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So. Illinois Hoops Coach Resigns

April 11, 1998

CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP) _ Rich Herrin’s Southern Illinois basketball teams never made it to the Final Four. For that matter, they never made it past the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

But from 1989 to 1995 _ the heart of Herrin’s 13-year tenure at SIU _ his teams won three consecutive Missouri Valley Conference championships, made seven consecutive postseason appearances and averaged 20 wins a season.

That string of modest successes caught up to Herrin on Friday, when he was forced to resign following three consecutive losing seasons.

``Once you enjoy that success, you’d like to keep it going, knowing full well that you can’t stay on the peak the whole time but hoping the valleys don’t dip as low as we’ve been,″ athletic director Jim Hart said at a news conference announcing the resignation.

Hart said he asked Herrin to quit because of the team’s poor performance and attendance that in recent years has hovered around 3,000 in the 10,000-seat SIU arena.

``I know coaches don’t play the game, but you’ve got to start somewhere,″ Hart said.

Herrin will stay at SIU until Oct. 15, working with athletic fund-raising and other tasks, Hart said. He will have no role in basketball operations and there is no chance he will remain with the school after October.

Herrin was late for the news conference, leaving an uncomfortable-looking Hart sitting in the glare of television cameras with nothing to say.

When Herrin did arrive, he launched directly into an emotional series of thank yous and reminiscences without addressing his status.

``I want to thank everybody for their total support, their loyalty,″ he said. ``It’s been a great run, and I’ve enjoyed it.″

He left without taking questions, putting Hart back before the cameras and at a loss for words.

``I don’t think he said exactly what we thought he was going to say,″ Hart said.

A few minutes later, Herrin popped back into the room to say he had resigned.

``It’s probably not an easy situation for him,″ Hart said.

His former players confirmed that.

``I don’t think he wanted to move on,″ Chris Thunell said.

Teammate Derek Tilmon, a highly touted junior college transfer, said the players had heard rumors about Herrin’s departure, but didn’t learn for sure until Friday.

``It’s shocking,″ Tilmon said. ``I’m not glad to see him go. I don’t think it was time.″

But Hart said the basketball program needed a new direction and a coach who would discipline players.

Despite voicing concerns that he was airing the school’s ``dirty laundry,″ he later denied that he meant there was a widespread problem with discipline on Herrin’s teams. Thunell said such reports were rumors.

Herrin had a 225-174 record at SIU. After starting with three losing seasons, his teams appeared in the NIT from 1989 to 1992 and the NCAA tournament from 1993 to 1995. When that streak ended, only 16 other schools could boast similar runs.

The Salukis were 14-16 last season, finishing eighth in the conference and losing to Illinois State in the second round of the conference tournament.

It was an improvement over the previous two seasons, in which SIU went a combined 24-35 and either failed to make or went out in the first round of the conference tournament.

But Herrin’s job was in jeopardy even before play began. Hart briefly restructured Herrin’s $100,000 annual contract from an automatic rollover deal to one based on performance. Even after reversing that decision, Hart said Herrin’s future would be evaluated based on the team’s performance. A 14-16 season wasn’t good enough, Hart said.

``People want to see a winner,″ he said.

Before going to SIU in 1985, Herrin spent 25 years as a high school coach in Benton, amassing a 616-209 record.

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