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Rich Stevens: Questions loom with Downey's departure from UC

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hey, it's not easy to break in a new coach.

We sportswriters need time to make them sound good, get them to say things they tell anybody else and be cordial, win or lose.

Little do they know, making us happy is right up there with satisfying the fans, administration and the roster.

OK, not really.

Still, with the departure of Mark Downey, there will be an adjustment period for the University of Charleston men's basketball program.

His leaving was considerably abrupt, leading many to wonder just how much is connected to the arrests of three of his players this past spring.

My guess is it has a lot to do with it.

In April, three UC starters were arrested and charged with a violent attack and robbery of two Charleston men.

Downey has a solid track record, but the movers and shakers at South Ruffner don't need black eyes as they attempt to grow the University of Charleston.

If you don't believe fundraising at a private school is critical and sports have nothing to do with that, you've been living under a rock. Much like Downey, UC President Edwin Welch has folks to answer to.

During his three years at UC, Downey did almost everything right.

The Golden Eagles won, excited the alumni and brought much-needed victorious attention to a program that was in dire need of it. No offense, Greg White.

Then came a Division I player from Winthrop University who was expected to be another superstar in a UC uniform. As soon as he passed NCAA smell tests, he was permitted to suit up and contribute to another Division II Tournament run.

As a Winthrop student-athlete, Robbie Dreher pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and battery after being accused of raping a woman at his South Carolina on-campus apartment.

Despite the red flags that shot up after Dreher's transfer, I'm not blaming Dreher. Quincy Washington and Terrell Lipkins also were arrested for their involvement in the crimes and are big boys who can think for themselves.

Shortly thereafter, some damage control was instituted - Downey to Welch and Welch to folks whose attention was focused squarely on the deplorable actions of players Downey brought to West Virginia's capital city.

I hope nobody thinks Downey received merely a pat on the back and a "things happen" from the top of the UC food chain. This is quite a polarizing moment for Downey, whose detractors blame him for bringing in the players and whose supporters point out that he couldn't have known.

Of course he couldn't have known, but coaches who rely so heavily on junior college transfers are always playing with fire.

You can recruit the player who is a good Division I prospect who has made a mistake and has struggles beyond his control, or you can recruit the player who is a good Division I player who isn't with a better program because he can't keep his nose clean and whose GPA is barely high enough to matter.

It's admirable to bring in a troubled kid, help him turn his life around and then send him into the world better than he was when you met him.

Perhaps Welch wanted a little more give in his men's basketball coach, and it's the rare Division II program that excels without the help of a couple players who couldn't make it at a higher level for one reason or another.

Now Downey moves to West Alabama, a university that has had only two winning seasons since the 1993-94 campaign.

Following his 2011-12 season when the Golden Eagles reached the Atlantic Regional Tournament, I predicted two more years in Charleston before a small DI school would come calling. Instead, it was one year and a move to a mediocre - at best - Gulf South Conference program.

You can be sure that Downey will succeed with the Tigers, like he did rebuilding the Arkansas Tech program - also in the Gulf South - and reviving UC.

In his fourth season at Tech, the Wonder Boys won 25 consecutive games and finished 30-2 after a 6-21 campaign in his first.

His first UC team went 15-13 in 2010-11, and a 26-7 mark in his second included a 14-game winning streak. This past season, Charleston finished 19-9 and handed West Liberty - the top-ranked team in NCAA Division II - its only regular-season defeat.

A couple of highly successful seasons in Livingston and Downey will be right back where was - on the road to bigger things.

Those aren't likely to occur without the help of players who couldn't make it at the Division I level.

I'm not sure Dr. Welch was still agreeable to those terms.

Contact Assistant Sports

Editor Rich Stevens at richstevens@dailymail.com or 304-348-4837.

 


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