As you can read here, I was not a fan of the move when Wright State hired Billy Donlon as men’s basketball coach six years ago.
In lieu of an actual search for the best possible candidate, the school simply passed the baton to Donlon, who had been Brad Brownell’s top assistant.
Those administrators took the lazy way out, but Donlon proved them right, guiding the Raiders to the brink of the NCAA Tournament several times.
Which is why much of the college basketball world is still having trouble processing Donlon’s firing this week after his team set a school record for conference wins.
When, one wonders, did WSU athletic director Bob Grant become George Steinbrenner, a.k.a. The Boss, demanding a championship or else?
As Xavier coach Chris Mack told reporters when asked about the firing, “I don’t know who Wright State is pretending to be or trying to be, but that’s ridiculous.”
No, Donlon didn’t get the Raiders to the big dance in six years, but he did win 22 games this season — a nice bounce-back from the year before — and his overall record contains much more success than failure, on and off the court.
In addition to loving his job, Donlon also seemed to love Wright State, the place. Of all the coaches since the Ralph Underhill/Jim Brown glory days, I’m sure this could be said of Donlon with the most certainty.
It showed in his ability to sell the school and assemble a roster talented enough to compete for Horizon League supremacy most years. And that’s saying something considering WSU still doesn’t exactly resonate with the nation’s rim-rattling teens. Heck, most probably couldn’t find it on a map.
Donlon in the end will be remembered as a refreshingly honest coach who did not embarrass WSU, at least not in any way that became public. He was never arrested for shoplifting (Underhill), never found to have been a bag man as an assistant at another school (Paul Biancardi), never had a player transfer due partly to organized praying at a state school (Ed Schilling).
With another year or two and some greater investment in the program, the Raiders seemed on their way to becoming a mid-major to be reckoned with, much in the manner of Gonzaga or even Dayton, the school that ignores them in their own backyard.
Now it’s back to square one. Good luck with that.
ABOUT THE GEM CITY JAM: Reader Steve Gillotti had a thought in response to my call for reviving the men’s basketball rivalry between Dayton and Wright State, dormant since 1997.
“Instead of UD vs. WSU how about a holiday tourney?” he wrote. “Have each school host a team and if they win the opening game meet in the next round? Alternate the championship site from one campus to the other. Generate excitement for both programs by hosting different mid-major foes who normally would not schedule here.
“Or play each other preseason with the $$$ going to a local charity — something everyone can get behind.”
Only one problem with those suggestions, Steve: They make too much sense ever to be taken seriously by the folks who make these decisions.