Opinion: Dickson backs Conroy’s rebuild with contract extension

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Head coach Ed Conroy has led an undersized, outweighed and young team to a 13-9 record and the Wave has been competitive in just about every game.

Jonathan Harvey, Online Sports Editor

Tulane men’s hoops finished one of the most topsy-turvy seasons in recent memory. Despite some apprehension at the beginning the season, the Wave burst out of the gate and exceeded expectations initially. The team imploded, however, in conference play, losing 10 of its last 12 games in the American Athletic Conference. 

Athletic director Rick Dickson chose to retain basketball head coach Ed Conroy after finishing his first season in the AAC with a 15-16 overall record and 6-12 in conference. Last summer, Dickson granted Conroy a three-year contract extension that runs through the 2016-2017 season.

The signing caused understandable head scratching. Conroy has compiled a mediocre 80-81 overall record without any NCAA Tournament bids while at helm. The program had several rough offseasons with numerous transfers. Some have speculated that players often clash with Conroy about his coaching style. A total of 20 players have transferred, been granted a release or are in the process of transferring under Conroy. 

While there’s much to dislike about Conroy’s tenure thus far, let’s understand Dickson’s rationale in not firing the fifth-year coach. 

Dickson’s move was carefully calculated. Conroy has recruited well in his tenure, despite the exodus of key players, including Conference USA Freshman of the Year Ricky Tarrant and post threat Josh Davis before the 2013-14 season. Conroy has been specific in his recruitment of players, as he is hoping to develop a young core that can drive the Wave’s success. Sophomore Jonathan Stark was a revelation from the start, scoring 14.5 points per game for the young team his freshman year, but he recently announced his intentions to transfer as well as sophomore prized recruit Josh Hearlihy.

Tulane’s future rests on the young core Conroy recruited. The players will coincidentally graduate after his contract ends in 2017, and it makes sense to let Conroy prove to Dickson that he can cultivate a conference contender with the current roster.

Losing a majority of playmakers on any roster will redefine the core of a team, and Conroy has done a commendable job of molding this new core. 

“I’ve seen a lot of teams change leagues and really struggle,” Conroy said in an earlier interview with The Hullabaloo. “I think we made some progress and are focused on where we want to go. I’m proud of this past team and can’t be more excited about where we are going. It takes time to build it the right way but there is no question that we are on the right path.” 

By giving Conroy the extension, Dickson promoted stability in the program and allowed Conroy a chance to continue his four-year plan to rebuild a formidable roster. Program stability is often overlooked, and Dickson knows that building a consistent winning culture takes time.

Though only six conference wins this season sounds bleak, eight of the 12 AAC losses were decided by 10 points or less and the Wave competed with almost every team it faced. In his own words, based on preseason predictions, Conroy felt that while the team exceeded many expectations, it still has a lot to prove next year.

“We exceeded expectations in [ranking] seventh [in the AAC], but having said that, there were a lot of close games and perhaps if we had made some free throws or done things a little bit differently, we could have won more and finished even higher,” Conroy said. “It’s one of those situations where maybe we exceeded expectations in the basketball world and the outside [the program], but I’m proud to say that I don’t think anyone else was satisfied.”

This coming season is pivotal for the program and Conroy. With a recruiting class that has a lot of promise and is ranked as the No. 72 best recruiting class in the nation by ESPN, the Wave could turn some heads next season. 

If the team doesn’t compete for conference titles or receive NCAA postseason bids, Dickson will face a decision. Either he will stick with Conroy to steer the program in the same direction or bring in another face to reenergize it.

Dickson gave Conroy a chance to build a competitor, but Tulane hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1995. Twenty years is a long time for Tulane faithfuls to stay patient. Dickson has granted Conroy a legitimate opportunity to build a team his way, though, and prove whether or not he can coach the Wave to a NCAA championship.