DAYTON (OH) -- I flunked high school physics, nevermind came close to a passing grade. Itís a subject matter with long-hand formulas for every equation, complicated and often-times confusing syntax, and a habit of making every chapter from the textbook look like kanji.
Few things about high school physics stuck around for me. My physics teacher took the class out to the teacherís parking lot so he could demonstrate force and acceleration with his car. Little did I suspect he would pull around the corner in a GMC Sierra that was more pimped out and riced over than a Pontiac Parisienne at Ulohoís. I thought that was worth remembering and thatís why I remember it.
The only other kernel of knowledge that stuck with me was the concept of terminal velocity. I found it somewhat interesting because it was based on fluid dynamics and I made it a point to argue with the teacher all semester about why something was called fluid dynamics if it had nothing to do with fluid as I knew it and drank it.
Nevertheless, terminal velocity is based upon the premise that certain
objects reach a maximum velocity within the elements they are traveling through. Once the resistance against the object by the elements becomes greater than the velocity of the object, the objectĎs velocity flatlines. Skydivers reach terminal velocity Ė unless they are jumping off your daughterís jungle gym. Terminal velocity is basically a wall of physics that outlines the high water mark of certain objects in space and time.
The same physics preventing skydivers from achieving a 500mph free-fall might also hold back the practical gains of the UD menís basketball program. Could Dayton be approaching a terminal velocity of their own where the college basketball landscape (atmosphere) will always win the tug-of-war against the ambitions (free-fall velocity) of Flyer hoops?
Letís talk about what we know.
Dayton basketball died in 1991 Ė the second of Jim Obrienís five seasons. Oliver Purnell issued a new birth certificate and by 1998, Humpty Dumpty was more of less back to together again. The Flyers were NIT participants and had enough talent to beat four ranked teams within their own conference. There were no limitations on how far the resurrection could go. Measuring the progress from Obrienís last two seasons that netted 10 combined wins to Purnellís phoenix-like rise and recovery, the velocity of the program was pronounced, predictable, and headed upward.
In the 14 years since the resurrection, progress has been far less meteoric. Rather than the bullet continuing in a straight line at the target, Flyer basketball has been meandering through the college landscape like the round from an Italian bolt action rifle shot out of a Dallas school book depository. Weíve hit some things on our paper target and hit some things we canít quite explain. At other times, weíve missed the bullseye completely, sending rounds out yonder like a casual hip shooter that shot his eye out on Christmas.
Basketball success can be cyclical. Instead of looking at the last 14 years as one mass data dump, letís break it down into segments spanning coaching tenures and an even split of seven year increments. While two seasons of overlap exist between the coaching regimes of Oliver Purnell and Brian Gregory
in the seven-year split-snapshot case study, it nevertheless gets us close enough to what weíre after to make a few salient observations.
After Oliver Purnell reached the NIT in 1998, he coached five more years at Dayton. These six years constitute the first six seasons of our seven-year window and represent the halfway point after the resurrection.
In the last six seasons of Oliver Purnell, Dayton finished:
<text>1997-98 21-12 (11-5) NIT Second Round
1998-99 11-17 (5-11)
1999-00 22-9 (11-5) NCAA First Round
2000-01 23-13 (9-7) NIT Quarterfinals
2001-02 21-11 (10-6) NIT First Round
2002-03 24-6 (14-2) NCAA First Round
122-68 .642 (60-36 .625)
Purnellís last four seasons netted two NCAA appearances and two NIT appearances. His final year at UD was his high water mark in both total wins and A10 finish.
Opie left for Clemson in the offseason when his stock was high, but UD fans knew the roster he left for the replacement head coach would provide some challenges beyond the returning senior class. Nevertheless, Purnellís tenure at UD was the next best thing to a grand slam. He took over a program at rock bottom, without a conference, and the pending loss of Tom Frericks. Oliver inherited a broken horse that most trainers would have put down. While he never took the Flyers to an NCAA postseason run, just getting there from the abyss of his first season (and 116-63 beatings to UC) was a monumental success story. Perhaps he left when the leaving was good and reached his own terminal velocity at UD.
Brian Gregory took over in made good on Purnellís talented senior class. Beyond that, results were a mixed bag. Gregory's eight seasons netted:
2003-04 24-9 (12-4) NCAA First Round
2004-05 18-11 (10-6)
2005-06 14-17 (6-10)
2006-07 19-12 (8-8)
2007-08 23-11 (8-8) NIT Quarterfinals
2008-09 27-8 (11-5) NCAA Second Round
2009-10 25-12 (8-8) NIT Champions
2010-11 24-14 (7-9) NIT First Round
TOTALS 174-94 .649 (70-58 .547)
The data shows Brian Gregory had a slightly higher winning percentage than Oliver Purnell, and a considerably worst resumeí inside the Atlantic 10. Part of the overall gains in winning percentage can be traced to the NCAAís decision to allow one exempt in-season tournament a year to aid overall victory totals. Those neutral court tournaments allowed the Flyers more room to secure buy games at UD Arena. In most of Purnellís tenure, seasonal tourneys were allowed only once every three or four seasons.
Now letís look at the numbers in their seven-year half-lifes:
21-12 (11-5) NIT Second Round (OP)
11-17 (5-11) (OP)
22-9 (11-5) NCAA First Round (OP)
23-13 (9-7) NIT Quarterfinals (OP)
21-11 (10-6) NIT First Round (OP)
24-6 (14-2) NCAA First Round (OP)
24-9 (12-4) NCAA First Round (BG but OPís recruits)
125-65 .658 ( 72-40 .643)
23-11 (8-8) NIT Quarterfinals
27-8 (11-5) NCAA Second Round
25-12 (8-8) NIT Champions
24-14 (7-9) NIT First Round
150-85 .638 (58-54 .518)
Clearly, the last seven years of the program were less impressive than the first seven following the resurrection. Winning percentage went down, conference finish was exponentially worse, overall postseason bids took a modest slide, and NCAA appearances took a full step backwards.
Over most of this 14-year window, the UD athletic department administration has remained in-tact Ė if not in rank than certainly in organization. Ted Kissell
ruled as athletic director for much of this cycle, but Tim Wabler
was his right-hand man throughout the entire process. When Kissell retired, Wabler was second in command and ready to take over. The transition was seamless. At the same time, key personnel like Tim OíConnell, Dave Harper, James Brothers, and Gary McCans have been household names around the athletic department or Flyer fan base.
At first glance, one might suggest these individuals donít have what it takes to create a consistent winner. After all, the last 14 years have been largely static or slightly downward in trajectory Ė and itís been on their watch. Is the sputtering of the UD menís basketball program a result of tepid leadership and vision within the athletic department, or merely the faults and shortcomings of those directly in charge of menís basketball?
We need more data and fortunately we have it.
Prior to 1998, no UD athletics program beyond menís basketball had ever qualified for the NCAA Division-I tournament in their respective sport. As tattered as UD basketball was, it still remained the best example of excellence at this time. Since 1998 however, other athletic programs at Dayton have enjoyed unparalleled success both in the conference, nationally, and in the postseason.
SUCCESSES UNDER THE SAME LEADERSHIP
Letís chart the progress of other Tier-1 sports programs at UD since 1998. Tier-1 sports are generally regarded as sports funded by UD to compete at a national level. Those include menís and womenís basketball, menís and womenís soccer, and volleyball.
UD Womenís Basketball since 1998: 3 NCAA appearances, 1 NCAA win, and 3 WNIT appearances
UD Menís Soccer since 1998: 2 NCAA appearances, 2 A10 season titles, and 2 A10 tournament titles
UD Womenís Soccer since 1998: 8 NCAA appearances, 1 Sweet-16, 5 NCAA victories, 9 A10 season titles, and 7 A10 tournament titles
UD Volleyball since 1998: 8 NCAA appearances, 4 NCAA wins, 9 A10 season titles, and 7 A10 tournament titles
For those counting, thatís a combined 21 NCAA appearances, 10 NCAA victories, 20 A10 season titles, and 16 A10 tournament championships Ė all from three programs that never sniffed even the hint of conference or postseason prosperity before 1998. To give even more credit to womenís basketball coach Jim Jabir, he won three games in his first year (2003-04, 3-25) and has surpassed the menís programís 14-year track record in six fewer seasons.
The same folks overseeing the UD menís basketball program are also in charge of overseeing these other Flyer athletic programs. None of these successful programs exist without the benefit of revenue generated from the sale of basketball tickets to the Flyer Faithful
. They are non-revenue sports completely dependent on others to provide the funds to field a championship-caliber product.
If the administrative personnel havenít changed and other sports programs have flourished under the same leadership, why is UD menís basketball the Tier-1 outlier out of all the major sports? Why is menís hoops the exception to the rule rather than the litmus test? Menís hoops generates far more money, receives prime space in regional and national press clippings, has a fan base both indelible and notorious, and carries enough brand-name awareness to dwarf the other sports 10 times over. So whatís the problemo, Kimosabe?
Letís identify Daytonís most sensible non-BCS counterparts that aspire to compete at or near the same level. This is not an exhaustive list but complete enough to focus on the major players. How does Dayton compete against these counterparts? Here are NCAA postseason results for each school since 1998, ranked by NCAA bids:
Gonzaga: 13 NCAAs, 4 Sweet-16s, 1 Elite Eight
: 12 NCAAs, 3 Sweet 16s, 2 Elite Eights
Butler: 9 NCAAs, 2 Sweet 16s, 2 National Runner-Ups
: 9 NCAAs, 2 Elite Eights
BYU: 9 NCAAs, 1 Sweet-16
Creighton: 8 NCAAs, 3 Second Rounds
UNLV: 7 NCAAs, 1 Sweet-16
So Illinois: 6 NCAAs, 2 Sweet 16s
: 6 NCAAs, 3 Second Rounds
Va Commonwealth: 5 NCAAs, 2 Second Rounds, 1 Final Four
George Mason: 5 NCAAs, 1 Final Four
Northern Iowa: 5 NCAAs, 1 Sweet-16
New Mexico: 5 NCAAs, 4 Second Rounds
St. Josephís: 4 NCAAs, 1 Elite Eight
St. Maryís (CA): 4 NCAAs, 1 Sweet-16
: 4 NCAAs, 1 Sweet-16
Old Dominion: 4 NCAAs, 1 Second Round
Dayton: 4 NCAAs, 1 Second Round
St. Louis: 3 NCAAs, 2 Second Rounds
Wichita State: 2 NCAAs, 1 Sweet-16
Compared to UDís peer group, Flyer basketball ranks 18th out of 20 since the resurrection point (1998). Of the 19 other schools within the peer group, 14 have reached a least one Sweet-16 over the last 14 years, seven to the Elite Eight, and three to the Final Four. Who does Dayton compare most similar to? The Old Dominion University Monarchs. If you just said to your cat, ďbut ODU is a nobodyĒ, the same charges are leveled against the Flyers.
Now that weíve re-constituted ourselves as ODU, it goes without saying our basketball budget, facilities, and fan base far exceeds anything ODU throws at their program.
To make accurate comparisons, itís important to determine if UD basketball receives the right tools for the job. Do we pound nails with hammers or the handle of a screwdriver?
In this regard, Dayton shines. Flyer basketball has been funded or supported to extremely high standards since 1998. The Donoher
Basketball Center, The Cronin Center, UD Arena, charter flights, 10,000 season ticket base, and competitive salaries for coaches and personnel have routinely placed the Flyers among the nationís most coveted non-BCS jobs. Regional and national TV appearances along with TV contracts with the A10 Network, Fox Sports, and CBS College Sports have provided a media footprint few other non-BCS schools are able to compete with. Even better, UD is in the right time zone to get noticed by the east-coast dominated sports media.
The long and short: UD administrators have exceeded reasonable standards in providing an environment to cultivate a winning posture that competes with Daytonís immediate peer group.
Is Dayton, OH, the bottom of the proverbial college basketball fish tank? Itís hard to suggest it considering the wealth of prep talent within the tri-state. Four Ohio teams alone are headed to the Sweet-16 and more players from those teams hail from Ohio than any other state. The city of Dayton grooms quality D-I prospects Ė if you can land the best kid out of the city each year, youíve got a chance to be pretty good. Dayton is also easy to get to and within a 300-mile radius of about 40% of the nationís population. Unlike Spokane or Omaha, getting to Dayton doesnít require an off-road GPS.
There's no parasailing, downhill skiing, mountain biking, marlin fishing, or pro sports franchises. And there aren't 300 days of sunshine a year. Itís not northern California, but there are far worse places to call home.
Weíve done all we can to rule out incompetence within the athletic department by providing examples in many other areas where championship-level success is customary and sustained. Weíve ruled out inadequate funding, facilities, and accoutrements. Weíve set aside conference affiliation and broadcasting throughput measured against our peer group. Location continues to be a red herring. And weíve written off the notion that Dayton started from a deficit by comparing data only after the resurrection (1998).
Knowing what we know, has the UD basketball program reached terminal velocity? If data clearly shows the university is doing all it can by every reasonable measure and yet the results indicate a stagnation or retardation of progress, does that suggest our terminal velocity has been achieved? If further steps to break the sound barrier have been futile over the last 14 seasons, what information is prevalent to suggest we suddenly go Chuck Yeager on the college basketball world and do in the next five or six seasons what couldnít be done in the last 14?
Against our peer group, the performance is not good Ė and thatís the scary part. These numbers are not comparisons against Kentucky or Michigan State. Rather, they are our closest planetary neighbors.
This may be as good as it gets, folks. I consider gentlemen like Ted Kissell, Tim Wabler, Oliver Purnell, and Brian Gregory to be respected in their field. These people are not boneheads walking around blind without a cane. They are intelligent, committed, and deeply focused on making Dayton basketball as good as can be. Unless Tom Izzo or Mark Few hop on a train to D-Town and shower the Flyer basketball program with McDonaldís All-Americans, the Flyer Faithful may be kidding themselves with more of that ďwait til next yearĒ chest-pounding manufactured out of blind hope rather than sensible digestion of the past and present.
SAY IT ISNíT SO
Suppose for a moment weíre not all doomsday preppers. As long as the Harlem Globetrotters continue to scrimmage the Washington Generals, something off the scripted page could happen. Itís an approach to success based on sheer volume Ė win by playing until you win, rather than playing to win altogether. Admittedly, the analogy goes a bit too far. Dayton takes the court intent on winning. Intentions and reality are oftentimes strangers in the night however.
The best hope for a culture change lies in Kid Yuma. Archie Miller was a solid hire. It made perfect sense at the time just like Purnell and Gregory were solid hires and among the best available that reciprocated an interest level in the job opening. Once again, UD brass seemed to get it right.
The suits on Frericks Way can only do so much however. The freight is largely paid for and by the coaches. Jim Jabir, Mike Tucker
, Tim Horsmon, and Kelly Sheffield were and are the main reasons why those other Flyer sports play at a championship level every year. Thereís no substitute for having the right man or woman for the job that knows how to be CEO, can weed out the over-hyped projections from legitimate prep talent, can build a coalition within the program, excels in coaching, and has a talent for pushing the right buttons with each player.
Thatís Archie Millerís to-do list and it wonít be easy. History tells us two qualified coaches did enough to make Dayton part of the postseason discussion but never a routine member of the club. Two qualified coaches demonstrated seasons of success alongside seasons of frustration Ė oftentimes tidal waves within the same season. For Dayton to take that next step, Miller is going to have to do things at a sustained level neither Purnell nor Gregory ever came close to. The Flyers are not baby steps away from the promisedland Ė they are a step or two off the foot path entirely. Miller must improve the talent and improve the coaching. Short of this, nothing changes the program trajectory. Tim Wabler canít do it and Flyer fans canít do it.
It largely falls on one man. Itís a shabby deal but itís the same deal other programs in college basketball receive. There are only two outcomes. Either Miller changes Dayton for the better and does so in a way thatís sustained and long-term, or Miller substantiates everything we already know about the past and provides the epitaph we all knew was coming.
Thatís terminal velocity and Miller might be UDís last chance to redefine the physics surrounding the menís basketball program. If it doesnít happen, it may never happen. It will be 20 years since the resurrection and weíre still swimming in the kiddie pool with floaties. Miller passed his first test: surviving year one and making due with a deck stacked against him. The mulligans are few and far between as we move forward however. It will be his team with his players and his vision.
The only certainty is weíll have our answer when Archie Miller is no longer the UD menís basketball coach. Flyer basketball either hits terminal velocity when Kid Yuma moves on, or a coachís son pulls a rabbit out of the hat and stops Dayton from continuing to be Dayton Ė or Old Dominion.
If Archie Miller does just that, Iíll buy him a pimped-out GMC Sierra in whatever color he likes. Itís a small price to pay for slipping the surly bonds of earth. Iíve been waiting a long time for this and saving up.