PITTSBURGH -- Ron Everhart has been fired as coach at Duquesne.
Everhart spent six seasons with the Dukes, went 99-89 and took the embattled program to postseason play three times. But questions began to surface this week, when three members of the team -- including sophomore point guard T.J. McConnell, the team's best overall player -- announced intentions to transfer.
Duquesne athletic director Greg Amodio made the announcement on Friday.
"We are trying to get this thing to the next level," Amodio said. "And we reached the point where we said: 'Do we need to get new leadership to help us get there?'"
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Everhart's best season came in 2008-09, when the Dukes advanced to the Atlantic 10 tournament title game, before falling to Temple. They landed in the NIT that season, losing to Virginia Tech, and would go on to make a postseason tournament the next two years.
"I appreciate all Ron has done for our program," said Amodio, who held an afternoon press conference on campus. "He stepped into a difficult situation six years ago and was able to make Duquesne competitive in the Atlantic 10. Although the program has improved, our goal has always been to compete for the A-10 championship and consistently be in the hunt for high-level postseason play.
"I feel a change in leadership is necessary to help us refocus on that goal."
Duquesne finished 16-15 this season, and lost to UMass in the first round of the conference tournament.
"I am very proud of the significant improvements the program made in the past six years," Everhart said. "I am also very proud of those who played for me -- both for the awards and honors they were able to achieve, and for the way they represented the university."
Everhart has been a Division I coach for 18 seasons, and received serious interest from Penn State last June, before withdrawing his name from consideration. The Dukes finished .500 or better in his final five seasons on the bench.
But McConnell's decision stunned the school. A Pittsburgh native who committed to Duquesne early in his high school career, McConnell averaged 34.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 9.1 assists while at Chartiers Valley High and was viewed as the key piece to continuing Duquesne's ascension in the conference.
As a freshman with the Dukes, he was as advertised. He started 30 games, averaging 10.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.8 steals. He was named 2011 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year as a result.
But McConnell, like most of the team, struggled at key times this season. He finished third on the team in scoring, at 11.4 points per game, and without a strong rebounding presence down low, the Dukes finished 7-9 in league play. Senior guard B.J. Monteiro led the team in rebounding at just 5.4 per game. That ranked 27th individually in the Atlantic 10.
Duquesne lost five of its final six games this season.
"We felt we were consistently not at our best," Amodio said, "late in the season."
In addition to McConnell, sophomore guard Mike Talley and freshman forward Danny Herrera also were granted releases from the team.
So, clearly, there is work ahead for a program that last made the NCAA tournament in 1977.
"We will begin an aggressive and comprehensive search to secure the best possible person to be Duquesne's next coach," Amodio said. "Our full attention will be focused on the hire and there will be no further comment until the search is completed."
Everhart's assistant coaches will not be retained.