In the latest installment in his "Coaching Great" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with former Robert Morris head coach Jarrett Durham. Coach Durham led the Colonials to three NCAA Tournament appearances in Moon Township and remains the school's winningest coach. Durham now works at his alma mater, Duquesne, as a Special Assistant to the Athletic Director in addition to calling the men's basketball games on the radio (WPBG-FM 104.7 in Pittsburgh).
Jon Teitel: In your first year at Duquesne you averaged 21.1 PPG as your freshman squad went unbeaten and you were known as "Jarrett the Jewel". How did you get that nickname, and do you think you could have beaten the varsity team that year?
Jarrett Durham: Of course I think we could have beaten the varsity! The nickname came about because I was being flippant with a news reporter who was asking me about other players. I had just seen Marquette's Dean Meminger play, and I said that if he was "Dean the Dream", then I was "Jarrett the Jewel"! I was just an 18-year old kid who did not realize that the reporter would write it in the paper, and the nickname just stuck.
1969 NCAA Tournament
JT: You beat St. Joseph's in the opening round. How far did you think your team could go that year?
JD: We felt pretty good about our team, and thought we could go pretty far. Beating St. Joe's in Rhode Island was great.
JT: You had a one-point loss to North Carolina after Lee Dedmon scored off of an 85-foot pass in the final minute. Do you think that you should have won that game, and what was the reaction like in your locker room afterwards?
JD: We thought we got hosed when one of the Nelson twins (I forget if it was Barry or Garry) got called for goaltending, and then the ref awarded the Heels a pair of free throws on top of that.
JT: You had a three-point win over St. John's in the third place game. Did you get some measure of satisfaction by winning your final game, or was it just a case of taking out your revenge on St. John's?
JD: We just felt good about winning every time we stepped onto the court.
JT: As a senior you were named Honorable Mention All-American and graduated as the fourth leading scorer in school history. Did you realize at the time how prolific a player you were?
JD: Not really. I just played each game one at a time, and just had fun playing.
JT: What are your memories of the 1971 NCAA Tournament (Bob Morse had 19 rebounds in a five-point Penn victory)?
JD: I did not shoot well in that game. We were very disappointed, as we were always chasing Penn from behind but could not overtake them.
JT: In the summer of 1971 you were drafted in the fourth round by Detroit (four spots behind Tom Owens), but ended up playing one minute for the New York Nets and made it to the ABA Finals. Why did you end up going to the ABA, and what was it like for that one magical minute?
JD: It was great to play in the ABA. The Nets made me an offer, and I waited for an offer from Detroit, but it did not arrive until after I had already decided on New York. I came in for a guy who had fouled out, played for one minute, and that was that.
JT: What are your memories of the 1982 ECAC Metro Tournament final as an assistant coach at Robert Morris (tournament MOP Tom Parks scored 21 points off the bench in a one-point win over LIU)?
JD: We were unbelievably shocked, as we had lost to LIU on the road by 40 points earlier that season. It was one of my career highlights as a coach.
JT: What are your memories of the 1982 NCAA Tournament (Forest Grant scored 25 points in a loss to defending champion Indiana)?
JD: The biggest journey for a small school is just getting to the tourney, as you will probably face a high seed once you get there. Our starting center was only 6'7", which was as tall as Indiana SG Randy Wittman!
JT: What are your memories of the 1983 NCAA tourney (10-points win over Georgia Southern, then Steve Reid made a 23-footer with five seconds left in a two-point Purdue victory)?
JD: It was great to get our first win, as we were very well prepared. I had played for Indiana coach Bobby Knight in an all-star game during my senior year, and he came into our locker room after the 1982 tourney game. He told us that the first time that most teams make it to the tourney they just enjoy getting there, but the second time you make it is when you can really make a difference and win a game. Purdue held the ball at the end because there was no shot clock at the time.
JT: You became head coach at Robert Morris in 1984 and remain the all-time winningest men's basketball coach in school history. How did you get the job, and what made you such a good coach?
JD: I was just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. My first year as an assistant coach there was the first winning season in RMU history, so that helped a lot. The kids really identified with me because I ran the show on the defensive end, and we used to press a lot.
JT: In 1989 and 1990 you were named NEC Coach of the Year. What did it mean to you to win such outstanding individual honors?
JD: It was the first time that I ever won a big accolade as a head coach, so it meant a lot to me. We had a great group of kids who had great chemistry. We did not have the most talent, but winning meant a lot to them.
JT: What are your memories of the 1989 NEC Tournament final (one-point win over FDU)?
JD: It was really exciting. Anthony Dickens had to sit out the previous year due to reconstructive hip surgery. We kept him around the team to keep his spirits up, and he just kept getting better and better. He ended up becoming captain, and made the winning free throw despite being only a 45% FT shooter.
JT: What are your memories of the 1989 NCAA Tournament (Sean Elliott scored 27 points [8-12 FG] in an Arizona victory)?
JD: I remember thinking that we would never score! They had several first round picks on that team: Elliott, Kenny Lofton, Anthony Cook, etc. I remember the first play of the game was a lob to Lofton, and I told my guys that it was going to be a long night.
JT: What are your memories of the 1990 NCAA Tournament (Rick Calloway scored 22 points [9-10 FG] in an eight-point Kansas victory)?
JD: It was a great experience. We were only down by three points at the half and kept it close throughout the game. Nobody had really ever heard of RMU, but the crowd got behind us as the underdog. My wife went to buy an RMU t-shirt at halftime...but they were all sold out!
JT: What are your memories of the 1992 NCAA Tournament (Tracy Murray scored 20 points [8-11 FG] in a UCLA victory)?
JD: We played them tough for about 30 minutes, and then the roof caved in on us as we just ran out of gas. We were only down by about five points at halftime, but when the big guy keeps hitting you in a boxing match, it is hard to keep your arms up.
JT: You returned to Duquesne as an assistant coach in 2000, then became associate athletic director in 2001, and were recently hired to do color commentary for men's basketball games. What did it mean to you to go back to your alma mater, and how excited are you about the new gig?
JD: I am very excited for the new opportunity, as it was always something that I wanted to do. Coming back to Duquesne was great because I have launched a few different careers here: coaching, administration, and now broadcasting.
Coach Durham is also on Jon's list of best coaches in NEC history.
Central Connecticut State: Howie Dickenman (1996-present) 217-196, 3 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, 4-time conference COY
Fairleigh Dickinson: Tom Green (1983-2009) 407-351, 4 NCAA tourneys, 4 conference titles, 2-time conference COY
Long Island: Clair Bee (1931-1943, 1945-1951) 360-80-2, 2 NIT titles, 1 Helms title
Monmouth: Wayne Szoke (1987-1998) 168-133, 1 NCAA tourney, 1-time conference COY
Mount St. Mary's: Jim Phelan (1954-2003) 830-524, 2 NCAA tourneys, 1 conference title, 16 D-2 tourneys, 1 D-2 title, 2-time national COY, 2-time conference COY
Quinnipiac: Burt Kahn (1960-1991) 459-358
Robert Morris: Jarrett Durham (1984-1996) 157-183, 3 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, 2-time conference COY
Sacred Heart: Dave Bike (1978-present) 478-430, 8 D-2 tourneys, 1 D-2 title, 1-time national COY
St. Francis (NY): Daniel Lynch (1948-1969) 283-237, 2 conference titles
Saint Francis (PA): Skip Hughes (1945-1966) 293-206-1
Wagner: Tim Capstraw (1989-1999) 117-164, 1-time conference COY