Ron Everhart is the new men's basketball coach at Duquesne University.
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Ron Everhart didn't listen to the naysayers who warned him against becoming the head basketball coach at Duquesne University. The Dukes were 3-24 last season under Danny Nee, haven't had a winning record since 1993-94 and only one in the past 20 seasons. Everhart knows something about rebuilding programs, having done it at McNeese State and Northeastern. Everhart, 44, brings experience and exuberance to Duquesne. His first 134 days on the job have been a whirlwind as he put together a staff, traveled the country looking for players and shook the hands of boosters hungry to support a winner. He found some time recently to talk with the Post-Gazette's Phil Axelrod about his new adventure at Duquesne.
What have you discovered about Duquesne basketball you didn't know when you took the job?
Everhart: It's a much better situation than the perception around college basketball. Everybody told me it's a bad basketball place that will continue to hold up the bottom of the Atlantic 10. That's not the situation I found at Duquesne. Everybody is committed and working hard to have a great basketball program. The environment is in place to put together a winner.
Has anything surprised you?
Everhart: I never expected the media to pay so much attention to Duquesne basketball. I expected to be very much under the radar. I was unsure where Duquesne fit in the Pittsburgh sports scene.
Five players have left school since you took over. Did you run them out of Duquesne?
Everhart: I didn't expect that to happen. I challenged them right away that this isn't going to be a free lunch, a walk in the park. It's a privilege to represent Duquesne University appropriately. If you call being honest and telling them how you feel and what you expect, I guess you could call that running them off.
How do you feel about Kieron Achara and Aaron Jackson staying?
Everhart: I respect the fact they stepped up. Aaron told me it would take an army to get him to leave. Kieron has lost 22 pounds and is a lot stronger.
Do the new players have to learn about you and do you have to learn about them?
Everhart: The guys have to learn to respect each other and learn to live together. It's non-negotiable that they're going to respect the coaching staff. I'm the kind of coach who likes confrontations.
Why do you always seem to be rebuilding programs?
Everhart: It just happened that way, but I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing a program turn into a winner. It's a much greater challenge to take over a program that hasn't won for a while than it is to go somewhere that has had some success.
Do you have a long-range goal at Duquesne?
Everhart: As always, I want to make the program so successful it can become one of the elite programs in the country. Duquesne is the first place I've been at with the potential to do that.
Do you expect all 10 players you recruited to come to Duquesne and be eligible this season?
Everhart: That's a big number. I hope they're all [eligible], but I don't know if that's realistic. If we have one guy who doesn't show up, that's not bad. You don't want to lose two or three. We're still recruiting. You never sleep in recruiting because you never know what's going to happen. We could bring in someone who wouldn't have eligibility until after the first semester. I don't really know what we're going to look like until after school starts.
What does your non-league schedule look like?
Everhart: It's not complete, but I can tell you we have home games with Youngstown State, North Carolina-Wilmington, Oakland (Mich.) and West Virginia. We have road games against Pitt on Dec. 6, Niagara, St. Francis, Robert Morris and Boston College.
Will you have rules such as a dress code and overall look for your players?
Everhart: I'm old school. I want the players to look like they are representing an institution of higher learning. We don't play for the YMCA. We play for Duquesne. No scraggly hair. No earrings. No facial hair. No one who comes to school with tattoos will have another one once they get here. I lost a recruit when I told him he'd have to get his hair changed if he planned to come to Duquesne. We have a certain way of doing things, like having manners. We want to prepare you for a career path after college.
With a five-year contract, do you look at Duquesne as a possible stepping stone to what you might consider your dream job?
Everhart: It might sound strange, but Duquesne is a job I always wanted. Growing up as a Catholic guy in Fairmont, W.Va., Duquesne was mentioned prominently in my house. I was a basketball guy, and Duquesne was very good when I was young, so that's my perception of Duquesne basketball.
At McNeese State and Northeastern, you had a winning record in your second season. Can you do that at Duquesne?
Everhart: This is the toughest situation I've been in. All I can promise this season is that Duquesne's players won't take a play off. Our only expectation is that this group of guys takes pride in representing Duquesne.
What's your biggest concern as a head coach?
Everhart: I'm nervous every day I walk into the office that I'll get a phone call about one of my players being in trouble or having academic problems. That's the call every coach dreads.
Have you been able to sit back and relax at any time since you came to Duquesne?
Everhart: It's never a job where there's a destination. It's a day-to-day grind. You never catch your breath. The job is like being on a treadmill. I'm most looking forward to the first day of school so I'll know what roster we're going to have.
How do you evaluate your first recruiting class?
Everhart: It's all about building a good foundation, but it's hard to know if you've done that because recruiting is not an exact science. I hope it [the class] falls in the middle between where we think it could be and the worst case scenario it could be. We didn't know we were going to have to recruit a whole new team.