Clipboard conversations: Rob Senderoff, new Kent State coach

2 Jun

Rob Senderoff talks a lot about recruiting at the mid-major level in this edition of Clipboard Conversations.

By Justin Young
National Hoops Report

Rob Senderoff is the new head basketball coach at Kent State. Get to know the name because he’s one of the top coaching hires of the off-season. I caught up with him to talk about his new job, his past, what he hopes to accomplish in the future, a number of interesting recruiting topics and much more in this edition of Clipboard Conversations.

NHR: Geno Ford, Jim Christian and now you have all moved over a chair when you became the head coach at Kent State. How fundamental is that in the program’s success?

RS: “I think it is a huge, huge part why we’ve been successful. A couple of things: 1. The system hasn’t really changed much. In the history of our school, we’ve had 14 20-win seasons and 14 post-season appearances. Of the 14 20-win seasons, 12 of them have come over the last 13 years. When you look at our program, we’ve been playing basketball for the last 100 years. Recent success is at a really, really high level. I would say we are probably a top 75 basketball program in the last 15 years. We’re 15th in the country in wins over that time span, starting with Gary Waters, Stan Heath and the nine years from Jim and Geno.”

NHR: Does the general basketball community of fans fully understand how hard it is to maintain that level of success between new head coaches?

RS: “A lot of the programs that have been able to maintain success at this level in the non-BCS programs, it seems like A. the coach has been there a long time or B. there is some continuity there. In our league, finically, we are all at a very level playing field, for the most part, in terms of facilities and resources. The one thing that I think Kent State has to help us maintain the success we’ve had is we’ve won the regular season four of the last six years. Kent has won six league championships in its school history. We’ve won four of those in the last six years. We’ve won all six in the last 13 years. The first NCAA appearance for the school was in 1999. We’ve gone to the tournament six times in the last 13 years.

“The point I’m trying to make is the thing we have in our conference is we’ve established that we have the Kent State way of doing things. I don’t think an outside person could have been a better coach than me. I don’t doubt that for a second. He could have better credentials than I do, yes, but he couldn’t sell what we’ve done here and what we’ve accomplished like I can. I’ve been here seven of the last nine years. When you walk into our facility, it isn’t the best in our conference, certainly not the best in our area. What we sell is winning. That’s what we sell. We sell the family atmosphere and we sell the continuity and commitment to success that every group that’s been here has.

“On my staff I have three former players that started here in 1999 and all the way through. We can talk about what we’ve done to recruits and to our players. Eric Haut, he played in the Elite Eight. He knows what its like to be there. Jordan Mincy’s team won two conference championships. He knows what it takes. Mike McKee went to the NCAA tournament twice. When you are talking to your team about conditioning or weight lifting or why we do what we do, those guys can tell the players to look at the coaches. I’m not asking the players to do anything these other guys haven’t done before to be successful here at Kent. We have to do things in a unique way because we aren’t a BCS level school so that’s been our formula here.

“When my athletic director was thinking about who he would hire, I would think that some of those things were a lot of reasons why he hired me. Again, there were a lot of good candidates that wanted the job. I don’t think anyone who wanted the job would have been able to do that like I think I could have done that.”

NHR: Let’s talk about athletic directors for a second. I’m glad you brought that up. I’ve talked to a lot of coaches in the offseason and there is an interesting thing happening with coaches and their bosses. Some schools have get-it guys as AD’s, i.e. former coaches themselves. Some schools, on the other hand, have CFO/CEO types as AD’s. How connected are ADs to their coaches? How connected are you to your AD Joel Nielsen?

RS: “We had an athletic director here for about 15 years, maybe longer, named Laing Kennedy. He hired Jim and hired Geno. We had a new AD come in last year – Joel Nielsen – who came in last year. Obviously, I’m incredibly grateful that he hired me but I also have to give him, from my perspective, a ton of credit for maybe resisting the urge of hiring a big name from a big name school. He saw that Kent is different in a lot of ways and we have to do things different in a lot of ways so that is not an easy thing for him to do as a new athletic director with a lot of qualified candidates. He said ‘You know what, I like the way we do things here and like the way that it is done.’ We’ve graduated our kids and have been successful post college. I can see why he did it but I can also see it as a gutsy move on his part. I’m incredibly grateful that he did do that.”

NHR: Five of your top six scorers are back this year. You obviously know these guys because you recruited them and coached them. You know how they tick. What should we be looking for with your team next year? What is their identity?

RS: “We bring back the core of our group and I think the biggest challenge is going to be accepting roles because guys all have success and experience. We bring back the returning Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and knowing that we have to play for each other means we may have to sacrifice a little for the team goals. We have some incoming guys that stand out and guys that were recruited that we expect to help us out right away. Accepting roles will be a big thing. The core for Kent State basketball has always been and it will never change as long as I’m here is that we are going to defend, we’re going to be the hardest playing team on the floor. We’re going to pressure the ball. We’re going to get in ya. We’re going to make it difficult for you offensively. We are going to try and smother guys. We’ve done that for a long time. I’d expect them to continue that. The identity of the team, I think, has always been to be a really, tough hard-nosed defensive team. Our offense will come from our defense in that respect. I don’t think that will change at all.”

NHR: I was reading over your bio and I always love the term “tireless recruiter”. I always laugh at that. I think anyone that recruits well, is always tired because it is a 24 hour a day job. I understand the complimentary aspect of the term though. That all being said, what is the toughest part about recruiting in today’s landscape of rules: no April, no texting, a long July?

RS: “The biggest challenge at this level is really discovering guys that can help you but not having them be recruited by BCS schools. What happens is, having April taken away from you, a lot of times you’d be able to go out in April and find a kid that the Ohio States and Michigans and Penn States of the world maybe didn’t see and you can maybe get him to commit or come to your school. Now, all of those kids are waiting for July so they can be seen by everybody. It is getting harder and harder to ‘steal a guy’.

“I think the hardest thing, at this level, you can not look and rely on rankings any way, shape or form. The people that recruit off rankings…Let’s take Justin Greene for example, the returning Player of the Year in our league. First of all, he’s from out of the area. We didn’t recruit against anyone in our conference for him. Second of all, I don’t know if he any other Division I offers, period. For us, the biggest thing we try to do is we would love to recruit locally but we don’t want to limit ourselves to that. We want go outside the box and find kids. Whether they are four-year transfers or a two-year transfer or a high school kid that had to go to a prep school. We are not going to cutting cut our recruiting efforts. We are going to find the best guys that want to be at Kent State for the reasons that we want them here. We don’t necessarily care where they are from or where they are ranked or any of that stuff. That’s all meaningless for us.

“When people say that I’m a ‘tireless recruiter’ that’s probably the furthest thing from the truth. When I do think what I’ve done consistently and this is where I’m trying to give myself credit – and I probably deserve none – I have sort of found guys before they have gotten ranked or found guys that other people didn’t think were good enough. To be honest with you, it’s hard to beat schools for kids. I’d rather try and find them first. That’s easier and in a lot of ways it is a little more rewarding.”

NHR: Part of me wonders that on the flip side of the April rule helps guys at your level simply because it keeps everyone at the starting point. The high-majors go into July with a long list of players instead of the dozen or so that they used to go in with. Does that allow non BCS schools a chance to do what you say you do well and that’s find kids?

RS: “I’ll say this – for people at the mid-major level, I’d rather have more days in April and less days in July. My point being, okay I found this guy that nobody else found or a guy that other people passed over because they had their entire list done. All it takes is two phone calls from (a high-major) and then the kid is waiting. That’s how it works. Now, maybe, the high-majors don’t have enough time to go see him. On top of that, if you have April and you don’t have as much in July then maybe you can convince a kid he may not get seen in July. There are so many events and less time to see everyone. It’s hard to get a feel. When I first came to this league there was Chris Kaman, Wally Szczerbiak – a ton of NBA guys – in the league that were overlooked and not seen by BCS schools. With the Internet, with everything, it is harder and harder to find those guys. It might be easier for us if we had April weekends and scale back July. Let’s be honest, the last couple of days in July are a waste of everybody’s time.”

NHR: Dana O’Neil called you a comeback kid in her great article on ESPN.com. Do you feel like you are a comeback kid?

RS: “Well, I feel really fortunate that was able to get a head coaching job and very thankful. The one thing I know is that there are a lot of people in this profession that never get an opportunity. I know I’m fortunate and thankful. I also know that that there are 340 Division I head coaching jobs and in 2011 there was one that I could have got the job and I happened to be at the one I could have gotten. So I’m really thankful of that and appreciative of that to the people in our administration and community. I look at it like I don’t want to let anyone down. Our fans are really behind me. Our administration was behind me. Internally, our players were behind me, I think. So, I’m going to work tirelessly, to use that word again, to justify or validate the decision that the university made. I guess you could call it a comeback. Being what I’ve been through, and I put myself through a lot of that and I’m not blaming anyone for the situation I was in, but I felt like I deserve a second chance and I’m glad I got it.”

NHR: Anything good from the MAC meetings that you went to recently?

RS: “This was my first one, obviously, but I think the biggest concern that coaches and athletic directors were trying to figure out a way to position our conference multiple bids to the NCAA tournament. Our league is a really, really good league that is respected by coaches and people who follow basketball. They know it is a really good league and well-coached league with good players. As a whole, we’ve really struggled and haven’t been able to get teams into the tournament. The biggest talking point amongst coaches and the ADs was trying to figure out if there are things that we can do that would put ourselves in a position to get multiple bids. Obviously, having every school to make a stronger commitment to basketball and I think that’s a step that we are exploring.”

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One Response to “Clipboard conversations: Rob Senderoff, new Kent State coach”

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  1. Season highlights: Kent State « - June 2, 2011

    […] Related: Clipboard Conversations with new head coach Rob Senderoff […]

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