What might have been? You decide.

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What might have been? You decide.

Postby NC Titan » Sun Apr 12, 2020 1:27 pm

I have heard for decades that UofD decided to hire a new coach after Spencer Haywood’s phenomenal sophomore season and that Haywood wanted his high school coach and mentor Will Robinson to get that job. UofD, not wanting to be seen as letting Haywood pressure the school into hiring Robinson, went in another direction – regrettably leading Haywood to go in another direction, too.

Here is Robinson’s resume:

Robinson went to high school in Steubenville, OH, where he quarterbacked the football team and played golf, baseball and ran track. One of his football teams was undefeated and unscored upon, and Robinson is the only player in Ohio history to letter in five sports. He graduated from West Virginia State (lettered in four sports) and got a master’s degree from U of Michigan. In 1943, Robinson was hired as coach for Miller High School in Detroit and later at Pershing, where he won the state title in 1967 with a team led by Spencer Haywood and Ralph Simpson. In 1970 Robinson was hired as the head coach at Illinois State, the first black head coach in NCAA D1 basketball.

So, speculation time.

Obviously, Robinson was qualified for the role, with the exception of no college experience. What would have happened if UofD hired him? No Dick Vitale, but what might have been the course of UofD basketball with Robinson as coach. Note: He spent just four years at Illinois State, retiring to take a scouting job with the Pistons. The Pistons offered Robinson the head coaching job in 1983 but he declined. (He was 72 years old.)
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Re: What might have been? You decide.

Postby Big Chuck » Sun Apr 12, 2020 7:30 pm

Detroit was not going to hire a black coach at that point in time. If we had hired Robinson the world would have been better and I bet we would had Perry Watson a lot earlier. He was the natural follow up to the Detroit PSL connections Would neve have needed DV. But we were not a socially enlightened school back then. I also bet we would have been in the Big East now. Can't prove any of it though.
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Re: What might have been? You decide.

Postby dennycrane » Sun Apr 19, 2020 11:52 am

Speculating what might have been 51 years ago is difficult for any of us, NCT, but, according to Coach Robinson's resume, he coached only 4 years at Illinois St. leading one to believe he planned to retire from a day to day job by the age of 65, the traditional retirement age. Whether he might have coached a bit longer at Detroit................, I don't think we know that.

The end of the Vitale era, and for this purpose, I include Smokey Gaines' two very successful years as coach in the Vitale era, affected U of D basketball much more going forward than the situation 10 years earlier did. We needed a savvy athletic director who was interested in our university at that point and we did not get that. Geracioti, on his way out, appointed a coach unlikely to succeed and the decade of the 80s became a lost decade. Under other circumstances, the Big East may have been possible for us but, as Chuck says, we can't prove it.
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Re: What might have been? You decide.

Postby Commissioner » Tue Apr 21, 2020 1:09 pm

If the Titans had hired Robinson, Haywood probably would have stayed, though it's not definite. Heck, there's a decent chance he would have stayed if we simply had not pushed Calihan out. How good would we have been with one or two more years of Spencer? Good for sure, but how good? Tough to say. Haywood got the '69 team all the way up to a #7 ranking in December, but by year-end we were unranked, uninvited, and a good but hardly great 16-10 (against, it should be noted, a very tough schedule). With Haywood and Larry Moore back, and Frank Russell coming on line, and maybe some other Detroit-area recruits Robinson might have gotten, perhaps we would have been a top 20 team or even a title contender the next year or two, but it's not certain (for example, the team lost Jerry Swartzfager, a 1000 point scorer, to graduation). Under Jim Harding, there was a lot of turmoil, but after Harding's first season, his teams did win quite a bit--he was 48-27 his last 3 seasons, including a win over #2 ranked Marquette and briefly a national ranking in the 1972 season. And then came the Vitale/Gaines era. As great as having Haywood for two more years would have been, I'm not sure that by the end of the 1970s we would have been any better positioned than we in fact were in 1979, when a series of bad decisions in both the athletic department and at the University level began that launched the downward trajectory culminating in today's situation.
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Re: What might have been? You decide.

Postby NC Titan » Wed Apr 22, 2020 12:10 pm

Commissioner wrote:As great as having Haywood for two more years would have been, I'm not sure that by the end of the 1970s we would have been any better positioned than we in fact were in 1979, when a series of bad decisions in both the athletic department and at the University level began that launched the downward trajectory culminating in today's situation.


Commish, my what-might-have-been envisioned Robinson's hiring cementing the relationship between UofD and the PSL coaches. Would Ralph Simpson have joined the Titans if his former coach were the head coach at Detroit? In the mid-'70s we did well tapping into the city talent, but that faded. If the school had been more closely tied to the city coaches, would that talent have been more likely to stay in the city? Much has been said about how there is no relationship between the Detroit coaches and the city. Would Robinson (and then Perry?) have created that relationship?
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Re: What might have been? You decide.

Postby Commissioner » Wed Apr 22, 2020 9:15 pm

NC Titan wrote:
Commissioner wrote:As great as having Haywood for two more years would have been, I'm not sure that by the end of the 1970s we would have been any better positioned than we in fact were in 1979, when a series of bad decisions in both the athletic department and at the University level began that launched the downward trajectory culminating in today's situation.


Commish, my what-might-have-been envisioned Robinson's hiring cementing the relationship between UofD and the PSL coaches. Would Ralph Simpson have joined the Titans if his former coach were the head coach at Detroit? In the mid-'70s we did well tapping into the city talent, but that faded. If the school had been more closely tied to the city coaches, would that talent have been more likely to stay in the city? Much has been said about how there is no relationship between the Detroit coaches and the city. Would Robinson (and then Perry?) have created that relationship?

Maybe. But as you note, Vitale/Gaines recruited a lot of guys from the city and the near-in suburbs. So I'm really not sure that any loss from not hiring Robinson wasn't all evened out by the successful hire of Vitale and the promotion of Gaines to succeed him. It's just hard to believe that hiring Robinson would have left us, in the spring of 1979, in any better shape than we actually were in at that time. It's the later decisions that began the spiral down.
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Re: What might have been? You decide.

Postby Big Chuck » Thu Apr 23, 2020 6:12 pm

Commissioner wrote:
NC Titan wrote:
Commissioner wrote:As great as having Haywood for two more years would have been, I'm not sure that by the end of the 1970s we would have been any better positioned than we in fact were in 1979, when a series of bad decisions in both the athletic department and at the University level began that launched the downward trajectory culminating in today's situation.


Commish, my what-might-have-been envisioned Robinson's hiring cementing the relationship between UofD and the PSL coaches. Would Ralph Simpson have joined the Titans if his former coach were the head coach at Detroit? In the mid-'70s we did well tapping into the city talent, but that faded. If the school had been more closely tied to the city coaches, would that talent have been more likely to stay in the city? Much has been said about how there is no relationship between the Detroit coaches and the city. Would Robinson (and then Perry?) have created that relationship?

Maybe. But as you note, Vitale/Gaines recruited a lot of guys from the city and the near-in suburbs. So I'm really not sure that any loss from not hiring Robinson wasn't all evened out by the successful hire of Vitale and the promotion of Gaines to succeed him. It's just hard to believe that hiring Robinson would have left us, in the spring of 1979, in any better shape than we actually were in at that time. It's the later decisions that began the spiral down.



Even assuming that local recruiting evened out it does not mean the end result was even. A lot of factors in play besides Detroit recruits. The athletic departments financial overspending during the Vitale era was a factor in the downward spiral you refer to. A lot of money came in, but even more money went out. The Department's better financial strength may well have led to the ability to make better decisions.
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