Here we go again. Cleveland State University has fired another basketball coach, Dennis Felton, and replaced him with a successful assistant from a big-time program, Dennis Gates, from Florida State. The big surprise is that this took place in July, an odd time to have a new coach, with no Ohio background, try to recruit for a program that has hit rock bottom.
Felton, who was the head coach at Georgia, had no Ohio ties. I have seen this before and the results have been the same. Since 1980, I have had the opportunity to do radio or television for 23 CSU seasons. I started with coach Ray Dieringer, who had Larry Shyatt on his staff. Over the years Shyatt, of Cleveland Heights, was an assistant at Florida under Billy Donovan and was part of two NCAA Championships. He also was head coach at Clemson and Wyoming and is an assistant with the Dallas Mavericks.
Kevin Mackey replaced Dieringer after being an assistant at Boston College. When he came, a knowledgeable East Coast basketball maven said he would get CSU to the NCAA Tournament in three to four years and then have them on NCAA probation after. The guy wasn’t a maven for nothing because that’s almost exactly what happened. Mackey’s stunning success got the university to build what is now the Bert L. and Iris S.Wolstein Center, seating 13,610.
Mike Boyd, who coached at Kent State and Michigan, was next. Then came Rollie Massimino, who won an NCAA title at Villanova. We thought he would revive the program. As it turned out, he was just looking to build up his retirement fund. The final coach that I worked with was Mike Garland, a lead assistant for Tom Izzo at Michigan State.
Early on, I called the action for three first-round draftees, Franklin Edwards and Darren Tillis, along with Jim Les, who had a nice NBA career after one year at CSU, and then Mouse McFadden, the perfect point guard for Mackey’s run and stun system. Edwards helped Julius Erving win a title with the Philadelphia 76ers. Tillis, a 7-footer, was taken by the Boston Celtics and played a bit for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Norris Cole came after I left CSU, and was part of LeBron James’ run with the Miami Heat.
The point I am trying to make is that it is possible to get good players to come here – but probably not right now. I often wondered why CSU couldn’t be a powerhouse and have a successful city school, like Cincinnati, Villanova, Butler, Pitt, Marquette and Temple. I heard through the years there was a chance for CSU to join the Atlantic 10, which could have led to the Big East, but it never happened, nor did any other attempt to leave the AMCU-8 or the Horizon League.
I wish Dennis Gates luck. The Wolstein Center could have been one of the great college venues in the country. Instead, with 1,000 people or fewer attending games, it is nothing more than an eyesore.