Nov. 8, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Keep it moving.
It’s sound advice for a basketball team and works pretty well for life, too.
That philosophy has worked quite well in Tom Herrion’s life.
It’s helped him make a seamless transition from being bought out as head coach by Marshall University to buying in as an assistant coach at Georgia Tech under Brian Gregory, who hired him on Sept. 18 to replace Billy Schmidt.
Herrion, who had coached the previous four seasons at Marshall, thought his next move in staying involved in the game would come as an analyst on ESPN. Then came the call came from Gregory.
“I really had pretty much every intention that I was going to take the entire year off and probably do some television, which I had in the works,” he said. “When the opportunity came about the interest was mutual and it fell into place relatively quickly. My family and I are appreciative of the opportunity to be here and work for Brian and be at a great school, like Georgia Tech. I’m so excited about being here and more important, what our future holds.”
In Herrion, the Jackets get a basketball lifer who has been an assistant or head coach just about every year since 1994. He brings a career record of 147-105 (a .583 win percentage) as a head coach to the Flats, including an 80-38 mark in four seasons at College of Charleston, where he followed legendary coach John Kresse — interestingly, he handed the program over to former Yellow Jackets legend Bobby Cremins — and a 67-67 mark in four years at Marshall, taking the Thundering Herd to postseason in his first two seasons.
Herrion has been working working primarily with the Yellow Jackets backcourt, and is excited with the progress shown at the point by redshirt freshman Travis Jorgenson and sophomore transfer Josh Heath. The trio of Jorgenson, Heath and Corey Heyward combined for 10 points and 10 assists vs. only three turnovers in Friday night’s 74-41 exhibition win over Clayton State.
“We’re relatively inexperienced at that position but they have great aptitude, they have great coachability,” Herrion said. “I’ve been really hard on them to see how they respond and they’ve done a really good job in terms of putting the time in, investing the time, extra work, video work. So we’re really excited about them as they grow and mature and gain experience early in the season.
“It’s really critical, as they grow and get more comfortable being the leaders of the team on the floor and being an extension of Coach Gregory and our staff. That’s a big step for them,” Herrion continued. “They’re new and there are a lot of different people. I think it’s really good and healthy right now, the newness here. I think it’s been a bit of a shot in the arm, a level of excitement. People coming in, whether it’s players or staff, change isn’t always necessarily a bad thing.”
“I think the strength in our whole team and with that unit in particular is in the depth,” he said. “I don’t think we feel like we have to lean on one guy in particular. I think they all have great attributes and collectively I think they’re going to give us really good production at that point position. So we’re all excited about the season and the future of our program.”
Herrion’s past, and his experience, will help the Jackets’ present, as has plenty of experience that he’s been able to share. Coaching is very much the family business, as Tom’s father, Jim, coached high school in New York City, then was an assistant at Holy Cross before getting a head coaching gig at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, while his older brother, Bill, has been head coach at Drexel and East Carolina and is currently at New Hampshire, where he’s been since 2005.
There have been several other influences along the way.
The list begins with legendary Merrimack head coach Bert Hammell, one of the winningest coaches in D-II history, who enters 2014-15 only five wins away from his 500th career victory, and for whom Herrion both played then later served as an assistant.
Herrion points to the mid-90s for his big break, when he was hired as part of Pete Gillen’s staff at Providence (1994-98). He’d follow Gillen to Virginia (1998-2002). Tom would parlay his time at UVA into his first head coaching job from 2002-2006 at the College of Charleston. After a year off to work as an analyst on ESPN, Herrion got back in the game, when Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon hired him. He spent three seasons in Pittsburgh before taking the reins at Marshall. That ended last spring.
“I grew up in it and I’m very fortunate in that regard,” he said, reflecting on his lifetime in the game. “I think I’ve been smart enough to kind of take a little bit from everybody and they’ve all had an opportunity to impact my philosophy as a coach, my beliefs as a coach. I think it’s all been very, very positive.”
Herrion sees the opportunity to work on Gregory’s staff as a definite positive.
“We’re roughly the same age so we climbed the ladder together as assistant coaches,” said Herrion, who is 11 months younger than Gregory. “We’ve known each other for a long time. We’ve always had great respect for one another.
“Obviously Brian is the head coach,” he added. “But in the same breath, I think I can be a sounding board because we are the same age and I’ve been in some of the situations as a head coach. I think what we both share is a common thread of our work ethic. He’s known as one of those tireless people that works hard. The staff is very hard-working and I think that’s a key ingredient for us.”
Herrion admits that the jumping in on the fly — he was hired on Sept. 18 – has been “a little bit of a whirlwind,” but that he can’t wait for the season opener next Friday against Georgia.
“It’s a heck of a way to start a season. I’m not sure I’ve been at a place that opens with its rival,” he said. “I’ve been a part of some great rivalry games so I have a great appreciation and understand that there is a great rivalry here. This is, obviously, my first opportunity to experience this one in particular and when you throw it on opening night it just adds to the magnitude of what should be an exciting environment for college basketball. It should be an electric atmosphere in our building on Friday night.”
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