Pittsburgh, PA — A year ago if Duquesne let go of its men’s basketball coach Jim Ferry I would have been fine with it.
Last year was Ferry’s best chance to do something. Making the CBI was not enough, even with Jeremiah Jones’s injury. Ferry’s job was safe then, it cost too much to let him go and Duquesne’s Athletic Director, David Harper was in his first year trying to feel things out both internally and externally among the team’s fan base.
Still, going in this year felt like a free pass, Ferry’s job surely would be safe and the program would continue to trend upward. It was common knowledge that he was dealing with a young team and normally teams let that play out for a season or two.
Earlier in the season, I wrote a column criticizing the team, Ferry in particular and in it voiced genuine concerns fans had about the program moving forward.
In my mind, I was set for this end of year column to be very harsh and about why Ferry was staying another year when he should not have a job but of course you are reading this and the outcome was certainly not that.
This column will not be completely positive, nor will it be completely negative. You the reader deserve a look at both sides which helps explain some of what was considered before making my opinion.
Ultimately my conclusion is that Duquesne made a mistake in firing its now former men’s basketball coach. This was never an easy decision to make, nor was it because I was convinced by someone to have this decision.
Because I determined my wish to let Ferry stay, understand that I am in tune and hear each fan’s voice and frustrations, but know that there are so many layers that are involved with it. The fans are just one of those levels, but there is so much more to assess when looking at a program.
Below are a list of some pros for why Ferry should be fired. These take into account fans thoughts and personal observations:
1. Too many excuses– A press conference is not just about the media in front of you, but often is your chance to connect with fans and communicate directly to them. Jim at times did not realize this or chose to ignore it, and often it came across that he was blaming his players for things or using a “we” instead of an “I”. I have written about this before and this held true. It’s not just a message that can hurt a player’s feelings but that same idea can rub your fan base the wrong way. In what turned out to be his final game and with AD David Harper watching, Ferry openly shouldered responsibility. This seemed less of an admission and more an effort to show solidarity and coach the team next season.
2. No in-game strategy– This one bugged me the most. A big part of coaching is the scouting report. This is countless hours of film study, personal observations and other things. Ferry’s tenure reminds us all that other teams scout you too. Sticking to the scouting report on both ends of the ball works, but works only when the other team’s falters. Ferry failed to consistently adjust either until it was too late or sometimes altogether. I am sure X’s and O’s can be disputed and are up for interpretation but when there are multiple things that are needed to combat an opponent and nothing appears to change, it looks as though you are stubborn to your approach. Some times it worked, most times for Duquesne it did not.
3. Too many bad losses– This will be short because everyone knows about the losses. When your fate as a coach is on the line losing some of those non-conference and in a case or two exhibitions games does not help. David Harper is at every Duquesne men’s basketball game and to keep falling short to opponents the same way and I am not talking about the buzzer beaters, had to have driven him nuts.
4. Ferry’s own words– When was the last time you ever hear of a 10 year plan? Honestly it is realistic, but not something that should ever be said out loud. That is a way to alarm your fans and instead of using those as growth years, you are essentially calling the next few years either as lost or not where the program should be. Even after that final loss to Saint Louis, Ferry said his team could be in the middle of the Atlantic 10 pack next season. Honestly, I again see nothing wrong with this though of course this will be used as ammunition. Proud Duquesne, middle of the pack? Right now Duquesne is not proud of its men’s basketball program, the many empty seats at the Palumbo Center prove that. It is not Ferry’s fault that he was asked a question and answered honestly.
Cons for firing
1. Mike Lewis II and Isiaha Mike– This is the biggest piece Ferry had to his advantage and it should not be poo-pooed by fans. Ferry took the chance on both players and they credited him for that. Through all of the disappointment this season, neither wavered in their loyalty and that is a testament to Ferry. I honestly view this combination already as more valuable than Derrick Colter and Micah Mason. Both Colter and Mason were great players, but consistently shorter when it came to defense and guarding their position match-up. All a guard would do is lob the ball and the post touch was already there and uncontested. This helped get the post players in foul trouble quicker. With the freshmen duo, this was never a concern. Lewis and Mike could change a game and each became more aggressive as the season went on. The best news is there is plenty of meat left on the bone for both to improve. Lewis II likely would have been A-10 Freshman of the Year had Duquesne not been last in the conference, a fact which is a shame. It would be easy to fire Ferry if the cupboard was bare but two-fifths of the Atlantic 10’s All-Freshmen Team certainly is not that. Both had plenty of fire in the belly and were ready to sacrifice everything under Ferry. If these two are lost then Duquesne will be in the cellar again.
2. Totally different scenarios– There was a reason why I did not respond publicly to any fans on social media about Ferry’s status. A lot of times a fan does not see a big picture of a team. Wanting Ferry’s head on a silver platter because Rhode Island is achieving success and Dan Hurley was hired at the same time is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. A fact but one that is very manipulative. I would like to think I have a good handle on the Atlantic 10 and in my view, Duquesne is the second hardest coaching job in the conference behind St. Bonaventure. Olean is a tough place to recruit and all of the credit in the world to Mark Schmidt for his and his staff’s recruiting efforts in addition to it translating into the on-court product. Perception from Duquesne fans is that everything is the same because everyone is an Atlantic 10 school. Rhode Island had a facility upgrade that is paying off. Duquesne is just entering that stage. Not having facilities makes it hard to recruit a Hassan Martin or an E.C. Matthews. Those do not just grow on trees.
3. The Pitt effect– I would argue that Duquesne was closer to figuring things out than Pitt. That’s gone now. Pitt had a disappointing season and this school, sometimes unrealistically measures its success and failures against Pitt. The City Game of course went Duquesne’s way and that certainly helps recruiting.
Look at the emotion below and tell me the desire to beat Pitt after a long losing streak meant nothing. You would have thought Duquesne had won the NCAA Tournament.
Next season, the Atlantic 10 likely will be down overall as a conference. Getting three NCAA Tournament berths, which has been the case in each of the past two years, probably will not happen in 2017-18. Duquesne had a chance to dramatically increase its position had it stayed the court. Now you have to wonder how many players stay on. A lot of that may be determined by the new coach, but all of this remains to be seen.
4. New administration– With Ken Gormley now in charge as president, Ferry has only worked with the new Duquesne administration for a year. The year prior, Harper was evaluating everything and trying to comprise a plan, a plan which is in the quiet phase which means no one besides the proper people know that plan. Firing Ferry a year into this new administration is not exactly the best look for the university. Ferry has been a good recruiter and he had a class on par to this season’s class coming in. He has done this despite a lingering facilities issue which has not yet been resolved, all the more admirable. Between the indifferent success mindset and the facilities, which can openly be admitted as something that needs to be corrected, recruiting is challenging. Ferry in my opinion has overachieved with this and next season’s recruiting class (* subject to change based on who stays *).
Let’s make no mistake about it, David Harper is purposeful in everything he does. Ask any athlete, coach, support staff or anyone else in the department and they will tell you the same thing. I do not believe Harper fired Ferry to hire his “own man”, he did so because he believes this will make the Duquesne men’s basketball program stronger.
This will not occur tomorrow, but Harper has a clear idea of who or at the very least what he wants and seems much more committed to give that individual the tools to succeed, something his predecessor may not have done.
Harper was correct in waiting until after the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Championship to part ways with Ferry. By no means should this situation have interrupted what was an exciting week of games. UMass was different, it was not hosting so it was free to get rid of Derek Kellogg.
There was a chance for no one to get any blood on their hands if the rumors of Ferry being a contender for the Quinnipiac head coaching job were true.
Had Duquesne waited, Harper could have wished Ferry well and not upset fans who wanted him to stay or go. This would have been a fine option.
I think Duquesne did not do this because it wanted to be taken seriously. Waiting would shortchanged both the team and its fans. You want fans to see your efforts as serious and waiting could have been considered an insult.
Contrary to fed up fans, this university wants to bring winning back to the men’s basketball program.
In a sense the firing and soon to be hiring of a new coach now buys everyone time. This is a time of change at Duquesne and with the reported renovation in addition to a potential roster overhaul, this buys the coach and beyond extra time to rebuild this program. If the renovation that is reported happens sooner than later the Harper can find a new coach and they are shielded by the renovation and a built in distraction and project ultimately supports the new coach while adding a much more significant margin for error and just a general time to figure things out.
There is no official word on if Ferry’s assistants also parted ways with the university, however two of Duquesne’s coaches have changed their Twitter bios at the time of this column, one of which also changed his username, which suggests that they all have moved on.
Do not get me wrong, despite some constructive criticism above, I have nothing but respect for Ferry and some of it is because of his assistants who treated me with respect and although at times my coverage was harsh, they understood what I was doing and that it was for the right reasons.
If the assistants are indeed gone, my heart especially goes out to John Rhodes who was the heart and soul of this program. That is not a slight of the other assistants who I also respect but Rhodes had a special connection with the Duquesne fans that deserves to be commended and recognized.
The bottom line is that Ferry certainly has his weak points and I will admit to being glad to never hear the words “defensive disposition” again. He will be missed, even if Duquesne fans do not admit it.
Jim Ferry was fired without truly being given a chance. That was a clear mistake and for the sake of Duquesne fans, who deserve a winner, this coaching decision better be the right one.