A new era in athletics has begun at the University of Delaware and that’s a good thing, if for no other reason than it’s not the old era.
The new president of the university, Dennis Assanis, and the new athletic director, Chrissi Rawak, have said the right things recently, which, of course, is easy to do. Doing the right things, however, is another matter, and the jury is still out on the new regime. Especially when it says things like Assanis said to Kevin Tresolini, the ace sports reporter for The News Journal. When discussing the men’s basketball program, Assanis said this: “I see the basketball program as a wonderful opportunity for the University of Delaware. I can see this as being one of the crown jewels of our athletics crown. There’s no reason why in four years we couldn’t be beating teams like Villanova.”
Villanova? How about beating teams like Elon first? Any credibility Assanis had regarding athletics went down the tubes with that statement, which proves he knows nothing about Delaware basketball and its history, or else he believes the people who follow Delaware athletics are stupid.
First of all, Delaware doesn’t even have a coach yet – and it’s the only Division I school that doesn’t have one — although it is conducting another nation-wide search. Of course, that’s the same kind of search that produced the last two basketball coaches, David Henderson and Monte Ross, who had a combined record of 217-277 over the last 16 years.
Another small problem, Mr. President – you don’t have any players, either. Delaware’s cupboard is more bare than Mother Hubbard’s and you can’t beat anybody – much less the national champions – without good players. And not only have the Blue Hens had trouble recruiting blue chip players, they’ve also had trouble holding onto the few they get. The centerpiece of the program was guard Kory Holden, but he looked around, saw that he was stuck on a bad team with little hope of improving in the near future, and wisely bailed out, signing with South Carolina. Then another key piece of the basketball puzzle, Chivarsky Corbett, also left Newark and signed with Texas-San Antonio.
Even worse, it’s taken Delaware so long to hire a new basketball coach and they’re so far behind in the recruiting process that it will take years to catch up, and that’s assuming they do. It’s hard to imagine a good basketball player with other options deciding that Delaware is the place for him, no matter how nice the campus is. And the Blue Hens need lots of players. So, Delaware’s situation and reputation in basketball are as low as you can go, and naïve and/or delusional statements like Assanis’ don’t’ help.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being optimistic, but you also have to be realistic. And it’s not just men’s basketball that has struggled in recent years – in fact, most of UD’s teams have been in the middle or bottom of the Colonial Athletic Association standings. That includes the big dog in the neighborhood, football, which has an overall record of 17-18 and CAA record of 11-13 the last three years under coach Dave Brock. And that is completely unacceptable for a school with Delaware’s proud tradition in football.
Delaware’s last choice as athletic director, Eric Ziady, didn’t work out – Ziady was fired in December after four mostly-unsuccessful years leading the UD athletics program. It was interesting that in the UD press release announcing that Ziady was “stepping down” as AD, there was one paragraph that listed the athletic accomplishments of Delaware teams during his tenure and seven paragraphs that listed all of the endorsements and fund-raising that happened under his watch.
Like Ziady, Rawak promised to deliver winning teams, which is not a surprise – what was she supposed to say? But regardless of the past, Rawak deserves the benefit of the doubt and she also deserves time to turn things around, even if her boss has his head in the clouds. And one of her priorities should be improving something that suffered greatly during Ziady’s tenure – Delaware’s relationship with its fan base. Loyal fans who supported UD teams for decades felt like they were being ignored, except for the money they brought in, and that’s another reason why athletics at Delaware haven’t been much fun lately.
So, hopefully the new athletic director can bring that feeling of inclusion back to the fans, as well as give those fans good teams to root for. Rawak and Assanis have said all the right things and now it’s time for them to do the right things.