It was just time for Ron Hunter to move on

Sam Crenshaw
April 04, 2019 - 10:11 pm
Head coach Ron Hunter of the Georgia State Panthers

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

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OK... Like most of you, I have had a few days to mull over the departure of Ron Hunter from Georgia State. His ability to lift the Panthers basketball program into one of the top mid major squads in the nation has been well documented, along with an impressive record, conference championships and trips to the NCAA Tournament.

It was the way that he did it. With a flavor, flair and charisma that compelled his players to play with that something extra. He coached with his emotions on his sleeve and when he fell off the stool after his son R.J nailed the game winning 3 pointer to beat Baylor in the 2015 NCAA Tournament , the nation sat up and took note. But what might have made an even better impression was what happened afterward at the postgame press conference, when Hunter openly wept when talking about what it meant to coach his son.

Who wouldn't want their child to play college basketball for a coach like that? Apparently that vision registered with parents around the state and Georgia State not only became the "Best College Basketball Team in the State," but it also became the Division I program that won with players from Georgia. Something the other D1 programs in the state have constantly failed to do.

Ron Hunter wasn't just the face of Georgia State Basketball, or Georgia State Athletics, but was the face of Georgia State University. Most people across the country could not tell you where GSU is located, but they all remember the coach who fell off the stool. Now there is speculation of what led to the departure. There was the offer that was extended, there was the offer that wasn't extended and then there was the wording of the fine print. Somewhere in there might be the real reason that Ron Hunter is now the coach at Tulane, but I have a reason that is much more simplistic.

Maybe it was just time. For the past four seasons it has been my honor to serve as play by play voice for GSU basketball home games on ESPN+. It has allowed me to observe the Panthers from a perspective that few others have. It also allowed me to get an idea of what an emotion filled and reflective year it had been for Ron Hunter.

Before the season started, Hunter returned to his alma mater, Miami of Ohio, to be inducted into the school's Cradle of Coaches. The school is known for famous coaches who have spent part of their coaching careers at the Oxford, Ohio campus. Hunter's name was placed alongside Woody Hayes, Paul Brown, Bo Schembechler, Sean McVay and many others. Then, in early February, after guiding the Panthers to victory over arch-rival Georgia Southern, Hunter was quickly whisked away to catch a flight to Indianapolis. IUPUI was the school that Hunter had put on the college basketball map before coming south to work on Decatur Street. Hunter was inducted into the school's Hall Of Fame that night and flew back to Atlanta the next day in time to watch the Super Bowl.

Now, I'm not sure about what does it for you, but for me, it's nothing like revisiting places from your past and, have people remind you of your accomplishments while you are forced to sit quietly and listen. Through 2 ceremonies and plane flights, Hunter had ample time to reflect. At age 54, with a talented group of seniors and a junior who is bound to test the NBA waters exiting the GSU program, maybe it was just time.

It brings to mind a song recorded by David Ruffin, after he departed The Temptations. "Walk Away From Love", had lines that went "I'm leaving, this time I'm playing it smart. I'm gonna walk away from love before love breaks my heart".

Ron Hunter came to Georgia State after 17 seasons at IUPUI and in 8 seasons made folks across the country notice a basketball program that had been largely ignored. He did what they had come to expect Atlanta to do, make people look and raise the levels of expectation. Going forward, be it athletics, the band, or the law school, when people hear Georgia State, they will expect something. They will expect it to be great.

Ron Hunter drove the bus for GSU, and he drove it very well. He has raised the bar to heights that Georgia State has never known. Because of the Panthers success the applicants for the head coach’s job will be many. Rumors of potential candidates are swirling as the interviewing process begins. With the program's momentum and new facilities on the drawing board, Georgia State has a major decision to make. Athletic Director Charlie Cobb can't just hired a good coach, or hire a great coach, but Cobb must hire the right coach.

There is a rather sobering note that I have to share with you. Ron Hunter's left IUPUI 8 years ago, and the Jaguars have yet to have a winning season. Like he did in Indianapolis a month ago, Hunter will return to GSU one day to be inducted into yet another Hall of Fame and perhaps have his name placed on a section of the new facility. I hope that I will be there to see it.

I can understand the frustration of Georgia State fans who wanted Hunter to stay. Like them, I had hoped that the program's winningest coach would remain, but I also understand. Maybe it was just time, and "he'd rather leave them holding on then pushing him away."

Oh well, there goes that David Ruffin song again .

 

 

 

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