Utah State’s Message After Duryea Firing: Win Or Get Out
Duryea was let go on Sunday
The three-year head coach took the Aggies to the Mountain West semifinals last weekend
I’ll start by saying this: Tim Duryea was placed into a terrible spot.
Any coach that is the successor of the program’s savior is up against insurmountable expectations, and Duryea was no exception.
Stew Morrill took over as Utah State head coach in 1999 while the Aggies were still a member of the Big West. What ensued was the greatest 17-year stretch in program history.
Utah State won 72.0% of its games during that span, winning seven regular season titles, six conference tournaments, and punching eight NCAA Tournament bids. Transitioning from the Big West to the WAC to the Mountain West, USU fans enjoyed five 27+ win seasons including a round of 64 upset over No. 5 seed Ohio State in 2001.
The list can go on and on, and it does, but the cold truth is that no matter what Duryea would end up accomplishing in Logan, it would never compete with the Stew Morrill era.
On Sunday afternoon, Utah State fired Tim Duryea after three seasons as the head coach of the Aggies men’s basketball team. Duryea went 48-49 with Utah State, failing to finish above .500 in conference play in each of the three seasons.
“We appreciate everything that Tim and his staff have contributed to Utah State the past three seasons, both on and off the court. However, we feel it is in the best interest of the program to make a change,” Utah State athletic director John Hartwell said in a statement Sunday.
This firing reads as a conflict of expectations for Utah State. Few programs, regardless of conference affiliation, pull the trigger on a head coach after three seasons. Former Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar went five consecutive years without an NCAA Tournament bid without being fired, Penn State’s Pat Chambers just completed his seventh year without a trip to March (he’s 50 games under .500 in Big Ten play, fifty!), and Clemson’s Brad Brownell hovered around mediocrity for six years before breaking out as an ACC contender this season.
It’s unknown what has occurred behind closed curtains, but the termination surely has nothing to do with Duryea’s character or morals. He’s widely considered one of the most respected head coaches in college basketball by his peers.
By deductive reasoning, then, Utah State’s decision to cut Duryea off after three years as head coach has everything to do with on-court production.
I’m not defending what Utah State has accomplished the past three years. He’s had the luxury of having Jalen Moore, Chris Smith, Shane Rector, Koby McEwen and Sam Merrill on his roster, and couldn’t finish better than seventh in the league in any of the three seasons.
Duryea hasn’t been dealt the easiest hand, though. He intended on having a formidable nucleus of Jalen Moore, Chris Smith, Shane Rector, and David Collette his first season with the Aggies, but Collette chose to transfer just hours before Utah State’s NCAA Tournament-hopeful season began. Collette has gone on to average 13.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per game with in-state rival Utah.
Adding stud freshmen Koby McEwen and Sam Merrill in 2017, the future was remarkably bright for the next few years of the Utah State program. As sophomores paired with Julion Pearre, Norbert Janicek and JUCO transfer DeAngelo Isby, the Aggies possessed a sneaky intriguing roster this past season. While McEwen and Merrill enjoyed successful seasons, Pearre missed half the year before looking like an all-league player late, Janicek needed surgery on his foot and had to sit the entire season, and Isby reportedly quit the team the night before Utah State’s semifinal game against New Mexico on Friday.
This doesn’t seem like a coaching problem, it seems more like bad luck. Much of Utah State’s shortcomings were completely out of Duryea’s control, but instead it’s Duryea that is forced to pay the price.
The program is now back at square one, tasked with hiring a head coach who they hope can rival Stew Morrill’s success, even though we all know it isn’t attainable.