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Kovacevic: Duquesne painfully oblivious

| Monday, March 26, 2012

It might happen years from now, one late night on the La-Z-Boy, that you click on ESPN Classic and come across the story of a small-college coach who took over a 3-24 program, watched five of his players get shot on campus that fall, then went on to erase two decades of abject failure with four winning seasons out of six, all through unbridled passion.

You'll think it's fiction.

Not that part, but the part at the end where the coach gets fired.

Duquesne University's administration, comically bungling the concept of NCAA Division I men's basketball since 1977, hit its all-time low by inexplicably, unceremoniously — even venomously — dumping Ron Everhart on Friday.

Everhart, a good coach and a better man, didn't deserve it.

And the diminishing handful of people who still follow the Dukes deserve far better than the two men, university president Charles Dougherty and athletic director Greg Amodio, who made this move.

They deserve bosses who at least pay attention to the program.

I went to school at Duquesne, and I've heard quite a bit over the weekend about what might have gone into Everhart's firing. I know a lot of folks are angry. In the broader context, though, I'm inclined to take the word of Amodio that he was dissatisfied with the Dukes' failure to reach the next level. Indeed, they were 3-6 in Atlantic 10 tournament games, with all three wins coming in that 2009 run to the final vs. Temple.

That's fine. It's the right of any university president or AD to fire based upon performance.

But isn't it also fair to expect that the men making such calls have at least a cursory interest in the basketball program beyond whatever anger they manufactured Friday?

Would you expect that, if Dougherty rips Everhart for his "general disorganization" in a letter to the board of trustees that was sadly leaked to CBS Sports, they wouldn't have taken away Everhart's secretary three years ago and replaced the position with a ticket-taker?

No administrative help was hired again until last year.

Would you expect that, if Everhart and his players wanted to enter their 16-15 team in the College Basketball Invitational tournament this month — the one in which Pitt is competing — the school would step up and foot the bill?

Dougherty and Amodio didn't. And it deeply disappointed the staff and players, including terrific sophomore guard T.J. McConnell just before he announced he was leaving the program.

Would you expect that, if the coaching staff had an exceptional recruiting class on the way for 2012-13, the administrators would at least be aware of the players on the way?

Dougherty and Amodio didn't know those names, according to Alan Robinson, who served as Everhart's basketball administrator the past year and previously was a respected reporter for the Associated Press for 35 years. Neither Dougherty nor Amodio ever asked Everhart about his recruits after the initial signing period last fall.

The university, which stated last Friday it would not comment further on the situation until a new coach is hired, chose not to respond Sunday.

Hey, I probably wouldn't, either.

"This was going to be the best recruiting class Duquesne has seen in years, probably the best in the conference," Robinson said. "Amodio had told us to be more focused on recruiting, and we were. Guys didn't take breaks since last August. We were all over these players, like a big-time program. And it was coming. This was the class that was going to get the city excited about Duquesne again."

That's not hyperbole coming from Robinson.

The signed recruits were 6-9 forward Donovon Jack of Berks Catholic, a candidate for Class AAA player of the year in Pennsylvania, and 6-3 guard Willie Moore from Cincinnati, whose passing skills Everhart likened to McConnell's. Jack had 25 scholarship offers before signing, and he's listening anew.

That's also true of Khalil Johnson, a 6-7 Los Angeles star who might have been the top prize. He was so close with Duquesne assistant Pape Koundoul that he was eager to visit the Bluff despite offers from BCS schools. Not now.

Also in peril are a 6-7 forward among the finest in junior college ball, a 6-5 tough-guy JUCO forward, a point guard who was Southern California player of the year and a 3-point ace who outscored prized Pitt recruit Steven Adams head-to-head this year.

Two of these players burst into tears upon being told of Everhart's firing.

So, Dougherty and Amodio not only dumped a good man, a Duquesne lifer who wouldn't use the school as a stepping stone. They also dumped a potentially rich recruiting class.

Someone might want to clue them in.

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