A year ago, Tom Herrion was trying to help Georgia Tech win the NIT. Thursday night, the former Yellow Jackets assistant coach, now an assistant on the TCU staff, will be doing his best to prevent it.
Tech and TCU will meet Thursday night for the NIT championship in Madison Square Garden. No one in the arena (or in the world, for that matter) will be more familiar with both teams than Herrion, who served for two years as an assistant coach to Brian Gregory before the staff was cleaned out upon Gregory’s dismissal.
“It’s kind of odd, to be honest with you,” Herrion told the AJC Tuesday night after the Horned Frogs beat UCF to reach the final.
All four teams in the NIT semifinals have stayed at the same Times Square hotel, giving Herrion the opportunity to visit with players he had coached for the past two years. Herrion said that it’s hard to follow other teams because of the tunnel vision that develops with one’s own team, but said he has kept tabs, particularly once both became semifinalists.
With the exception of graduate transfers Kellen McCormick and Jodan Price and freshman Justin Moore, every scholarship player on the Tech roster was either coached or recruited (and in most cases both) by Gregory and his staff, including Herrion.
“Obviously happy for their success and they’re wonderful kids, and obviously Josh (Pastner) and his staff have done a great job,” he said.
At TCU, Herrion’s title is special assistant. He is not one of the team’s three assistant coaches, meaning he can’t directly coach players in practices or games. With experience as a head coach (at College of Charleston and Marshall, both four-year stints), he serves as a resource for Dixon and the three assistants.
Herrion was an assistant to Dixon at Pitt for three seasons (2007-2010), during which time the Panthers put together an 83-24 record and went to the NCAA Tournament all three years. Dixon called Herrion one of his best friends in the business.
“He’s able to watch a lot of film,” Dixon said. “With his position, you can do a lot of different things. He just brings knowledge and he’s great for the assistants, too. I mean, just great in letting them know what we’re trying to do (and) I’m trying to do as a coach. Not just in basketball, but in building the program.”
At TCU, the Horned Frogs were a surprise team in the Big 12, finishing in a tie for seventh after being projected to finish in last. They’ve won 20 games for the first time since the 2004-05 season. If they beat Tech Thursday, they’ll tie for the second-most wins in school history (24).
“We’ve obviously had a great year,” Herrion said. “We hit a stretch late in conference, we lost, like, six in a row (actually seven), but since we went to Kansas City for the Big 12 Tournament, we’ve kind of been on a nice run. A lot of nice things coming together. It’s been a special group to coach.”
Herrion said he hasn’t been surprised by the improvement shown by Tech players such as center Ben Lammers or forward Quinton Stephens.
“He played behind really good older guys,” Herrion said of Lammers. “We saw it every day. He didn’t have to play extended minutes for us and clearly he’s doing a great job for them, playing a lot of minutes and had a spectacular year.”
Herrion said he, wife Leslie and son Robert are enjoying Fort Worth, Texas. He had a coaching lifer’s perspective on Gregory’s firing.
“I’ve been in the business a long time, so I know what that entails – you move on,” he said. “One door closes, another one opens. You’ve got strong relationships and fond memories of the people and, most importantly, the players that we were fortunate enough to coach those two years. Very happy for their success. Like I said, Josh Pastner has done a terrific job, and his staff. Like I said, I think it’s been very neat to see the players’ and their teams’ success because we had a lot of investment in that.”