Herrion Hits The Ground Running

FAYETTEVILLE -- When Arkansas coach Stan Heath picked up Bill Herrion at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport on Tuesday morning, he was more interested in meeting the players than meeting the press.

Herrion, 47, the former East Carolina head coach hired by Heath on Monday, got off the plane with sneakers and gym shorts.

"I said, we're going to the press conference," Heath said, "and he said, 'Yeah, but you have some workouts, too, right?'"

Herrion hit the ground running by working out returning Razorbacks Eric Ferguson, Dontell Jefferson and Sammy Munsey before being introduced as the newest member of Heath's staff.

Herrion replaces Rob Flaska, who took the head coaching job at Centenary on March 30, and will take a lead role on Heath's staff as the supervisor of player development and a "point person" in charge of the program when Heath is away.

"He will oversee all of the player development," Heath said. "I have some very good coaches on my staff. They work hard as well. But Bill will oversee that whole area and make sure we're more systematic in what we do. I think we just want to tighten some things up in that area."

Herrion was fired after six seasons and a 70-98 record at East Carolina following eight successful seasons and three NCAA appearances at Drexel (167-71, .702).

Heath and Herrion had no connection before Arkansas' third-year coach began his interview process, but Heath said former Razorback and current ESPN reporter Jimmy Dykes was instrumental in the selection of Herrion.

"Jimmy did a lot of homework for me behind the scenes and talked to some people," Heath said. "We heard nothing but rave reviews about (Herrion)."

Faced with the choice of returning to his Northeast roots and "banging my head against the wall" at a lower tier Division I school or becoming a top assistant at a major program like Arkansas, Herrion opted for the latter.

"I'm really fortunate to have landed on my feet less than two months after being removed at East Carolina," Herrion said. "I feel rejuvenated. I feel reborn. I'm ready to go.

"I'm really looking forward to getting started."

Heath did not specifically name Herrion as his top assistant, but he will shuffle some responsibilities after the move.

Assistant Ronny Thompson will likely take over Flaska's role as recruiting coordinator, Heath said, and Darren Sorenson will go back to his role as director of basketball operations after a one-year stint as the wing players coach.

Oronde Taliaferro, who was a finalist for the head coaching job at Eastern Michigan, will continue to coach guards.

Heath said he had been considering upgrading his staff for "a year and a half" contemplating what kind of move he would make if he had an opening.

The main difference from Kent State, where Heath spent his one season as a head coach in 2002 before coming to Arkansas, is the off-court demands on time, he said.

"People who really know me know that for the last year and a half, I really thought hard about if there was a change in my staff adding a guy that had sat in that hot chair before and had been a head coach, had experience and had success," Heath said.

"I'm really excited about Bill. I think he's going to add a lot to our program. The thing that caught me was his intensity, his enthusiasm, the energy he had to go along with a guy who was a good head coach, a good x and o guy that knows defense and rebounding and things like that."

Having a 14-year veteran head coach to keep an eye on things while he's gone will be a load off Heath's mind.

"To have a guy like Bill here to be with the guys, I know things are getting handled," Heath said. "I know there's a point person if workouts need to be done or something administratively. He'll have a bigger role than he thinks. And we have to recruit.

"He'll be involved but he won't be out (recruiting) a whole lot. I feel I have other guys who are very good at that."

Herrion, whose father was a coach and whose brother, Tom, is the coach at College of Charleston, said he would have no problem making the transition from head coach to assistant.

"It's not going to be hard," Herrion said. "This is coaching. This is basketball. This is something that's been in my blood ever since I was a little kid. I've grown up around this game since I've been five years old.

"All I know is being in a gym. Coaching is coaching, no matter what your position or program is."

Herrion's teams at Drexel and East Carolina were strong rebounding and defensive teams.

This season, East Carolina was in the top half of Conference USA in rebounding (39.9, second), field goal defense (41.6, seventh), rebounding margin (plus-3.2, fifth) and blocks (4.14, fourth).

Six-eight junior forward Corey Rouse led the league in rebounding (10.2) and 6-10 senior center Moussa Badiane led the conference in blocked shots (2.78). Herrion's 2004 squad led C-USA in rebounding margin (plus-5.1) and his 2002 team topped the league in blocked shots (4.67).

His Drexel teams led the league in rebounding three times, in rebounding margin four times, in scoring defense four times and in field goal defense four times.

Heath cited Herrion's intensity as the one thing that impressed both he and Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles. Herrion has worked his way up from a Division II basketball player at Merrimack from the Division III ranks all the way to a Division I head coach for 14 years.

He said his biggest break came when Mike Jarvis hired him at Boston University in 1985 and he's made his own success since.

"I've never known any other way to approach it other than with tremendous energy and passion," Herrion said. "I have a tremendous respect for the game of basketball and this profession.

"I had to work my way up."

Herrion said he would like to be a head coach again, but the only way that will happen is if Arkansas is successful.

He said he would only consider taking an assistant job at a school he believed had a good chance of success and making the NCAA Tournament.

Arkansas entertained those thoughts as late as the final week of the regular season until a 57-55 loss to Mississippi State derailed its hopes of finishing .500 in Southeastern Conference play.

The Hogs fell apart after that, losing to sub-.500 Auburn and Tennessee by a total of 32 points, leading Heath to withdraw Arkansas from consideration for even an NIT bid that would have been the first postseason appearance in four years for the program.

"They're heading in the right direction," Herrion said. "They were on the doorstep last year and when you look at the pieces we have coming back, I think it's ready to happen. I'm really looking forward to this opportunity."

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