Coaching GSU hoops: A tough job, maybe an impossible one

Rod Barnes indicates how close Georgia State was to turning the corner. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Rod Barnes indicates how close Georgia State was to winning. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Coaching Georgia State is a tough job. That’s why Mary McElroy, who was the athletic director in 2007, thought she’d found the right man: Rod Barnes had already worked a tough job.

At Ole Miss, Barnes won 20 games and made the NCAA tournament three times in his first four seasons. Then it went bad — four losing seasons in four tries, which led to Barnes getting fired, which led to his availability when McElroy called. By Georgia State standards, his hiring was a coup: A former SEC coach who, at 41, was young enough to build something on the Concrete Campus.

That was in March 2007. A different AD fired Barnes on Sunday after not-quite-four seasons for a basic reason: “The win-loss record does not reflect where we want to be,” Cheryl Levick said in a release, and nobody could argue that 44-79 spells  success. But now we return to our original thought.

Georgia State is a tough job.

It isn’t quite true that the Panthers have never done anything in men’s basketball. Under Tom Pugliese in 1983, they beat Tennessee in Knoxville. Under Bob Reinhart in 1991, they won the TAAC — Trans-America Athletic Conference, later to become the Atlantic Sun — tournament and qualified for the NCAA. They were seeded No. 16 in the South Regional and faced No. 1 Arkansas in the old Omni. They famously took MARTA to the game. They lost by 41 points.

In both 2001 and 2002, Lefty Driesell’s teams beat Georgia under Jim Harrick. Lefty’s crew won the Atlantic Sun in 2001 and beat Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA tournament, losing honorably to Maryland in Round 2. In 2002 the Panthers lost the A-Sun final to Florida Atlantic when a last shot didn’t fall, and 10 months later Driesell resigned. And there you have, pretty much in its entirety, the list of Georgia State highlights.

(Except for this: You’ll recall that George Mason reached the 2006 Final Four. The Panthers led Mason in overtime in the semifinals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.)

Georgia State has been playing basketball since 1963. It has had eight winning seasons: Two under Reinhart, five under Lefty, one under Lefty’s successor Michael Perry. It has won 20 or more games in a season three times (all Lefty); it has lost 20 or more games 18 times. It has an all-time record of 460-839. If you care to make the case that this is the worst program in the history of Division 1, you won’t be laughed out of court.

Driesell remains the only GSU coach to get folks excited. (Remember the baseline bunch of students dubbed Lefty’s Loonies?) But even as he won  games, he fought the battle every other Panther coach had and will. The man who’d made his reputation — first at Davidson, then at Maryland — as one of the great promoters the sport has ever seen couldn’t fill a walk-up gym that seats 3,400.

Not that Lefty didn’t try. He started games at 6 p.m., thinking he could snare students. (”Once they go home,” the Lefthander reasoned, “they won’t come back downtown for a game.”) But starting games at 6 p.m. cut out the non-Downtown workforce who might be inclined to come watch.

And that was at a time when folks actually realized GSU had a team, as opposed, say, to now. In four years under Barnes, the Panthers drew more than 20,000 fans in only one home season. (This at a school with an enrollment of 31,000.) The average gathering under Barnes was 1,283. This season it was 915.

Winning would have bumped up attendance a bit, but Barnes didn’t win. He never had that signature victory over a Brand Name that a mid-major must notch if it’s to grab the attention of the masses. (His teams did play Georgia Tech and Florida State close.) Nor did he win much in Colonial play. And there’s no way to sell a losing program that has only the faintest footprint in a big-city marketplace.

Give Levick credit: She didn’t sugarcoat the firing. It wasn’t about Barnes being a bad guy or a bad coach but simply about a bad record. He was paid to do a tough job and couldn’t do it. What’s unclear is whether anyone can do it at Georgia State in the Colonial, which is a cut above the A-Sun, and it’s doubtful GSU wishes to go the wholesale transfers-and-JUCOs route paved by Lefty. (And for the old line about this state producing so many good players … well, it does, but not many of them dream of playing before 1,200 in a third-floor arena.)

Once again: This is a tough job. It’s so tough it might be not be doable — unless that Krzyzewski guy gets a hankering to coach in an even smaller gym.

By Mark Bradley

102 comments Add your comment

Rickster

February 28th, 2011
11:17 am

Rickster

February 28th, 2011
11:18 am

Woo hooo! Twice in one month! :-)

RAMBLE ON!!!

February 28th, 2011
11:18 am

Mark Bradley

February 28th, 2011
11:18 am

Kudos once more to the Rickster.

RAMBLE ON!!!

February 28th, 2011
11:19 am

Josh

February 28th, 2011
11:19 am

RAMBLE ON!!!

February 28th, 2011
11:19 am

…someday, sigh.

Rickster

February 28th, 2011
11:20 am

Coaching at GSU is tough – no matter what the sport. The only GSU coach of any noteriety was Lefty Driesell, who brought it with him from decades in the sport.

(Of course, “Lefty’s Loonies” helped bolster that noteriety even further.)

RAMBLE ON!!!

February 28th, 2011
11:20 am

Georgia State is sooooo bad, they can’t beat Paul Hewitt.

Josh

February 28th, 2011
11:21 am

Dang.

If Mark Fox can get UGA back to selling out the Steg on a somewhat regular basis then GSU can get to place where they have winning seasons. There is plenty of HS talent in Georgia to go around to the all major programs.

Desperation on the Ave

February 28th, 2011
11:21 am

I cannot wait to hear the Tech grumblings when they learn Hewitt will stay.

Devildog

February 28th, 2011
11:22 am

Until they prove they’re serious and hire a male AD, Georgia State will remain mediocre or less in the eyes of young athletes. Chauvinistic? Yes. Fact? Yes.

Rickster

February 28th, 2011
11:22 am

Hmmm.. maybe I shoulda read the column before posting. Mark already mention “Lefty & The Loonies.”

But hey.. first is all that matters! :-)

GStateBen

February 28th, 2011
11:22 am

It is a tough job but not an impossible job. There is more money available at Georgia State than ever before to hire a coach who can build. The Panthers could potentially return 9 players from this roster in 2011-12 and add an excellent recruit in Charlotte’s Jervon Pressley. The ingredients are there, now we need a coach to bring it all together.

The CAA has a collective Top 10 RPI as a league. The A-Sun is one of the worst low major leagues in America. Big difference there. The CAA will receive 2 bids to the NCAA Tournament and George Mason has an RPI of 25 and is receiving votes in both polls. The A-Sun will receive the automatic qualifier and will be a 15 or 16 seed.

Road Scholar

February 28th, 2011
11:24 am

They could have Hewitt…….at a discount!

Rickster

February 28th, 2011
11:28 am

My son was one of the “Loonies” and actually made the trip out to (I think) Idaho for their first-round NCAA tourney game!

Fire Rodney Ho

February 28th, 2011
11:38 am

Football is changing the landscape of GSU athletics, but losing 19-20 games per year isn’t going to put people in the seats. When GSU starts winning, the Sports Arena will fill up. Let’s get a coach who can figure out how to use these talented freshmen and change the perspective of GSU hoops.

DawginLex

February 28th, 2011
11:41 am

Doug Gottlieb is all about Tubby coming to Tech.

Heard anything Mark?

How about Bobby Knight to GSU and get him off ESPN????

5150 UOAD

February 28th, 2011
11:43 am

Lefty did a pretty good job and brought a name to GSU be it an Old Name, but a name none the less

DawginLex

February 28th, 2011
11:44 am

Tubby to Tech and Knight to GSU?

Can Atlanta withstand the onslaught?

DawginLex

February 28th, 2011
11:45 am

Anybody home?

DawginLex

February 28th, 2011
11:45 am

My comments won’t post.

Hammer22

February 28th, 2011
11:50 am

As far out AD goes, her resume speaks for itself and she has done an outstanding job.

But, Barnes was a class act and graduated EVERY senior. He just couldn’t win. Did he need a little more time, maybe. But, I don’t miss him.

Son of Tech

February 28th, 2011
12:00 pm

I BET PAUL HEWITT WOULD DO REALLY WELL THERE!!!!

….or anywhere not named Georgia Tech….

Mark Bradley

February 28th, 2011
12:01 pm

I never believe any Tubby rumor.

GSUGrad06

February 28th, 2011
12:01 pm

Devildog – Georgia State will remain mediocre…really? There are three sports that people really care about in college. Football, basketball and then baseball. State’s football program is heading in the right direction. The administration will not accept a mediocre football program. Baseball has been a well performing sport at GSU for the past 4 years now and will compete for another CAA title this season. On to the NCAA Regionals if that happens again. Basketball needs attention. The facilities are terrible.

Keep in mind that sports were never an interest at GSU by students or the administration. There is a changing landscape at GSU and all sports will get better as time goes by. Basketball has a tough road because of the competitive CAA and the poor GSU Sports Arena.

Sam

February 28th, 2011
12:04 pm

All GSU needs is a good coach. The talent is abundant in Atlanta, and we have a significant number of students living downtown now. Give them a winning program and they will come.

Woody Paige

February 28th, 2011
12:07 pm

GStateBen – Belmont will probably go into the NCAA Tournament as an 11 or 12 seed with a 29-4 record. Remind you of any other schools you may have heard of in the past that went in as an 11 seed? Don’t knock the A-Sun. It’s the only conference Georgia State proved it could win in. They certainly aren’t doing that in just about any sport in the CAA, except the sports where the CAA is RPI-wise much worse (baseball, softball).

Russ, the Temporary Mascot

February 28th, 2011
12:08 pm

I’ve had discussions with GSU and understand I am on the short list.

Fire Bewitt

February 28th, 2011
12:10 pm

Now is the time to bite the bullet ($) and fire Paul Hewitt…….He has lost all respect from everyone.

They can have our coach

February 28th, 2011
12:15 pm

They can have Paul Hewitt. That will allow his family to stay in Atlanta where they are happy. I wonder if they realize that they kept him from being able to save face with the St. Johns offer?

Pauly

February 28th, 2011
12:24 pm

Obviously the problem is less severe in Atlanta. But, for its entire existence (including today) there are tons of people in Georgia who don’t realize Ga. State exists. But, it’s profile locally is extremely low, despite its high enrollment.

Brit Massey

February 28th, 2011
12:28 pm

At least there is some excuse at Georgia State. We, at Georgia Tech, have no excuse. It’s very unfortunate that we have absolutely nothing athletically to be proud of at Tech and that Tickle Piles are our only form of release.

GStateBen

February 28th, 2011
12:29 pm

@Woody Paige Umm Belmont has an RPI of 50 and SOS of 237. They will be a 14 or 15 seed at best. Their best OOC conference win? Arkansas State.

Doesn’t remind me of any team I’ve seen. If Georgia State was in the A Sun this year, they’d have 22 wins. The talent level isn’t close. How many A-Sun guys are playing in the NBA right now?

Doug

February 28th, 2011
12:33 pm

GSTATE BEN= Brit Massey = Pauly = Sam = Russ

All the same person, blogging to himself.

Larry

February 28th, 2011
12:40 pm

I’m an Atlanta native that was born in Crawford W. Long Hospital and grew up near Grant Park.

Where is GSU?

Gordon

February 28th, 2011
12:40 pm

More comments about Tech/Hewitt than about GSU/Barnes. Even Mark’s one post to this point (other than the obligatory kudos) is about Tech. I guess that proves Mark’s point.

SID

February 28th, 2011
12:43 pm

Mark Bradley

February 28th, 2011
12:46 pm

I guess, Gordon.

gsu01

February 28th, 2011
12:58 pm

Good guy, bad coach. Right move. Let’s move on.

Waste of money

February 28th, 2011
1:02 pm

The GSU program is a joke—900 people go to the games? Just shut down this program and quit wasting all that taxpayer money.

lanier

February 28th, 2011
1:02 pm

now that they have football maybe dropping basketball would be a good idea.
doesnt sound like anybody would miss it

gsu01

February 28th, 2011
1:07 pm

@waste of money – how is it taxpayer money you freaking retard?

William Satterwhite

February 28th, 2011
1:20 pm

I’m not too sure Georgia State wouldn’t be a good place for a Derrick Favors-type local prospect who wants to go pro asap to go- the CAA is a high enough profile league that a kid like that, if he could come in and dominate night in and night out, would still get plenty of coverage and tv time. The Colonial isn’t that far below the Mountain West and we’ve all seen Jimmer Fredette get plenty of publicity, the Southern Conference is well below the Colonial and Stephon Curry got plenty of hype as well.

Larry

February 28th, 2011
1:20 pm

Does anyone know a GSU graduate?

Gene

February 28th, 2011
1:23 pm

I am a former professor at GSU and was teaching there when Dr. Patton hired “Lefty”. Most professors didn’t believe this experiment would work, and students were generally against the added expense. There is certainly talent enough in Georgia to produce a good team, but GSU thrived as an evening school for older, working students, and it is very successful in that role. Older, working students are just not interested in basketball, and I doubt if it will ever prove successful in terms of student support. Football got off to a good start under Curry. Hopefully that program will survive due to alumni support in Atlanta, which appears to be strong. Football, maybe; basketball, no.

Pan T Her

February 28th, 2011
1:25 pm

I am not sure GSU is a good fit for the CAA. With the exception of George Mason, VCU and ODU, people don’t even recognize the CAA teams. It is hard to get people to turn out to watch your team get beat by a team you never heard of. What is a Drexel or a Towson?

Jon

February 28th, 2011
1:26 pm

@larry – You sound like a ga southern troll. But let me help you out. GSU has more execs in Fortune 500 companies than UGA, GT and Emory combined. So yeah, there are a few of us running around.

RSX

February 28th, 2011
1:26 pm

gsu01, state U’s are funded by the state? (Though UGA mostly runs off of football revenue, which is a national rarity)

Doug

February 28th, 2011
1:28 pm

RSX=Jon=Pan=Gene=Larry

All the same eprson, blogging to himself