Tuesday, November 07, 2006

We Want The World And We Want It... Now.

Patience may be a virtue, but it is not a trait of your typical college sports fan. And for the supporters of the University of Delaware’s teams, I imagine that any patience they may have had is starting to wear thin.

The 2003 National Championship is becoming smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror of the football team which, for the second straight year, is faced with the prospect of having to win its final two games just to salvage a winning record. And at the same time, the basketball team is facing a complete reconstruction after closing the chapter on its long national nightmare known as the Henderson Era. As a result, the fans have not had a whole lot to cheer about lately on South College Avenue.

When David Henderson became the head basketball coach prior to the 2000 season, he had never been head coach before. Henderson’s predecessor, Mike Brey, had never been a head coach either, but had seemingly spent his entire post-college life preparing to be one. When his playing days were over at George Washington, Brey went back to his high school alma mater and began his coaching career under the guidance of Hall of Famer Morgan Wooten at one of the nation’s top basketball schools, DeMatha. After five successful years, he landed one of the top college jobs in the country sitting on Mike Krzyzewski’s bench at Duke eventually working his way up the ladder to become the top assistant. When Delaware came calling prior to the 1995 season, Brey was more than ready to become a head coach. During his five-year tenure he would guide Delaware to three consecutive twenty win seasons, three conference championships, two NCAA Tournament appearances, and one NIT appearance.

Unlike Brey, Henderson spent most of his basketball career as a player. He was part of Krzyzewski’s first recruiting class at Duke and played there for four years before embarking on an eleven-year professional career. When his playing days were over, he called Krzyzewski who, perhaps out of loyalty, gave him a job on his staff.

After just three seasons as a lower level assistant at Duke, Henderson, with Krzyzewski’s endorsement, became a lead candidate for the Delaware head coaching job when Bill Gutheridge surprisingly retired from North Carolina starting a coaching carousel that saw Matt Dougherty leave Notre Dame to replace Gutheridge and then Brey leave Delaware to replace Dougherty.

As Delaware fans would eventually find out, there is a big difference between being a player and a coach, there is a bigger difference between being an assistant and a head coach, and there is a huge difference between being Mike Krzyzewski’s third assistant and being Mike Krzyzewski.

The basketball program floundered during Henderson’s six-years at the helm never once making the post season. In Henderson’s defense, unexpectedly he did have to oversee the transition from the America East conference into the much more difficult CAA after just one season. A task that would have been a challenge for even a more seasoned coach. Finally, however, after back-to-back twenty loss seasons and a steady drop in attendance and “buzz”, Delaware fired Henderson with two years left on a contract extension.

The misfortunes of the football team trace back to the 2004 quarter-final playoff game at William and Mary. Delaware was one quarter away from advancing to the semi-finals where a win would give them the chance to defend their National Championship as they led William and Mary by a score of 31-10. On the first play of the fourth quarter, William and Mary’s Stephen Cason stepped in front of a Sonny Riccio pass and returned it 62 yards for a touchdown. The Delaware offense stalled with two consecutive three and outs as William and Mary staged an incredible comeback scoring twenty-one unanswered fourth quarter points to tie the game at 31 before winning it in double overtime 44-38.

Since that game, KC Keeler’s team has posted an un-remarkable record of 10 and 10 including home and away losses to Towson, a homecoming loss last year to Hofstra, and a home non-conference loss earlier this year to Albany.

In addition to the losses, the program has had to endure several other embarrassing incidents. Last year the team had to forfeit a home game and move it to Richmond when the field at Delaware Stadium became unplayable after the administration failed to address a known problem while hoping to “squeeze” just one more season out of a dying field. During the off-season two players with high expectations ended up in prison after a botched armed robbery attempt allegedly involving money and steroids. And a couple of days prior to this year’s opener the newly named defensive coordinator resigned after a late-night drunk driving incident.

On top of everything else, over this two-year period the team has experienced an inordinate number of injuries last season mainly impacting the offense while this year decimating the defense.

On the bright side, the football team should be much better next year. Quarterback Joe Flacco is the real deal and the team will benefit from the experience young players like John Higginson, Justin Johnson, Ray Jones, Charles Graves, Anthony Bratton, Ken Hale, Mark Duncan, and Jared Bradley are getting this year.

As for the basketball team, new coach Monté Ross certainly has his work cut out for him; it will not be easy to turn this team into a winner in the ultra-competitive CAA where George Mason’s Final Four run last year has helped to set the bar very high.

Ross like his two predecessors had no prior experience as a head coach before his hiring. Only time will tell whether his tenure will be Brey-like or Henderson-esque.

We already know how patient the fans will be while the jury is still out.

Bill Komissaroff

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