Painful MAC Memories: The Time Jason Grunkemeyer Got Larry Hunter Fired

Larry Hunter used to coach Ohio, then he was dumped for losing to the RedHawks in the 2001 MAC tournament semifinals. - Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Our "Painful MAC Memories" series continues with a look at how a former Bobcat-turned-RedHawk ultimately helped get an Ohio coaching legend fired.

You kids might find this hard to believe, but when I went to Ohio University, the Mid-American Conference only had one bowl bid, while an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament was still a possibility.

It happened in 1999, I swear. I looked it up on Wikipedia, which didn't exist when I was in college.

My memories of a hazy four years at Ohio University grow fainter every year. I am 35 and 2001 is so very long ago.

From 1999 through 2001, I covered football and basketball for The Post and the Athens Messenger during my junior and senior years. I'd surmise I saw more football and basketball games than almost any student during that span.

The Bobcats didn't make a bowl game or the finals of the MAC tournament during those two years.

"Back in my day," Ohio was still a small-time athletic department, and I was their small-time beat writer. Both of us had dreams of grandeur. Athletics director Tom Boeh used to refer to the not-yet renovated Peden Stadium as "the Wrigley Field of college football." Maybe it was because the students were all drunk.

I could wax on about my memories covering the MAC with my friends, nearly falling asleep driving to Bowling Green with Sporting News editor Bill Bender or cracking up with Tennessee Titans PR man Jared Puffer in Oxford. But I won't bore you.

I'm writing about painful losses here. There are two that come to mind.

Let me set the scene.

My senior year represented a sea change in Ohio athletics. Football coach Jim Grobe went 7-4 in 2000, beating Minnesota and Marshall, before leaving for a solid career at Wake Forest.

Basketball coach Larry Hunter, who just might be the last Ohio alum to coach an Ohio team until athletic director Jim Schaus leaves, lost in the MAC tournament semifinals to Miami in 2001, and got the boot. He ended up in North Carolina as well, as an assistant to Herb Sendek at North Carolina State.

Both teams lost heartbreakers to Miami.

Grobe's team fell on the road, 27-24, on what I remember is a late touchdown pass on botched coverage. That loss, with two games left in the season, essentially knocked them out of the MAC championship game.

Two weeks later, the Bobcats beat Marshall at home, and beat it soundly, for the first time since the Herd rejoined the MAC. Not long after, Grobe was gone. The very green defensive coordinator Brian Knorr took over and dark times followed.

That was a painful loss, but the winner was the basketball team losing to the Redhawks, 62-61, in Cleveland for a berth in the conference tourney finals.

Twitter wasn't around, but this was pure #MACtion. Miami's red-haired senior guard Jason Grunkemeyer hit a 3 over the outstretched hands of Dustin Ford (and another Bobcat I can't remember) with 6.8 seconds left.

Ohio had a chance to win it, but couldn't convert. According to Tom Withers' AP recap, Anthony Jones dribbled off his foot with 1.2 seconds left to ice the Miami win. It was Ohio's third-straight loss in the conference semifinals.

I remember going to the news conference and seeing Boeh storming by me. I heard that president Robert Glidden was very upset in the stands. I was naïve, and a pretty bad beat writer, but I didn't think they'd fire Hunter. I guess their dreams of grandeur were bigger than my expectations for the program.

I remember being at my roommate's computer in our Court Street apartment when I found out Hunter was fired. I left for spring break the next day and saw center/world-class reveler Patrick Flomo one morning at breakfast in Panama City, Florida. I guess he had alternate plans if the Bobcats lost too.

So yeah, I think ol' Larry would've agreed with me that was the worst Ohio loss of my tenure. Hunter is now coaching Western Carolina. A couple years ago, I found myself in the United Center media room cheering quite loudly for Hunter's new team in its conference tournament finals. They lost, of course. Poor guy.

Ohio replaced him with Boston College assistant/The Guy Who Recruited Troy Bell, Tim O'Shea. He broke the drought, taking one team to the NCAA tournament, losing a close game to Florida in an otherwise undistinguished tenure. John Groce replaced him and you know the rest.

Bring me the head of Jason Grunkemeyer.

What really hurt about that game was that Grunkemeyer was an ex-Bobcat. He played for Hunter as a freshman, but transferred to Miami–he was a Cincinnati native and didn't get along with some of his Ohio teammates–and had a very good career. He was the kind of shooter that the Bobcats lacked and while Hunter locked up a couple gems in his absence (Brandon Hunter, Steve Esterkamp), they needed a guy like Grunkemeyer.

My lede for the Messenger was: "Bring me the head of Jason Grunkemeyer."

I then explained that was what Hunter must've been thinking after the shot went down. I was supposed to be impartial, but secretly, that's what I was thinking too. I wanted to cover the NCAA tournament. I wanted the Bobcats to matter.

***

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPN Chicago. He graduated from Ohio University in 2001, where he witnessed the very beginning of the Brian Knorr and Tim O'Shea dynasties.

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