Nobody will talk about it and most times they don’t even think about it, even though it’s the elephant in the locker room. One year after his most successful season, it appears University of Delaware men’s basketball coach Monte Ross has one foot out of the door that leads out the Bob Carpenter Center.
This is all conjecture, of course, but it does add up. Ross is in the final year of his contract and his lame-duck season isn’t going well — the rebuilding Blue Hens are 0-6 after Wednesday night’s 73-69 loss to Army
The key word there is “rebuilding.’’ Last season, Delaware won its first-ever Colonial Athletic Association championship and its first trip to the NCAA tournament since the last millennium (1999). It was a heady time for a program that in recent years has struggled to win games and fans. It probably didn’t help that Elena Delle Donne was leading the women’s basketball team into the national spotlight and the women’s team was drawing more fans and media attention than the men’s team. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work.
But the men’s team gradually improved and it all paid off last season, when the Hens went 25-10, the second-most victories in school history (Steve Steinwedel’s 1991-92 team went 27-4), and won the CAA tournament for the first time. Delaware wasn’t selling out games last season, but they were drawing more fans and seemed to be in a position to draw more recruits.
So, Ross and his program should be floating along now, but they’re not. Most of the players who took the Hens to the CAA title are gone, including two of the best to ever wear a Delaware uniform, Devon Saddler and Davon Usher. And now Ross has a team that has only one senior, Kyle Anderson, and he’s out of action until mid-December with a broken right hand. The Hens’ top five scorers include one junior (Marvin-King Davis), two sophomores (Cazmon Hayes and Devonne Pinkard) and two freshmen (Chivarsky Corbett and point guard Kory Holden).
There is talent there, but it’s inexperienced talent, and that’s why the Hens have struggled so much early in the season. And that rebuilding process is not what you want at this stage of Ross’ tenure. Nobody expects the Hens to compete with Duke every year, but they need to compete with the Dukes (James Madison) and the rest of the mid-major teams in their conference on a consistent base. One terrific season followed by a couple of mediocre ones isn’t the mark of a successful program.
But perhaps the biggest reason to wonder if Ross will return is the fact that the people who would fire him aren’t the people who hired him. Delaware president Patrick Harker and athletic director Eric Ziady came to Newark after Ross, so they have no real connection to him, which means they feel no real loyalty toward him – Monte Ross isn’t their guy. And if Harker and Ziady can get rid of former UD football coach K.C. Keeler, who won a national championship and went to two more title games, then they certainly won’t lose any sleep if they also get rid of Ross and bring in their own guy, which is what they did with football – Delaware coach Dave Brock worked for Ziady at Boston College.
Monte Ross has done things the right way since he came to Newark in 2006, and that includes suspending his best players when merited, as he did three times last season. His players like and respect him and the only thing Ross hasn’t done is win on a consistent basis. He had almost no talent to work with when he was hired nine years ago, but he’s had plenty of chances to recruit since then, and after a couple of decent seasons and one very good one, Ross is starting from scratch again.
But that takes time and it doesn’t look like Ross is going to get it. And the administration has to know that Ross’ lame-duck status will make it even more difficult to recruit, since potential Blue Hens basketball players won’t know if the guy who’s luring them to Newark will still be there when they arrive.
Of course, that could change if Delaware makes a dramatic turnaround and competes for the CAA title again, but that’s highly unlikely – the conference coaches’ preseason poll picked the Hen to finish ninth in the 11-team CAA for a reason.
Delaware will eventually be good again, because Ross has recruited some good, young talent, and eventually those sophomores and freshmen will be seniors and juniors and become veteran college players who know how to play and win at this level. But it’s looking more and more like Monte Ross won’t be here to see it happen.