Ellerbe, Loyola parting company Boylan: Differences in philosophy lead to coach's departure

April 02, 1997|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Brian Ellerbe will not return as Loyola College basketball coach next season because of what the school said yesterday were "mutual philosophical differences."

Ellerbe, who was 34-47 in three seasons, declined to be interviewed yesterday. Loyola's president, the Rev. Harold Ridley, couldn't be reached for comment.

Using mostly a seven-man rotation, the Greyhounds won 11 of their last 14 regular-season games this past season. They earned the third seed in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament, but lost to Niagara in the opening round.

Athletic director Joe Boylan met with Ellerbe a week after the season ended. "We just had some differences of opinion about where we wanted the program to go in other areas," Boylan said. "It's nothing personal. It truly was philosophical differences.

"The decision wasn't based on wins and losses. It was based on a three-year review of the program. It seemed this was best for everybody. And there were absolutely no discussions about this by anybody here until a week after the season. It's not like we made this decision in January and waited until April 1 to announce it."

Boylan said parting with Ellerbe, who recently was among the finalists for the George Mason job, was harder because of their long relationship. Boylan recruited Ellerbe to play at Rutgers while working as an assistant coach there in 1981.

"It was an extremely difficult decision," he said. "Anybody who enjoys this sort of stuff is sick, as far as I'm concerned. It wasn't my decision alone, but it was something we agonized over. I think it's for Loyola's best interests, and Brian's best interests, that we go our separate ways. I wish him well."

Ellerbe, 33, who was an assistant at Virginia for four seasons, entered a difficult situation at Loyola. He inherited the scant remains of a team that the previous year had earned the school's only NCAA tournament bid under coach Skip Prosser, who then left for Xavier.

Though he proved to be a strong recruiter, Ellerbe's rebuilding job was slowed by a series of injuries and player transfers.

In January of his first season, sophomore guard Darius Johnson left the team after his dedication had been questioned by the coach. Johnson claimed at the time he wasn't given a choice about staying, though Ellerbe said the decision was by mutual agreement.

During the 1995-96 season, sophomore point guard John McDonald left Loyola over the Christmas break and transferred to Iona, saying he wasn't "happy with the overall situation, socially and basketball-wise." And one year later, sophomore center Duane Johnson transferred to Hofstra, leaving 6-foot-10 Roderick Platt as the Greyhounds' only true post player.

At that time, the program still was trying to recover from the loss of sophomore Nsilo Abraham, last year's MAAC Rookie of the Year who was dismissed from school in late August for academic reasons. Abraham, who was eligible by NCAA standards but not Loyola's, enrolled at George Mason.

As for injuries, Lamar Butler, a 6-11 sophomore center, was lost for this past season with a knee injury incurred during "Midnight Madness," setting off a chain of mishaps that contributed to the Greyhounds' 2-10 start.

Forward Anthony Smith tore ligaments in his elbow during the first practice. A week later, freshman guard Larry Harris chipped a bone in his ankle. Two days after that, senior guard Milt Williams broke his thumb. And junior guard Mike Powell had shown up after the summer break with shin splints, sprained his ankle in the season opener and later contracted pneumonia.

Also, sophomore forward Blanchard Hurd (Milford Mill), one of Ellerbe's top recruits, has played in only 12 games in two years because of knee problems.

Through it all, Ellerbe's teams showed gradual improvement. The Greyhounds were 9-18 his first year, then 12-15 and 13-14. Their record in the MAAC went from 5-9 to 8-6 to 10-4.

Despite the modest gains, Ellerbe never seemed to fit in at Loyola, where he wasn't popular with alumni.

Charlie Meagher, vice president of the Loyola College Athletic Club and former president of the alumni board of directors, said Ellerbe "never made a move to talk to us."

"Brian just didn't talk to people on campus and in the alumni. He was very distant. I don't know why. He's an intelligent person. He has a lovely family. It's just a failure to communicate. And I think that played a big part.

"I think he's a good coach, a good recruiter. He won some ballgames, and he had some very bad luck with injuries. But I think there's another dimension he needs to have to go on."

Said Boylan: "Churchill said it best: 'If you open a quarrel between the past and the present, you lose the future.' It doesn't make any sense to go back. I'm looking to the future."

That includes finding a replacement. The search began yesterday, and Boylan said he hopes to move quickly.

Ellerbe is the second local Division I coach to lose his job in the past two weeks. Towson State's Terry Truax was told March 20 that his contract wouldn't be renewed after 14 seasons.

Ellerbe at Loyola

Year .. .. Overall .. .. Conf.

1994-95 .. .. 9-18 .. .. . 5-9

1995-96 .. . 12-15 .. .. . 8-6

1996-97 .. . 13-14 .. ... 10-4

Totals ... . 34-47 .. .. 23-19

Pub Date: 4/02/97

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