Are the Dukes Starting From Scratch?

By Steve DiMiceli

We've heard Jim Ferry say it or elude to it in the past. I've often wondered if he was downplaying his team or the program to minimize the expectations of a quick assent to the NCAA tournament from Duquesne fans. It's frustrated a number of us when Ferry compares taking over the Dukes to taking over Long Island, a bottom of the barrel NEC program ten years ago. Yesterday in a piece by Paul Zeise in the PG, Ferry again said "I really feel like we are starting from scratch, and so we have to focus on the one goal we have and that is to get better every day. We can't look down the road past the next practice, we just have to get better, but this thing won't happen overnight." So does Ferry have grounds to suggest the Dukes are starting from scratch? 

From the perspective of battle hardened or, better said, losing hardened, Duquesne fan base, the answer is no. Starting over would take us back to a string of single digit win seasons where the team was in good shape if they had more than two true A-10 players. Starting over would mean talking about next season starting two months from now. Clearly, the program has advanced to a stable state of mediocrity that has us in better position moving forward. We're coming off our fifth straight season of winning after one winning season over the previous twenty. We know what bad is. We know where we started. 

"Rebuilding" is too soft a word to describe the task assigned to Ron Everhart when he arrived at Duquesne. The last highly successful run for the Dukes happened thirty years earlier, so rebuild doesn't exactly fit. In order to rebuild, you need to be building from something.  Everhart was asked to start from scratch. He started with two A-10 caliber players. Ferry is starting with two experienced starters, a handful of key bench players who could step up and a few who were waiting in the wings. Ferry admitted at the conference media day that he has a team of A-10 players without A-10 experience. You couldn't say that about Everhart. He's also beginning from a stronger recruiting position. To people around the program for a while, we've come a long way from scratch. 

It's important to note that Jim Ferry hasn't been around the program for a while. He hasn't experienced the losing and the heart ache like we have. He has had four months to learn Duquesne and Pittsburgh's culture and I'm sure he's still learning the programs's historical trends we've experienced first hand, in some cases, for decades. He hasn't been hardened by losing the same way the rest of us have and he doesn't appreciate the modest satisfaction of simply being mediocre. After all, coaches get fired around here for being mediocre. 

When Ferry says "starting from scratch," I don't think he's entirely incorrect and I think there is something lost in translation between he and the average Duquesne fan. What he means by starting over is very different from what we think of. To him, we are adopting a completely different philosophy on defense and a more sophisticated offense. We are a young and inexperienced team to which the term rebuild certainly applies. To us, starting from scratch makes us think about 3 wins. Ferry has a different perspective coming off two trips to the NCAA tournament. Long Island hadn't been to the NCAA tournament in a while. It's been longer for the Dukes. From his perspective, we haven't done much besides not be terrible. Starting from scratch means starting on a path from the 8th or 9th best in the conference towards becoming a frequent contender. Many programs we want to emulate would consider five years of hovering around .500 starting from scratch. Ferry probably feels the same way. 

I really like Ferry and I think he will be successful. I appreciate his candor, honestly and that he's not trying to spin or blow sunshine up into place sunshine doesn't belong. When the fans hear "starting from scratch," it makes us feel like the little bit of success we've enjoyed is somehow in jeopardy even for a short time. To us, it's a negative. To Ferry, starting from scratch means breaking through the ceiling of mediocrity even if it is uncomfortable at first. I don't like his word choice, but I'll give him a pass on it. After all, he just got here and he doesn't speak the language yet.