ESPN Announcer: "Keith Dambrot, who once coached LeBron James in high school..."
I don't know what is normally said after this statement. When I hear this, I immediately tune out. This statement irks me almost as much as when someone says "MAC Conference."
I'm probably not like most, but I don't first associate Dambrot with his career at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, coaching likely the best basketball player to ever play the game not named Jordan. Yeah, it's pretty cool that he has a personal tie-in with LeBron. It's because of that that Akron's jerseys are Nike and shoes are from LeBron. LeBron usually comes to Akron during the summer to work out with the team and play some pick-up ball. How big of a recruiting advantage is that?
But one man does not define who Keith Dambrot is. He's not just "the guy that coached LeBron." In fact, he's much more.
Dambrot attended The University of Akron in the late seventies/early eighties and was a third baseman on the baseball team. In fact, he actually held the school record for number of hit-by-pitches until recently. When you see him coach on the sideline, he almost always is in the typical baseball ready position. I can always picture him with a baseball uniform on and a glove on his hand when he goes into his stance like in the photo above. His late mother Faye was also a sociology professor at Akron. In short, Dambrot encompasses all that is The University of Akron.
Dambrot represents stability, continuity, and most of all, success. You really know what you're going to get with Dambrot, and that is almost always at least 20 wins and a spot in the MAC Tournament Championship game. Sometimes it's not a good thing to know what you're going to get. In Dambrot's case, it's always something positive.
Of the twelve schools in the MAC, only three have had just one coach in the Dambrot era (2004-present). Akron, Buffalo (Reggie Witherspoon) and Western Michigan (Steve Hawkins). Seven of the twelve have had three coaches in this time period. That just shows how much confidence the University has in its basketball coach and how successful he has been.
Now, you can say that he's still at Akron because no bigger school has offered their position to him. This summer Duquesne of the Atlantic 10 offered Dambrot $700,000 to coach their team. Many were thinking that this would be the time that he would take the higher paying job, and on top of that his father played at Duquesne in the fifties. But, to Akron's benefit, Dambrot said no thanks and signed a 10-year contract keeping him in the Rubber City until at least 2022. Of course, an offer from Duquesne is a lot different than an offer from a Big Ten school. But, Dambrot's decision to stay in Akron cemented his legacy at the school.
When you look at the career records for MAC coaches in the Dambrot era, it's easy to see how great he has been. Take a look at the top ten coaches (based on winning percentage) in the MAC from the 2004-05 season on:
|Coach||School||Year Started||Record (since 2004)||Win %|
|Jim Christian||Kent State||2002||94-40||0.701|
|Rob Senderoff||Kent State||2011||29-17||0.630|
|Keno Davis||Central Michigan||2012||7-6||0.539|
|Steve Hawkins||Western Michigan||2003||141-132||0.516|
See what I mean. Only Jim Christian has a better overall record since 2004 than Dambrot. And he left town to go to TCU. There's one thing that a couple guys on this list have that Dambrot doesn't, though: a win in the NCAA tournament. We all know what Groce did last year, and Christian taking Kent State to the Elite Eight will never be forgotten. Dambrot needs a NCAA win of his own. Yes, they went pretty far in the NIT a couple years ago. But for a program like Akron's to take the next step, it needs to win a game in the tournament.
Keith Dambrot has worked wonders with this Akron program. What he is doing on the court has been nothing short of amazing, and I think some Akron fans have gotten a little spoiled with all of the success. Success is never a bad thing, but when the "worst" season that Dambrot has had is 19-10 his first year, you come to expect more. That's why I think so much is expected from Dambrot and yet fans still get riled up over a bad loss or a loss in the MAC Tournament Championship game.
Whatever happens in the next ten years of Zips basketball, I will always consider Keith Dambrot to be a great coach and an Akron lifer. I fully expect him to be in Akron throughout the remainder of his contract, as I can't see any reason why he would leave other than retirement. Akron fans need to be appreciative of all that he has done for the University, and think about the ten or eleven other schools in the conference that would love to have him be their coach.
300 wins is a great feat for any coach, and I think Coach Dambrot, with a little luck, can win a couple hundred more. So, next time you see him on TV or hear something about him, don't think about how he was LeBron's high school coach. Think about how he is one of the most successful coaches in MAC history.