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My choice for coach? Slocum



Published: Sat, April 9, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



YOUNGSTOWN -- Within the next couple of days, the Youngstown State athletic department will announce its new men's basketball coach

YSU athletic director Ron Strollo is spending the weekend going over the three finalists for the job, doing background checks before making the final decision.

The finalists -- Jerry Slocum of Gannon University, Gary Edwards of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Michael Grant of Southern University -- were outstanding candidates.

Whomever Strollo selects will be an improvement over John Robic, who held the job for six years and never produced.

Robic's last four seasons all had 20 losses and the Penguins never were able to compete in the Horizon League.

Nobody is guaranteeing that Slocum, Edwards or Grant is going to come into YSU and immediately produce a winner. This program has sunk too deeply for that to happen.

What happenedlast time

Six years ago when this job was vacated when Dan Peters left to take an assistant's job at Cincinnati, the Penguins held a national search.

Athletic director Jim Tressel asked the media to evaluate the six potential candidates and to rate them one through six after the interviews.

At that time, the media had Robic listed as their No. 6 choice, but Tressel hired him anyway. One reason was the backing of his former coaches John Calipari and Larry Brown, who also made considerable financial contributions to the YSU program in return for the favor.

All three finalists in this year's search went through interview sessions with the media, but thankfully Strollo never asked us to evaluate or to rate them.

This decision will be strictly made by Strollo.

The choicefor next coach

After having sat in on all three interviews, I've got my own opinion on what's going to happen in the next few days.

My choice is Slocum, a proven winner and a coach that I think has the best chance to turn this program around.

He's been a head coach for 30 years and has had winning programs for 25 of those seasons. He knows this area and he has been successful in recruiting from this area in the past.

The Penguins had more than 50 applications for this job, but most were eliminated early when Strollo felt that head college coaching experience was vital.

Youngstown State is not a bad job, but the right head coach needs to be in place, and hopefully Slocum is the coach to do it.

A coach is only as good as the players he has on the roster and presently the Penguins do not have much talent to work with.

The new coach will have just two scholarships to work with before next season and all of the candidates indicated that they would be seeking junior college transfers that can come in and play immediately to help the program.

Understanding mediavital to success

One of Robic's big faults was that he never got along well with the local media. He closed all practices, which is OK if you're in a program like UMass or Kansas and are consistently winning, but not at Youngstown State.

Slocum was open with the media; so was Edwards and Grant. All know that they need the media as much as the media needs them. Robic never understood that until his final year when it was too late.

Slocum knows what it takes to rebuild a program. He did it first at Nyack College and then at Geneva. In the last nine seasons, his teams posted a 179-78 record at Gannon.

The only thing that Slocum hasn't done is coach at the Division I level.

At 53 years of age, this will probably be the last job he takes.

Strollo has indicated that the new coach will probably receive a four-year contract. The salary will be more than Robic received his last four years (less than $100,000 a year).

Slocum never had the resources at Gannon that he will have at YSU, especially a $60,000 recruiting budget.

The program has a long way to go, but hopefully the first step, the right step, will be taken this week when the new coach is announced.

XPete Mollica covers YSU athletics for TheVindicator. Write to him at mollica@vindy.com.




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