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What Should Duquesne Do With Jim Ferry?

It's been a rough couple of weeks for Ferry, causing questions about his future to be raised. Photo by Justin Berl/Pittsburgh Sports Report

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for Ferry, causing questions about his future to be raised.
Photo by Justin Berl/Pittsburgh Sports Report

About a week ago, I was talking about what the Dukes needed to do to salvage an NIT season. This week, I’m talking about head coach Jim Ferry’s prospects for keeping his job.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for Duquesne fans having to watch their team go 0-3 in games where they led at some point in the second half, at times by large margins. The Dukes went from looking like a finish as high as seventh was reasonable to fighting, once again, to stay out of the play-in game in Brooklyn. While the Dukes have already reached the win range I expected at the start of the season, it’s disappointing to be sitting on 15 wins for five games. They’ve gone from looking like they’d easily overachieve to repeating their 2014-15 league record.

I’m not telling anyone anything they didn’t know when I say people tend to overreact to both the good and bad on social media. Ferry’s future at Duquesne hasn’t gone unquestioned, as one might expect, and the crowd that would’ve seen him replaced after his first season have reached for their pitch forks and torches just at the first signs of distress. This isn’t anything new as we’ve seen it each of his first three years. However, they may finally have some real merit to their arguments to cut and run, provided the Dukes don’t turn it around late.

Let’s be clear, if the Dukes win three more this season in any fashion, I don’t think you can even consider making a move now. Truth told, they’d have come through some adversity, rebounded and managed to exceed expectations. What I’m breaking down here is if that 3-win scenario doesn’t happen.

Fire him at the end of 2016

The Dukes have already clinched all around improvement over 2014-15, but failing to win more than one or two games the rest of the way would bring into question how meaningful the improvement actually is. Ferry and crew have already achieved more wins playing a more difficult schedule, they’ve won the games they were supposed to win (with the exception of UMass) taking their fair share of coin flips in the process. However, they’ve failed to capitalize on any opportunities they’ve had to really break through with an upset and have chalked up some heartbreaking losses in the process. A mass exodus by key returning players could also trigger Duquesne making a move now.

Why this makes sense

The Dukes are heading towards a transitional season with the loss of their starting back court. They will likely take their lumps next year and it’s unlikely Ferry would be able to save his job if next year was make or break. Knowing full well the team is going to step back anyway could ease the almost certain challenges facing a program the first year after their coach is fired. This could ease the absurd pressures often placed on coaches to immediately win following their hiring.

The Dukes also have a new AD. It makes sense for him to put his guys or gals in place depending on the sport. Truth told, Dave Harper doesn’t have much work to do across the departments coaching landscape though he may see the need to do something about it’s flag ship. Harper could establish some capital with the Ron Everhart sympathizers who feel Ferry isn’t measured by the same stick as Everhart was.

Why this doesn’t make sense

Ferry would have had to be virtually perfect to achieve much more than he has in rebuilding this program and he hasn’t been perfect. Some of that has been his own fault, in that he fell short in a few key recruiting battles or some poor decisions on the junior college trails. Others, like the Jordan Robinson academic problems and Isaiah Watkins’s injury have not helped and led to hurrying along Darius Lewis. Unfortunately, he mostly missed on his second class (I wrongly consider Micah Mason part of the first), even though LG Gill and Lewis have both exceeded expectation. For me, the third and fourth classes look a lot brighter and on paper his incoming group looks to be best of all. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think a coach should keep his job for what’s in the pipeline, but has he really been that bad that he doesn’t deserve the opportunity to show more?

Then there is the matter of money. Ferry has three years remaining on his deal after this one. While the Dukes would likely pay a buy out less than the $1.8 million left at face value, they would still likely owe a sizable chunk of change plus whatever they would have to pay the new guy. This comes on the heels of paying Everhart for the final two years of his contract. If Duquesne is willing to pay, more power to them, but I don’t see the board making that kind of investment.

While you would be leaving the next guy with some talent to work with, given four guys who have redshirted tied to the program, some coaches might be scared off by a trigger happy athletic department. Truth told, a transition will take at least three to four years to have an impact. If the Dukes want to win and win soon, Ferry still gives them the best shot.

Fire him if things don’t look brighter at the end of 2017

Here’s my caveat. Anyone expecting the Dukes to take major steps forward next year to save his job is likely setting up Ferry to fail. If you bring Ferry back after this season, anything short of a disaster should lead give him the opportunity to coach again in 2018. While I do think this team is unlikely to step forward next year, I think there is enough talent that it doesn’t have to be terrible either.

Why this makes sense

If things are looking dismal at the end of the 2017 season, it’s unlikely they’ll improve enough for Ferry to save his job by the end of 2018. To be a success that season, all those players likely need to be in place now and ten or fewer wins might suggest those players aren’t likely to be on the roster.

They also clear away a year of buy out.

Why this doesn’t make sense

If the Dukes wait and Ferry has a fire-able season next year, the Dukes likely go from firing him too soon to waiting too long. The cupboard will undoubtedly be bare again and it will be even more difficult to find a replacement than it was to find Ferry.

Fire him after 2018

I’ve said since Ferry was hired that I’m more concerned with his last three years as head coach than I am his first three years. For me to be satisfied, Ferry would need to reach the NIT at least once with potential. That’s not happening this year and it’s likely not happening next year either. If he doesn’t get there in 2018, I can’t see how he continues as coach after taking over as a next level guy.

Why this makes sense

If Ferry gets six seasons and falls short of the NIT, no one can say he didn’t get a fair shake. Prospective candidates will see this and think they have a real crack a rebuilding without getting canned after failing to produce immediate results. Appearing reasonable in this day and age is not a bad place to be. You also get to where the buy out is likely not even a factor in deciding who the next coach is.

I also think 2017-18 is setting up to be Ferry’s best team. Eric James and Ty’sean Powell will be seniors. Tarin Smith and Mar’Qywell Jackson will be redshirt juniors with Josh Steel and Nakye Sanders as true juniors. I also wouldn’t sleep on Rene Castro and Jordan Robinson or one of next year’s incoming class establishing themselves. Really, their best chance to step forward in the next three years is with Ferry at the helm and his players on the floor. It’s difficult to imagine a new coach coming in and keeping this group together.

Why this doesn’t make sense

Duquesne will have waited two more years and will likely have to wait at least three to four more until the next guy can truly establish a program. If they gamble on Ferry and fail, that likely extends their window for relevance to 2021 or 2022. It also likely hurts recruiting in 2017 and 2018 as opposing coaches could question the hill Ferry has to climb to keep his job.


While people have reasonable issues with Ferry’s coaching style, I think Duquesne still probably has its best chances by putting their eggs in his basket. Coaching transitions normally take at least 4 years, so firing him now would set that clock back to one. I don’t know if that makes much sense when the stars seem to be aligning for a really good team in two years. If that party doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, either through transfers or a bombed out season next year, maybe it’s time to cut bait.

Steve is a naturalized yinzer hailing originally from just north of Allentown, PA. He came to Pittsburgh to attend Duquesne University and decided to stick around after graduation. Steve is best known for his contributions to Duquesne hoops community as the owner of the Duquesne Dukes forum on Yuku and as the former editor of We Wear the Ring on the Fansided network. He is an avid Pirates fan, home cook and policy nerd. He is the co-founder of the Point of Pittsburgh. Easily irritated by people who misuse the word regress.