ways, he [Ferry] is a better coach than Everhart,” DiMiceli said. “He runs a much better half-court offense, a better transition offense and all of the players on the team improve under Ferry, not just the guards like under Everhart.”

During Everhart’s five years at Duquesne, the team finished no worse than 10th in the conference, including one fifth-place and one fourth-place finish. Ferry’s teams have finished 16th, 10th, 11th and 10th.
Duquesne Jim Ferry
“Quite frankly I thought they took a huge step back when they fired Ron and replaced him with Ferry,” Mernagh said. “And It’s nothing personal against him [Ferry]. He is doing the best he can, I’m sure. And I do hope he turns it around because, God bless him, it is a hard job.”

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