It has been a long and arduous road to the first seat on the bench for Rob Senderoff.
More like Senderoff has risen from the Earth’s magma, surviving the Indiana mess to rebuild both his reputation and his career at Kent State.
And so in the minutes after Senderoff not only made his head-coaching debut, but also made it in grand fashion -- upsetting West Virginia 70-60 in Morgantown, a graveyard for Big East teams -- you’d expect him to be reflective and emotional.
Except Senderoff was the last thing on Senderoff’s mind.
“I know it sounds like coach talk and trust me, sometimes I do say things because you have to say them, but this time I mean it: I was only thinking about our four seniors,’’ Senderoff said. “I’ll be coaching for a long time, whether as an assistant or head coach, but this is my four year seniors’ last chance.’’
And frankly it was because of those seniors that Kent State won. This will go down as an upset, but in the season opener for each, it’s hard to quantify. To the contrary of the Golden Flashes’ experience, West Virginia counters with six freshmen.
Down five at the half and outrebounded by 15, Senderoff implored his team to work on the glass, promising his players in the locker room that the young Mountaineers would “crumble ... they will crumble’’ in the face of the pressure.
That, too, wasn’t coach speak.
“I certainly wasn’t going to say, ‘Oh well, fellas we don’t have a chance,’’ Senderoff said. “But I also believed it. We’ve been through this before and they haven’t. For our players, this is our fifth straight game on national television if you go back to the MAC tournament and the NIT. They were more new to this than we were. We’ve said from the start of the season that how we play will determine if we win or lose almost every game and these guys believed that.’’
Faux upset or not, it still goes down as big news at Kent. Despite the run of success for the Flashes -- 12 straight 20-win seasons -- this marks just the second time the school has beaten a BCS team on the road in history and the first since 1970.
There have been neutral-court upsets and home wins, but never a true road game and nowhere is the road more true than in hostile Morgantown.
No road, though, has been tougher than Senderoff’s. He resigned from Indiana in 2007, caught up in the Kelvin Sampson phone mess and was offered a second chance at Kent State, a place he had worked previously.
The university could have cut ties with him when the Committee on Infractions hit him with recruiting restrictions and a 30-month show cause, but instead Kent State stood by Senderoff and kept him on as an assistant. Last season, when Geno Ford bolted for Bradley, the administration boldly named Senderoff its coach.
One game in, he’s already making a good impression.
“Maybe somewhere down the road I’ll look back and say, ‘Wow, that was great,’’ Senderoff said. “Right now I’m just happy my kids played like I knew they could.’’