Teddy Bailey (@TheTeddyBailey)
Following Delaware’s loss to Elon on Saturday, the final home game of the Blue Hens’ 2014-15 season, Blue Hens coach Monté Ross decided to address the crowd.
“I love you all dearly,” Ross said over the PA system. “The support that you’ve shown my family, I can’t put into words. Obviously we want to send our seniors out the right way. Part of that is winning the game. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that for them today. I’ll say this though, these guys left everything out on the court.”
Ross isn’t the first coach to address a home crowd, especially not after a senior day that saw popular players such as Kyle Anderson, Marvin-King Davis and Tom Allhouse honored.
But the circumstances under which he did so were anything but ordinary.
A season ago, Ross lead Delaware to its first-ever CAA championship, and its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 15 years. The magical season was buoyed by seniors Davon Usher, Devon Saddler and Carl Baptiste, plus junior Jarvis Threatt.
None of those players returned for the 2014-2015 campaign. Usher, Baptiste and Saddler graduated, and Threatt was dismissed from the program for another violation of team rules.
Ross, meanwhile, saw 86 percent of his scoring vanish and was left with one of the youngest teams in the country. With lone scholarship upperclassmen Anderson and Marvin King-Davis both sidelined for the first seven games due to injury, only four sophomores had experience at the college level. Freshmen Kory Holden, Chivarsky Corbett, Eric Carter and Anthony Mosley were all impressive in their high school days, but how would that translate into the collegiate game?
It translated into a 1-13 start for Delaware as the Hens entered CAA play – but Ross wasn’t making excuses about his team’s youth. “It is what it is,” Ross said after almost every game. “We just have to trust the process.”
His process panned out.
Since the 1-13 start, Ross’s club has been able to easily exceed expectations. Despite inconsistency, Delaware has notched four wins against the upper echelon of the CAA, and at 7-9 in league play, are fighting for the final bye into the CAA Tournament Quarterfinals.
And what has the university done to reward a coach that is fast-forwarding a rebuilding process the right way? Absolutely nothing. After being insulted of a contract extension offer last summer, Ross later decided to accept the extension. The university, meanwhile, told him that it was no longer on the table.
Since then, it has been an interesting dynamic surrounding the Delaware basketball program. Ross has been all business, all the time. During press conferences and related interviews, it’s as if the people in the room are awkwardly avoiding the topic that is on everyone’s minds.
Fans, though, have shown their overpowering support for Ross, who has held the Delaware reigns for nine seasons. Throughout the latter half of the season, members of the Blue Hens faithful brought signs related to the contract situation:
“Coach Ross IS Delaware Basketball,” said one.
“We support 2013-2014 CAA Coach of the Year, Monté Ross,” another read.
“I thought that those signs were a support of the team,” Ross said. “I appreciate them from the bottom of my heart for them appreciating us as a program from the bottom of their hearts.”
Before Saturday afternoon’s home finale, a fan giving out signs reading “Renew Contract, Coach Ross” was told by Delaware officials to stop – and that her act was illegal and may incite a riot.
Ross’s contract situation goes far past a coaching change. Eli Cain, a prized New Jersey recruit, decommitted earlier this season due to the uncertainty of not being able to play for the coach that recruited him. King-Davis, despite graduating this May, will have one more season of eligibility – but may only use it if Ross returns.
“If Coach Ross stays, I’m going to stay,” King-Davis said.
Ross has every right to be bitter towards the university – but instead, he’s doing the opposite. Following Saturday’s game, Ross reflected on his appreciation of the Blue Hens faithful and what his program has been able to accomplish during the careers of his seniors.
“These Delaware fans have been so supportive, and I can’t say enough about them,” Ross said. “What they’ve meant to me and my family. They respect the way that we’ve built this program and the way our kids act on the court. Our kids respect the game and play the game the right way. I think that the Delaware fans respect that as well.”
“Kyle Anderson is a man that took a chance,” Ross said. “Coming halfway across the country. We were bad at the time, and we told him that we’re going to turn it around and just need him to trust us. He did, and it’s worked out beautifully for all parties.”
Ross first took the reigns before the 2006-2007 season – a period of Delaware basketball that many try to forget. Before Ross took over, the Hens were coming off back-to-back 20-loss seasons. The program was desperate and took a chance on a young coach that was coming in with zero prior head coaching experience. While expectations were at the bare minimum – Ross’s initial rebuilding process was a rollercoaster. In his first season, his team won the least games since the 1978-1979 season – going an abysmal 5-26 on the year.
The next four years of Ross’s tenure were also losing seasons, but the program was growing. In 2011-2012, Anderson’s freshman season, the Blue Hens finished 18-14 and completed their first winning season since 2004. Despite an equally impressive 19-14 mark in 2012-2013, Ross knew full-well that he was playing the 2013-2014 season with his job on the line. With rumors swirling, the coach was able to complete the rebuilding process by leading Delaware to its first-ever CAA Championship.
The university backed Ross after he began his tenure with three straight losing seasons, but despite a rare trip to the NCAA Tournament, it seems as if the trust is gone. Delaware’s athletic director, Eric Ziady, came on board in October of 2012. Perhaps Ziady is unable to fully grasp the revival that Ross has been able to do over in Newark.
It’s not just the resurgence Ross has given the Delaware basketball program; it’s how he has done it. Believe it or not, there is more to building a successful program than wins and losses. Ross has been able to give stability to his student athletes and inject integrity to college athletics. And at some programs, that integrity has vanished.
Now, Ross will look to guide his team against Drexel and Towson on the road to close out the campaign. Winning those games could lead to a bye in the first round of the CAA Tournament – a remarkable feat for the lack of experience he has had on the roster.
But would a tournament run be able to do anything for his contract situation? It certainly did last year, however it seems as if the athletic administration has given up on Ross – for whatever reason they have. With the apparent vendetta that Ross has been showed, a strong push in the CAA Tournament may sadly just be fruitless endeavor.
The now-seasoned Ross ended his speech to the 2,890 on hand at the Bob Carpenter Center with a phrase that has defined his entire career.
“Man plans. God laughs. We always think that we’re in control, as people, but we’re not. God laughs at us when we make plans.”