A long, silent search for Hornet hoop coach

Keith Walker

DOVER — Four years ago, the doors to a conference room on the fifth floor of Delaware State University’s Administration Building flew open and through them came Keith Walker.

The big reveal at that 2014 press conference to name a new head basketball coach was kept a secret from most. Even the players were not aware of who their coach was going to be until Walker walked through those doors.

Despite being kept in the dark, there was a palpable level of excitement among the players in the room.

Walker was who the players pushed for to be their head coach. He was the interim coach for the final 10 games of the 2014 season and what he did for the team’s morale was one of the main reasons he was given the full-time position.

“What Coach was able to do was to take all of that energy, turn it around and create our dreams again,” said DSU’s athletic director at the time, Candy Young. “We were able to live again. We were able to breathe again. We had a team that we were excited about again.”

And that proved true in Walker’s first year as Delaware State rode a senior-laden team to the MEAC Tournament championship game, finishing one win shy of an NCAA Tournament berth.

But three straight losing seasons followed.

Now four years and four athletic directors later (including interims), Walker is gone and so is that excitement.

Delaware State is still looking for a new men’s basketball coach and, like four years ago, most of it is being done in secret.

The long search

It’s been 107 days since Walker was fired on Feb. 22 along with women’s coach Barbara Burgess.

Delaware State is one of only three NCAA Division I men’s programs without a head coach. The other two are Chicago State and Texas Southern.

The Texas Southern job just opened up this week when Mike Davis left to take over as the head coach at Detroit Mercy.

Keith Johnson was DSU’s interim coach for the remainder of the season and still holds the title. Johnson was the team’s associate head coach under Walker.

For comparison’s sake, when Walker was hired in 2014, he was introduced at a press conference on April 15 — nearly two months earlier than this search has taken.

Delaware State officials elected not to give an update on the status of the job search. A university spokesperson said they would not comment for this story.

DSU is familiar with long coaching searches.

Its last three football coaches were either hired in late January or early February. Its current football coach, Rod Milstead, was hired on Jan. 30 of this year without an introductory press conference.

Due to the late hire, the Hornet football team did not announce any new recruits on National Signing Day just a week later.

The football signing could have been delayed because Delaware State had an interim athletic director. AD Skip Perkins and football coach Kenny Carter were dismissed on the same day in November.

That is no longer the case.

The new AD

Some movement on the basketball coach search could have started this week with the hiring of Scott Gines as the new athletic director.
Gines comes to Delaware State from Texas A&M Kingsville, a Division II school in the Lone Star Conference.

He replaces Mary Hill, who was the interim athletic director after Perkins was fired. Hill was at the head of the athletic department when the school made the decision to fire Walker during the season.

Gines, however, will not take over as athletic director until mid-July. Delaware State officials again declined to say if Gines would be involved in the hiring process for the new basketball coaches.

Complicating matters more is the fact that Delaware State still has an interim president.

“In hiring Dr. Scott Gines as the new DSU Director of Athletics, the institution has gained an executive with a diverse and proven background in overseeing intercollegiate sports departments as well as fundraising,” DSU’s interim president, Wilma Mishoe, said in the press release announcing Gines’ hiring. “We have high hopes and expectations for the University’s Athletics Department under his capable leadership.”

Gines comes from a baseball background and the university’s press release boasted about his fundraising ability.

Gines had a 17-year coaching career in collegiate baseball with stops at Virginia, Radford and Virginia Military Institute. He previously served as director of athletics at NAIA Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D., from 2000-05 and at Fairmont State (W.Va.) from 2005-07.

While at Texas A&M University-Kingsville Gines generated $12 million for new facility construction and upgrades, increased scholarship budgets by nearly $1 million, elevated salaries, expanded staffing and raised recruiting budgets.

Gines was in Dover on Thursday but returned to Texas on Friday.

The coaching candidates

Various reports at the conclusion of the NCAA Tournament linked the Hornets to a couple of coaches.

One name was North Texas coach Jareem Dowling, who is from Wilmington, went to Howard High and DSU’s MEAC rival, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Dowling also previously coached at Scotland Performance Institute, a prep school in Pennsylvania which had numerous Delaware high school players on its roster.

Dowling however no longer appears to be on DSU’s radar.

Another name was Bobby Collins, who was fired from UMES at the conclusion of the season. Collins was one of the final five candidates in 2014 when Delaware State elected to hire Walker.

There is a possibility Delaware State takes a page from UMES’ book.

When UMES fired Collins it replaced him with associate head coach Clifford Reed as the interim coach. The school has announced Reed will spend the 2018-2019 season as the interim coach for the full year.

Reed, coincidently, was also one of the final five candidates for the Delaware State job in 2014 while he was an assistant at Savannah State. He went with Collins to UMES when DelState decided on Walker.

If the Hornets go with an interim for a full season, Johnson does have head coaching experience. He coached Cheyney University from 1989-1995.

Johnson was also the associate head coach at Coppin State for 13 years before taking the same job at Delaware State.

Johnson coached the final four games of the season for the Hornets after Walker was fired. DelState went 1-3 in those contests including a 62-61 overtime loss to North Carolina A&T in the first round of the MEAC Tournament where Delaware State blew a double-digit second-half lead.

Delaware State is coming off a 4-28 season. The Hornets suffered through a 21-game losing streak and did not beat a Division I opponent until Feb. 19.

Three days later, Walker was fired.

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