Category archive: Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks

Keith Richard and Bob Marlin were having dinner in Las Vegas four summers ago, and both were lamenting that neither could get out of his job and to a higher level.

Richard, who had played at Louisiana-Monroe when Marlin was an assistant coach in the early 1980s, hunkered down for a meal to discuss the lack of movement at their level in the business.

[+] Enlarge
Keith Richard
AP Photo/Patrick CollardKeith Richard, who played at Louisiana-Monroe in the early '80s, returns to the program as the Warhawks' coach.

In his last year at Louisiana Tech, Richard coached Paul Millsap, won 20 games and reached the NIT. Meanwhile, Marlin was at Sam Houston State and on the verge of winning 20-plus games in consecutive seasons.

"We were both doing a good job, but we couldn't move," Richard said, as continues its offseason look at all 53 new head coaches. "He was doing a good job at Sam Houston and couldn't move. I had done a good job at Louisiana Tech and couldn't move. We were talking about how fickle this business is. We knew neither of us had been to the NCAA tournament. We just hadn't won the right game to make a move. It was frustrating. We had done good jobs."

Richard was fired a year after this conversation took place. He spent a year out of basketball before he was hired by Trent Johnson as an assistant at LSU, returning to his hometown of Baton Rouge. Two seasons later, the job opened up at Louisiana-Monroe, and Richard was all over the gig and got it.

Marlin had interviewed at TCU, Rice, New Mexico State, Houston -- three times with three different athletic directors -- and met with Auburn before UTEP's Tony Barbee landed the gig. Marlin took the Louisiana-Lafayette job after finally leading the Bearkats to the NCAA tournament last season, winning 25 overall games in a conference (Southland) that has been one of the hardest to move out of for a head coach. The process is akin to coaches trying to seek upward mobility out of the SWAC and MEAC.

"We all want to get to a high level with a chance to be successful on a yearly basis," Marlin said. "But at the end of the day, I coach because of the players and the relationships and wouldn't trade that for anything."

Marlin didn't land any of the higher-profile jobs for which he interviewed during the past decade. Instead, he's the new coach a program that he says has a rich-basketball tradition where hoops comes first.

"When we saw each other at the league meetings, we talked about how that years later we're in the Sun Belt," Richard said. "There is a feeling of peace here. You can feel it with John Brady [Arkansas State], with Kermit Davis [Middle Tennessee], with Johnny Jones [North Texas], Ronnie Arrow [South Alabama], Steve Shields [Arkansas-Little Rock] and Mike Jarvis [FAU]. It's a good feeling to have a good job and have peace and feel good about it."

There is something to be said for finding that balance and not to constantly push for the right to play on the first Monday in April.

The Sun Belt is littered with coaches who have won a slew of games and have found the conference to be a resting place to work hard, pursue their craft and not worry about the next gig.

Just look at the records for the league's coaches:

UALR: Steve Shields, 113-95
Arkansas State: John Brady, 311-247
Denver: Joe Scott, 134-156
FAU: Mike Jarvis, 383-244
FIU: Isiah Thomas, 7-25
Louisiana-Lafayette: Bob Marlin, 344-166
Louisiana-Monroe: Keith Richard, 150-117
MTSU: Kermit Davis, 274-185
North Texas: Johnny Jones, 165-137
South Alabama: Ronnie Arrow, 311-219
Troy State: Don Maestri, 477-336
Western Kentucky: Ken McDonald, 46-22

For Richard, 50, and Marlin, 51, employment opportunities in the Sun Belt should be fruitful, as they have been for contemporaries in the league. Marlin didn't get fired and is one of the more well-respected coaches in the country who doesn't get much fanfare. Richard decided to go back as an assistant with Johnson at LSU as a way to enrich his career and to get back to his hometown. Getting to places where Richard and Marlin can coach -- without a concern for climbing the ladder -- has brought a necessary balance into their lives.

Richard said early in his career at Louisiana Tech that he was focused on getting out to a league that was perceived to be higher. But that urge is now gone. He said Brady told him that after the initial shock of not coaching at LSU, he realized that coaching at Arkansas State was a good gig for him.

"You get settled in," Richard said. "We've all been through the hoopla stage, and now we're trying to run the best programs we can at our place. We're happy with that."

Richard said he would have no issue if Monroe was his last stop. The same can be said for Marlin.

"We all get impatient," Marlin said. "We all want to get to a high level and the chance to be successful. But at the end of the day, I coach because of the relationships with the players. "

Monroe and Lafayette have a strong following locally. They don't get much attention nationally. That probably isn't going to change unless either school reaches the NCAA tournament and advances. If that can be an acceptable lot in the profession, there should be no reason to fret. Marlin and Richard didn't change their careers or their priorities. They both still want to win. They just don't have to do it in a power-six conference to be satisfied with their profession.

Kyle Singler has one of the toughest decisions of any player on the fence about the NBA draft.

If Singler stays at Duke for his senior season, he could get his jersey retired and would have a chance to conclude his career with a national player of the year award and back-to-back national titles, something the Blue Devils did in 1991 and '92. If he waits, Singler could very well move into or near the lottery in the 2011 draft, assuming an NBA lockout doesn't wipe it out.

These are the selling points Duke's staff is providing for Singler and his family, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

If he were to declare and remain in the draft pool -- which is what he told The Oregonian earlier this week when he said, "I'll probably declare or not. I don't want to test the waters. I don't see any value in that." -- then he'll likely fall somewhere in the mid-to-late first round.

"He's basically a 3-man and that position is pretty deep in this draft,'' said one NBA personnel director. "He doesn't blow me away. You can see how he struggled against Baylor, a more athletic team. He does have a tough decision.''

Singler was 0-for-10 from the field against the Bears, his worst performance of the season in Duke's seven-point Elite Eight win. He came back and was stellar in the next two games: 21 points and 9 rebounds against West Virginia and 19 points and 9 rebounds against Butler. That effort earned him a national title in Indy and the Final Four's most outstanding player award.

Singler is right about not needing to test the waters. With the new NCAA rule, players have only until May 8 to withdraw from the NBA draft. Players have until April 25 to declare and workouts can begin April 29. But a number of teams, especially playoff teams, aren't expected to conduct workouts during that short amount of time.

Singler wasn't even considered to be a possible early entrant until the latter part of the season. He struggled finding his own shot during his first two months as a junior. He was 2-of-13 in a loss at Georgia Tech in early January, which followed a 5-of-15 performance against Iowa State. After that, Duke recognized it had to change its offense a bit to get Singler more looks. He started to flourish more and hunt his shot aggressively.

While he's certainly a viable option if available, Singler doesn't have NBA teams anxiously awaiting his decision. Butler's Gordon Hayward has more buzz and is considered a lottery pick, which might make it hard for him to return to the Bulldogs. The one other star holdout is Georgetown's Greg Monroe, who has proved to be a tough player to predict.

"He would be crazy not to come out,'' said one NBA personnel director of Monroe. "A lot of teams in the lottery like him.''

Georgetown's staff wouldn't be stunned if Monroe declares, but he has been honest about not feeling he's ready personally to make the jump. Unlike Singler, if Monroe were to enter the draft, he would shoot up to the lottery without hesitation. Or he could return for his junior season and contend for player of the year and have the Hoyas in the national title hunt.

• There were some rumors that he might be headed to Holy Cross, but Stony Brook's Steve Pikiell has been told he will receive a contract extension. The new contract would be for five more years.

• Orlando Early's decision to leave his head-coaching position at Louisiana-Monroe to be an assistant at South Carolina is the latest example of coaches who have made the head coach-to-assistant jump. Dan Leibovitz left a head-coaching job at Hartford to be an assistant at Penn, while Joe Jones left a head-coaching position at Columbia to be an assistant at Boston College. What happens is these coaches see how difficult it is at the lower level and want to get back to the taste of a power-six job -- or in the case of Leibovitz, a place where basketball is king. The money sometimes isn't that far off. I would expect this trend to continue.