Desmond Oliver became the 18th men’s basketball head coach in East Tennessee State history on Monday.
Oliver is replacing Jason Shay who resigned after one season as head coach. He received a five-year contract, the terms of which have not yet been released.
“Coach Oliver is a special, special person,” ETSU Athletic Director Scott Carter said during an introductory news conference at the Gordon Ball Court. “The energy he has and comprehensive knowledge is kind of what I kept hearing from so many people. He has built relationships all over the country and everybody I talk to says what you see is what you get.
“He’s an authentic leader and he’s going to be a wonderful person to lead our program.”
The 51-year-old Oliver, who is from Buffalo, New York, and never originally envisioned himself being a coach, spent the last six seasons as an assistant to Rick Barnes at Tennessee. He’s also been an assistant at Charlotte (2010-15), Canisius (2009-10), Georgia (2004-09), Rhode Island (2001-04), St. Bonaventure (2000-01), Cornell (1998-2000), Texas A&M (1997-98) and Niagara (1994-97).
“ETSU basketball has a history of success that was attractive to me,” Oliver said. “This program has experienced success on the court and has also successfully cultivated strong relationships throughout the community. I’m really excited about this opportunity to build on that and lead us as we take our next steps forward.”
Among Oliver’s initial tasks will be soothing some feelings over the divide in the community that surfaced when the team kneeled during the national anthem.
Oliver, ETSU’s first African American men’s head basketball coach, said he went through a similar situation at his first coaching job at Niagara.
“When I was first hired by Jack Armstrong fighting a similar battle, he had no one on staff that looked like me,” Oliver said. “He had an entire team, 13 guys on scholarship, that looked like me. He had an older staff that couldn’t relate. He needed help. That was the challenge.
“The staff and the players have to see each other every single day. I took the job and I didn’t know that. I was 23 years old. I had no idea that was the challenge. You know what? God willing I did a good job of connecting our staff and our young men to where the coach offered me a fulltime job.”
Oliver will also have to re-recruit ETSU’s current players and hire a staff. He spent an hour and 15 minutes meeting with the players. He’ll have them on the court for the first time Tuesday.
“I can’t speak for those guys, but the vibe in the room was tremendous,” he said. “I loved the energy. There’s maturity in that room. There are some bright individuals.
“And there’s some champions in that room. Sometimes when you’re trying to talk about winning championships and no one’s done it before, all they hear is gibberish. There are some champions in there and they’ve seen it. They’ve been a part of those teams. I’m excited about those guys.”
Oliver said as he prepared for becoming a head coach, he kept an eye on the transfer portal. He already has his eyes on a few players.
As far as a staff, he said he plans to talk to Shay’s assistants that are still here to see if he’ll keep any of them. Oliver has known Turner Battle, an ETSU assistant this season and another Buffalo guy, for 20 years.
Oliver has also built a network of potential assistants throughout the last several years, with the anticipation of being a head coach soon.
Oliver said he’s taken bits and pieces from other programs as he’s gone through his career and he’s excited to put it all together as a head coach for the first time.”
“Defending and rebounding take absolutely no talent to do,” he said. “It’s a mindset. It takes effort. We will really coach that hard at a high level.
“Then, when they do it, force a turnover or a missed shot, I’m going to give my guys confidence. That’s a green light to play. I’m not talking about AAU or street ball. I want them to have the confidence and freedom to take a shot that we practiced. The mindset is to score in eight seconds or less.”
“I think he’s going to do great,” Carter added. “I think he did a wonderful job today talking about his background and what he’s done. He’s led many places and many young men.”
Shay’s separation agreement shared by ETSU called payments the school is making to him as “severance payment.” When Carter was asked why the school would call them severance payments when Shay resigned, he said, “That’s a legal question. I didn’t write that agreement. We negotiated those situations with his representation.”