For the past three weeks, Cleveland State fans started thinking about potential replacements for head coach Gary Waters. Picks ranged from the coaches with solid track records (Jerrod Calhoun) to former locals wanting to come home (Jermaine Kimbrough) to flat-out head-scratchers (Chris Jent).
So, with all of those people to look at, and with the need for athletic director Mike Thomas to hit this hire out of the park, you’d think we’d be looking at a pretty decent future.
And instead, Cleveland State hired Dennis Felton.
Felton’s biggest claims to fame are his early 2000s run as the head coach of Western Kentucky and his miserable run at Georgia, save for the surprise SEC Tournament win in 2008. Prior to getting the call with the Vikings, he was an assistant coach with Tulsa.
The resume may have been a key selling point, but honestly, given the desperation to garner attention to the basketball program, this absolutely smacks of CSU completely phoning it in.
In terms of wins and losses, sure, Felton does possess a track record of success at the mid-major level with the Hilltoppers. But, as any Viking fan left will tell you, winning isn’t enough to get eyeballs on your product. Waters found that out the hard way.
And then there’s the fact that Felton has zero ties to Northeast Ohio. None of his previous coaching positions put him even close. So, now he’s going to have to contend with a steep learning curve that, quite bluntly, should never have to be.
So, forget all of those faint wishes that local superstars languishing at high-major programs will find their way home. I didn’t see it in in the last two years of the Waters era, and I sure don’t now.
I can’t even imagine what is going through the heads of the current players, either. If you look at a side-by-side comparison, Felton seems like, in all respects, a slightly younger, less expensive version of Waters.
The bottom line is even though that the Felton hire may be thought of as, in the eyes of the administration at CSU, a solid hire, to the fans, it’s a flat-out dud. And sure, the company line will be to fans to take a “wait and see” approach when it comes to the new coach.
Wait and see isn’t what Cleveland State needs. The fan base was already scurrying away to find better things to amuse themselves. Waiting around two to three years to see if everything pans out with Felton isn’t in the cards, especially not for the fans who stuck around to see if the institution would make the right move. This is a particular insult to them.
Good luck convincing them to come back, because they’re leaving out the door, cursing you with every step.
At some point, somebody at CSU will have to explain to all of us how it was absolutely incapable of reading the room on this one. The voices on this search were pretty loud and clear that the Vikings needed somebody who would make an immediate splash, and the powers that be went with an old standby instead.
The message is obvious here: Cleveland State’s priority is to its academics, not in generating any interest in its crown-jewel sports program, and that’s fine. But it’s really an insult to the fans who wanted to be at least a little inspired by the prospects of the basketball team. Now, it just looks like they’ll be waiting around and hoping the Vikings get lucky.
I can hear it already. “But Bob, you have to give it a chance.” How about no?
At this point, CSU might as well just move the team back to Woodling Gym, downgrade to the Summit League and call it a day. Because if getting people interested in basketball isn’t a priority, then stop wasting money.
Email Bob at bob [dot] mcdonald [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.
Image via Cleveland State University