Coach Keith Dambrot is leaving the University of Akron men’s basketball program for Duquesne University.
His deal with Duquesne is for seven years at about $1 million per season, according to an ESPN report.
Dambrot’s status has been the subject of much speculation since before the season ended. He had been sought after by the University of South Florida.
Duquesne attempted to hire him away in 2012, but UA was able to keep him with a raise and a contract extension that eventually paid him about $600,000 this past season.
But things change.
Dambrot admitted there was some frustration on the part of himself, the Zips and his staff the past two seasons. They won the Mid-American Conference regular-season title, but didn’t receive at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament with 26 and 27 wins, respectively, after losing in the championship game both years because the MAC remains a one-bid league.
“That just kind of hit us in the eyes,” he said of missing the tournament. “Look, I’m going to be 59. Just the opportunity for a very challenging job, the timing of it all, it just hit me at the right time. They were willing to put a lot of money in the program to try to win once and for all.”
Contrary to the MAC, the Dukes’ conference home, the Atlantic-10, received three bids to the NCAA Tournament this season. The Dukes won just 10 games this past season and, according to reports, lost several players after firing former head coach Jim Ferry.
The Cavaliers’ LeBron James, who played for Dambrot at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, was told of Dambrot’s decision after the Cavs lost 103-74 Monday night in San Antonio to the Spurs.
“It happened today?” James asked. “I come in the locker room I turn my phones off. I’ve probably got a message from him for sure.”
James said he backed Dambrot’s decision.
“I support everything that coach D do,” he said. “Coach D has paid his dues more than any other coach in Akron history. The fact that he’s willing and ready to make a change I think is great. You said he got a seven-year deal? [James whistled] He must have got a pay raise, too. I’m definitely going to give him a call tonight. He’s got to take me to lunch when I get back home, that’s for sure.”
Dambrot’s is the quintessential story of local boy makes good. His mother taught at UA. He attended school and played baseball for the Zips.
“We are very grateful for the enormous contributions that Coach Keith Dambrot has made to our excellent men’s basketball program,” UA Director of Athletics Larry Williams said in a prepared statement. “His hard work with our student-athletes, combined with their dedication to going the extra mile, have brought great success to The University of Akron — including the winningest season in UA history — and we value his role in making that happen.”
But there are personal ties to Duquesne as well. Dambrot’s father played for the Pittsburgh-area university and his son, Robby, a former member of the Zips soccer team, transferred to Pitt to play, according to TopDrawerSoccer.com.
“It was a great 16 years — 13 as the head coach,” Dambrot said. “I never really envisioned myself leaving.”
In 13 years with the Zips, Dambrot, 58, compiled a 305-139 record, won MAC Coach of the Year honors three times and three MAC Tournament titles.
“Most people don’t think you can win at Duquesne,” he said. “They’ve only won six years out of the last 36, so I guess I’m a gutsy guy.”
Williams said UA will immediately launch a national search for a new basketball coach.
He also said community support will be needed to achieve the goal of upgrading Rhodes Arena.
Beacon Journal sports writer Marla Ridenour contributed to this report.