, Port Arthur, Texas

March 18, 2014

Lamar makes it official with Tic Price

Bob West
The Port Arthur News

BEAUMONT —      Naming Tic Price to succeed Pat Knight as head basketball coach Tuesday afternoon was arguably the most slam dunk hire in Lamar University sports history, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t come without a hint of mystery?

    Could former Cardinal head coach Steve Roccaforte, who brought Price to LU as an assistant when he was without a job in 2008, be headed back to Beaumont to work for Tic. Roc, who owns a well-deserved reputation as a relentless recruiter, was swept out the door with Stan Heath’s firing at South Florida last Saturday.

    “I talk to Roc often,” said Price, in answer to a question about a possible reunion. “He’s a dear friend. We haven’t had that conversation. I’ll put it this way. Right now, he’s a guy I would strongly, strongly consider if he would be interested. I will probably call him soon.”

    It might seem a long shot that Roccaforte, who burned some bridges when he was fired three years ago, would have an interest in returning to the Montagne Center. On the other hand, that might be influenced by what other offers are out there for him.”

    Price, meanwhile, was basking in the afterglow of an opportunity to be a head coach that many thought would never come his way again. Not many coaches rebound after being fired twice, but he’s made a lot of believers at Lamar, and in and around Beaumont. Among his supporters turning out for Tuesday’s press conference was prominent attorney Walter Umphrey.

    “Tic’s a good man and a great hire for Lamar,” said Umphrey. “I have no doubt he will do well.”

    Details on money or length of Price’s contract have not been finalized, according to Lamar athletic director Jason Henderson. Lamar, of course, is under the financial strain of having to pay Knight over $400,000 for the final two years of his contract.

    One thing Henderson did have an answer for was that he and LU president Dr. Ken Evans were in agreement over Price clearly being Lamar’s best choice.

    “I looked at every option that we had,” said Henderson. “Dr. Evans and I discussed every possibility open to us. It came back to we think Tick is the right person for this community, this job, this university and this team.”

    Henderson might have added that it was past time for Lamar to hire a black coach to head up one of its major programs. Tony Branch, who was hired for the wrong reason in 1988, is the only other black head basketball or football coach in 60 plus years of intercollegiate athletics at Lamar. Inexperienced and unprepared, Branch was fired after two years and a 19-37 record.

    “Yes, I think hiring a black coach was important,” said Norman Bellard, a starting guard on Billy Tubbs’ first NCAA tournament team, and a long time Lamar employee. “It was even more important to hire a very qualified black coach. Tic is certainly that.

    “I’ve been saying for weeks it was going to take someone with a little gray hair around the ears, someone with intestinal fortitude, someone that’s been through some adversity, to get this thing turned around. I sincerely believe he’s the guy who can resurrect the program.”

    It won’t be easy, coming on the heels of a Knightmare that produced a 7-53 record the last two seasons. Knight left behind too few available scholarships and  a roster loaded with too many players who don’t have the skills to play winning basketball at the Division 1 level.

    Price, in fact, has the grand total of one scholarship to offer, as of today. The only way that number will change is for players to leave the program. Among those who have already figured out that they don’t fit the style Price wants to play, there are likely to be defections.

    The danger in that for Lamar long range is if those players don’t go to another school and graduate, it counts against what is called the APR (Academic Progress Rate). Schools that fall below a certain percentage of players graduating lose scholarships and are ineligible to play in the post-season. Connecticut has been the most prominent victim to date.

    Well before he knew Lamar was going to name him head coach, Price was out beating the bushes for players. Since the season ended on March 8, he’s been to the Louisiana state tournament and recruited in Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas. He feels he’s close on a player who can step in and contribute immediately.

    “I couldn’t afford to sit back and wait,” said Price. “I wanted to make sure people knew Lamar was out there recruiting, for this year and for the future. I wanted kids to know we are serious about them. One of the most asked questions was, ‘Are you going to be the coach?’ Now I can call them back and say ‘we just had a press conference and I’m the head coach at Lamar University.’”

    Though Price has been in three states outside Texas the past two weeks, he said in his press conference that he expects the bulk of his recruits to come from within 250 miles of Beaumont. But he made it clear that he’s not opposed to going long distances for the right player.

    One of the things he expects to help with his recruiting is a number of former players who have become high school coaches.

    “I’ve had so many calls from guys telling me about players,” he said. “My guys know the style I want to play and the kind of player I need for my system. I think those former players are going to be very helpful down the line. We are going to get the kind of talent in here that you can win with in the Southland Conference.”

    Price’s preferred style, by the way, will be to run, press and shoot three pointers. It’s light years from the Knight philosophy.

    For those into bottom lines, Price’s resume shows 10 of his 32 seasons in coaching as a head coach. His record in head-coaching stints at New Orleans (63-27), Memphis (30-27) and McNeese State (74-68) was 167-122. He won two Sun  Belt Conference titles at UNO, earning a NCAA bid with one of them and going to the NIT after the other.