I’ve been fortunate enough to be asked to serve as the master of ceremonies at the Atlantic 10 Media Day each of the past two years. It’s a job that requires me to introduce the commissioner, all of the coaches, and say a few words about what should be the league’s best teams. So I was prepared, last October, to talk about VCU and Davidson because they were projected to be the league’s two best teams. But one thing I vividly remember from that morning is A-10 assistant commissioner Drew Dickerson politely suggesting that I might also consider talking about Dayton whenever I talked about VCU and Davidson.
I’m glad I took his advice.
Because Dayton soon became the A-10’s biggest story.
The Flyers burst onto the national scene in November when they beat Georgia by 19 points, beat Virginia Tech by 27 points and lost to Kansas in OT in the Maui Invitational. They went from unranked in the preseason AP poll to 19th on Dec. 2. They lost for a second time four days before Christmas (to Colorado, also in overtime). And then they never lost again — which is among the reasons Anthony Grant was named the Naismith Men’s Coach of the Year on Thursday.
He’s a worthy recipient.
His Flyers were picked third in the preseason A-10 poll but finished first with an 18-0 league record. They were 55th in the preseason KenPom ratings but finished No. 4. They received one vote in the preseason AP poll, which amounted to No. 50, but finished No. 3. Had a bracket been released on Selection Sunday, Dayton would’ve been a No. 1 seed with a 29-2 record. So Grant deserves the accolades he’s been collecting. And it’s a tremendous story for a lots of reasons — among them because Grant is just the third person in the 34-year history of this award to win it after previously being fired from a Division I head-coaching job.
“Earlier today, I informed Anthony Grant that he will not be retained as head men’s basketball coach at the University of Alabama,” former Alabama athletic director Bill Battle announced, on March 15, 2015, after Grant missed the NCAA Tournament as the Crimson Tide’s coach for the fifth time in six seasons.
There’s no guarantee you bounce-back from that.
It’s a humbling experience for anybody.
In a span of a few years, Grant went from one of the rising stars in the college-coaching profession, to a fired coach, to an NBA assistant on Billy Donovan’s staff in Oklahoma City. He spent two years there. At the time, it was unclear if he’d ever be a college head coach again. But when Archie Miller left Dayton for Indiana in March 2017, Grant was asked to return to his alma mater. So he did.
And now he’s the Naismith Men’s Coach of the Year.
Needless to say, it’s all bitter-sweet considering everything ended early because of the coronavirus pandemic ravaging our country. Three days before Selection Sunday, the rest of the season was canceled. So Grant will never get to chase the 2020 national championship that he had a real chance of winning.
And that’s too bad.
Regardless, Grant’s story still represents something bigger and important. It’s a reminder that a rough stretch doesn’t have to be a defining stretch, which is easy to forget sometimes, especially in tough times. But five years after being fired, Anthony Grant is the Naismith Men’s Coach of the Year. It’s a story that shows there is indeed life after termination — and that good things can, and often do, follow bad ones.