Saturday, March 5, 2011

Slocum Six Years Later

A longtime Gannon fan made me aware today of an article in the Youngstown Vindicator that isn't exactly complimentary of Jerry Slocum, the Youngstown State basketball program, and the school in general. The headline is "Like it or not, Slocum will return." I've pasted the article in this post and I'll share my thoughts after the article:

After finishing last for the fifth time in 10 seasons in the Horizon League, it’s easy to view coaching the YSU men’s basketball team as a no-win situation. That’s ridiculous. A 10-win situation, maybe. Five at the worst.

Since joining the Horizon League in 2001-02, the Penguins have averaged four conference wins each year and eight wins overall. It’s been a little better under Jerry Slocum than John Robic, just as the weather in February was a little better than January.

Slocum has inched the program forward in his six-year tenure, making YSU more competitive and more respected around the league. But he’s also failed to produce even one winning season and, over the past two winters, has won a combined four league games.

The 2009-10 season was particularly disappointing since YSU returned a strong core of players and finished just 2-16 in the league. But this winter has had its share of frustrations as the Penguins started 4-1, then lost 17 of the next 21 games, with two of those wins coming against NAIA teams.

Slocum has an option year left on his contract and YSU has every intention of picking it up. Given the school’s current financial commitment to the sport — worst in the league, lower than Akron spends on women’s basketball — this is understandable.

YSU has plenty working against its basketball program — a poor recruiting area, a weak tradition and a 10-member conference where only two other schools have football, and it’s non-scholarship football — and Slocum has done a commendable job fielding a competitive team in the country’s 11th-ranked basketball conference. For proof, all you have to do is look at Saturday’s overtime loss to Milwaukee, where the Penguins took a team playing for the tournament’s top seed to the brink.

But it’s also hard to argue that Slocum is the school’s long-term answer. He makes no effort to build relationships with fans or boosters — something Robic, as prickly as he was, at least tried to do — and he’s even worse with the media. He’s particularly bad after losses, where his press conferences often last less than 90 seconds and he sneers at questions he doesn’t like.

He’s also struggled to keep players. Six have left in the last 12 months, with another, Devonte Maymon, likely to leave after this season. If you make the argument that most of them needed to go — something I’ve heard — well, who recruited them in the first place?

At 59, Slocum isn’t going to change. He’s a solid game day coach who won’t get outcoached and won’t embarrass the university. He’s not a rising star but he’s not a fallen one, either. Athletic director Ron Strollo isn’t satisfied with winning 25 percent of the Horizon League games every year but he also doesn’t want to make a change just for change’s sake.

The school has increased its financial commitment to football in the past year and, with a budget crisis looming, there’s nothing extra for basketball right now. Maybe there will be in a year or two, particularly if the football team starts winning big again, but not now.

More surprising, there doesn’t seem to be any outrage from fans, boosters or school officials about the sad state of the basketball program. Until enough people speak up and the school decides to make a strong financial commitment to fielding a competitive basketball team, the Penguins will continue to pay rent in the Horizon League’s basement.

But hey, the news isn’t all bad. After all, spring football starts in three weeks.

Joe Scalzo covers YSU men's basketball for The Vindicator. Write to him at scalzo@vindy.com.


My thoughts:
* As negative as the author is, he does shine some bright spots on Slocum's performance. First, he talks about the team's competitiveness, which is the first step to becoming a winner -- and has been hard to come by at YSU for a few decades. I still recall our 1991-92 Gannon team watching a tape of Pitt-Johnstown whipping Youngstown State in Youngstown. The next night we throttled the Mountain Cats. YSU has been that bad for that long. Also, the author calls Slocum "a solid game day coach who won’t get outcoached and won’t embarrass the university." I don't know anyone who'd disagree with that.

* I think I've interviewed Slocum at least 30 times after losses -- some of them the crushing, season-ending type -- and he was usually very upset after them. What do you expect from any coach let alone a guy whose entire MO is intensity? Slocum always gave Steve Bohen and me the time we asked for and answered all of our questions. When a strong Gannon team lost to Hillsdale in the NCAAs on a terrible block/charge call that went against the Knights, Slocum still came out of the lockerroom and talked with us. He was as angry as I've ever seen him, but he still took time with us. Bohen and I weren't stupid enough to ask him inappropriate questions that would set him off like a time bomb. Maybe the Youngstown media is less sensitive.

* How about Jerry losing 6 players in the last 12 months when he lost basically nobody during his years at Gannon? Maybe all the players leaving Gannon isn't just a Reilly thing. Maybe it's the less restrictive transfer rules. Or maybe kids are less loyal or less likely to endure discipline. Or maybe their parents won't control the kids either.

7 comments:

  1. Nice article ... Kinda ironic how they mention Akron women's basketball ... coach by former GU mentor Jodi Kest.

    One thing that surprised me is that Jerry is only 59. I assumed that he was around 59 when he left GU. It's gotta be depressing coaching in Youngstown, one of the cities hardest hit by the recession.

    BTW ... IUP beat SRU, WLU and Shaw won in the other leagues. We'll see how it shakes out on Selection Sunday. Hope that SRU doesn't make it.

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  2. I checked the YSU website a week or two ago and I was surprised to see that Slocum's team was winless on the road and was 2-14 in the conference at the time. I was under the impression that they'd been doing better than that.

    I had no idea it was a low budget operation. I know they had made a lot of improvements to their facility, expanding the seating in the process. I took in a game there last year and the atmosphere was way more impressive and things were more pretty professionally than I expected. I'm surprised that they're not spending what they should. Kinda surprised that Slocum is OK with that. Maybe there's not much he can do about it and he knows it.

    I have occasionally watched his post-game pressers on the Internet (they are easily accesible on the YSU website)and the article's author is right on regarding Slocum's demeanor. It always looks like he's being tortured and that he wishes he could be anywhere else. He's just too competitive and losing makes him crazy.

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  3. Jim, I'm not sure if the Youngstown media is insensitive or it is just the nature of media in general these days. But, in Erie, especially when it comes to local coaches, (most) media members recognize that good relationships lead to access which lead to good stories.

    As to our relative stupidity, I seem to recall playing Rock-Paper-Scissors to decide who would ask the first question. But it was the same with all of the coaches I've encountered. Gannon 74 is correct regarding Coach SLocum's demeanor after a game. But the same could be said for Chappy, Duke, Cleve, Jodie, et al. Imagine having to interview Judy Sauer after a loss!!!!! Yipes!

    I think Coach Slocum is also a bit of a series of contradictions. He is guarded towards anyone who is not directly associated with his team, and he does appear tortured after a loss.But he also recognizes that his players are effected by his mood, so he has an ability to move on quickly. The trips back home always involved calling team leaders up to his seat to discuss the game, practice schedules and who needed to be spoken to/counseled. Only after the bus quieted down did he quietly grouse with his assistants about the game.

    It's these contradictions that make fans both cheer loudly for his teams and also scratch their heads.

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  4. There is one thing about Jerry Slocum and that is He did communicate well with his players. He was always counseling them on and off the court be it about basketball, school or personal problems.

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  5. I don't know if this could also be a factor in Slocum's inability to "recruit the big ones", but look at all the colleges in Ohio.

    Ohio State, Ohio University, Akron, Cleveland State, Toledo, Findlay, Kent State, Baldwin-Wallace, Bowling Green, Central State, Cedarville, Hiram, John Carroll, Lake Erie, Miami, Mount Union, Tiffin, Dayton, Urbana, and there are plenty more including JUCOs and CCs.

    Now I'm not saying that all of the "good" recruits are going to these schools rather than YSU, however, with that many "known" schools in the state I could see it being a matter of if the kid knows he wants to go to an Ohio school or stay in Ohio, he's going to go where he can play immediately (reference Jim's transfer-mania article). Also, a recruit may come to look at YSU and then while visiting think "why don't I visit others as well". Even if those schools weren't recruiting him, they may like what they see and offer right away and then he's gone from YSU.

    Again, I don't know, but to me that is a lot of known schools in Ohio that a kid could pick from.

    In Erie there's not that problem.. Gannon, Boro, Behrend or Hurst. If not, then you go out of Erie.

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  6. Corey, just a question. I may have spotted a problem with your logic, but I want to make sure I understand what you're trying to say.

    If all those schools in Ohio (NONE of which are in Youngstown except YSU) create a recruiting problem for Slocum @ YSU, why don't schools like Pitt, Robert Morris, IUP, Slippery Rock, Duquesne, Pitt-Johnstown, Cal (PA), Penn St, Lehigh, Villanova, etc. create the same kind of problem for Reilly @ Gannon?

    Why would all those Ohio schools be competition for YSU and none of the PA schools be competition for GU? It doesn't make sense.

    Am I missing something?

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  7. Good question and I see your point.

    1) I didn't say that did cause recruiting problems, but that it could be part of the issue.
    2) I think IUP, Rock, Pitt-Johns and Cal are sources of problems for recruiting for Gannon. I know that there's been a handful of recruits that Gannon was trying to get that have gone to these schools. So it would be the same problem.
    3) My biggest point was that YSU is D1 and there seems to be a TON of D1 schools in Ohio (no, not all close together; some within a decent distance of one another but not all) but there are also a ton of high-quality D2 and D3 programs in Ohio too (again not all together right next to each other). Findlay gets a TON of D1 recruits. Albeit they are freshmen when they go to Findlay, they are still players highly touted by D1 schools. The point was that if these players go to YSU, Akron, Toledo, etc to check it out and they find they won't play immediately they may go to a Findlay, Ashland, etc and play immediately whereas they could've been a jr-sr starter at a D1 school.

    If a kid goes to check out Villanova or Robert Morris or Penn St or Pitt etc, and they feel they won't play immediately and they want to, the chances of them coming to Erie to check out Boro, Gannon or Hurst are very slim. (I remember the one recruit Mercyhurst had a few years ago was quoted in the paper as saying he was checking out some school and Manchel wanted to talk to him and the kid said "I never even heard of Erie until coach brought me to Mercyhurst").

    Ohio's colleges are "known" names across the country (not all, but many).. even Findlay! I have a friend in Colorado who texted me the other day and said "Can you believe Findlay didn't make NCAA with their record but KY Wesleyan did? Weak!" I was in shock haha He's an avid basketball fan (of many divisions), but he had never heard of Edinboro or Behrend before, but he's heard of Gannon and Mercyhurst. (not from me; just from media spotlight)

    My point may not have been all factual and a strong one, it was just a "what-if, maybe" thing.

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