A Few Words on the Dean Keener Resignation…

I don’t know Dean Keener, but I know him.

As a matter of disclosure, we talked a few times as I was researching the book. Our paths have crossed in multiple press conference settings over the past three years, a few of which called for a one-on-one follow up. We spoke for an extended period of time twice as I gathered information for the Blue Ribbon preview magazine.

So while I can’t say I know Dean Keener, I certainly know something about Dean Keener.

I can tell you this with absolute certainty: it is a shame he will not be coaching James Madison next season. Oh, I completely understand he was given four years to turn things around. I know that the turnaround is considered minimal. I know he probably didn’t recruit a wealth of CAA talent, and I know he made coaching mistakes.

I also know all about the final ledger: W-L. For Keener at JMU, it says 30-83 with two regular season games and the CAA tournament to play.

That isn’t the point.

The point is that Dean Keener was hired to clean up an astounding mess at James Madison. The team wasn’t winning, the fans weren’t attending, and the football team was soaring. Basketball had become a punch line at fraternity parties.

Keener’s response was to run off players of questionable character, bench those who felt entitled, and drew a hard line about how he was going to run this program. It was going to be a program the alumni, the faculty, the students, and the administration could look to with pride. Keener turned over his basketball roster and managed the basketball team’s highest GPA ever, but it took its toll on the bottom line (wins and losses, as well as attendance). But it was the right path. This wouldn’t be a clean up that provided victories but more mess to clean up.

Slow, yes. Frustrating, you bet. But keep this data point in mind. This season, one in which he finally had a team he felt comfortable with, JMU has won as many games as the past two seasons combined. Its RPI is hovering around 200, not around 300. Fans are returning and people are talking about the JMU basketball program without the punch lines. They can see success, even if it isn’t yet happening.

Look, I’m no Pollyanna. I’m well aware that Keener, in all likelihood, was facing a “resign or be fired” situation come April. You can’t see it very many other ways. Keener put a ton of stock in this season, and it hasn’t panned out. When it comes down to brass tax, Keener didn’t get it done quickly enough. If I’m JMU AD Jeff Bourne, I don’t know that I make a different decision. And that’s fine.

What I’m saying is this: it doesn’t surprise me one bit that Keener worked out his resignation right now. This gives the JMU athletics department the best opportunity to find the coach they want. It is exactly the kind of intelligent, ethical thinking I’ve come to appreciate from Dean Keener.

At no point in the past three years did Dean Keener duck one of my questions. He always answered them honestly, and with the best information he had available. He told me when they stunk, and he told me why. He admitted when he made mistakes.

In last week’s CAA coaches teleconference, Keener was speaking about the kids on his team continuing to play hard and playing through some heartbreaking losses. He named five or six players and spoke of their character, none of which were named Abdullai Jalloh. It was a glaring omission in my mind, and perhaps a passive salvo to a recuriting mistake. It also may have been a passive piece of symbolism that Dean Keener had had enough. I don’t know this, but I can see it.

Jeff Bourne didn’t hire a coach under investigation for NCAA violations, like Indiana. Interestingly, I think both schools got exactly what they deserved. Herein lies the shame of it all: In two years some major conference school is going to pronounce it time to put the past behind us and pay Kelvin Sampson seven figures. I can only hope that Dean Keener lands a head coaching job as well by then. Both schools will again get what they deserve.

So if you’re a JMU fan and you’re kicking dirt on the coffin of Dean Keener, make sure you have a clean pair of shoes. Your next hire could be far more detrimental to your prrogram than “didn’t win quickly enough.”

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~ by mglitos on February 25, 2008.

2 Responses to “A Few Words on the Dean Keener Resignation…”

  1. I don’t THINK thay you’re implying anything necessarily(I hope not), but you can probably count on one hand the number of folks “kicking dirt on the coffin of Dean Keener”. The very large majority echo your sentiments and would have loved to see him succeed. We’re all sorry it did not. If it was about “good guys”, he’d get a lifetime extension.

    Regarding your comments on Jalloh, that is precisely why he deserves no mention in All-CAA ballots and J. James and T. Carter should get his spot. His obvious basketball skills are definitely overshadowed by what he lacks in other…ummmmmm, shall we say…intangibles (to be pc).

  2. It’s interesting to me that you basically glossed over the fact that he’d won a TOTAL of 13 conference games in the last four years and that until this year had not been one of the worst teams in the CAA but one of the worst teams in college basketball. I’m all for hiring nice guys but there are plenty of nice guys who can coach and recruit a heck of a lot better than Keener.

    The program was not in good shape back in 04 but please, records of 6-22, 5-23, and 7-23 is a joke. Especially at a time when the CAA was exploding – enabling the recruiting trails to blaze. The problem now is coming to grips with what kind of commitment JMU is going to make to basketball. In speaking with other alumni, the fear is that another low-cost assistant with a minimal track record is on the way. I don’t want a nice guy. I want a guy who can win AND put players on the court who represent the University well.

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