By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
When Mountain State University lost its general accreditation last year, head basketball coach Bob Bolen was among many that were left without a job.
However, as expected, he landed on his feet.
The lifelong Beckley resident and former head coach at MSU has officially been named an assistant coach at East Tennessee State. The move, which had been rumored for weeks, was announced by the school Friday morning.
“I’m really excited about it,” Bolen said in a phone interview. “East Tennessee State has a beautiful campus, and Johnson City is a great area to live.”
Also hired as an assistant was Thomas Carr.
“Most importantly, both Bob and Thomas have coached their respective teams at a high level,” ETSU coach Murry Bartow said in a statement. “They are good people and have the ability to communicate well with their players, which is incredibly important. When it comes to recruiting, they both have the right personalities for the job. I wanted guys who were wired to wake up in the morning and think about recruiting. They both fit that perfectly.”
Bartow is 189-135 in 10 seasons and has developed the basketball program into a perennial contender. Despite finishing 2013 with a 10-22 record, ETSU has played in four of the last 11 NCAA Tournaments.
The Bucs won the Atlantic Sun tournament in 2009 and 2010.
Bolen and Bartow had been familiar through coaching conventions and meeting at the Final Four.
“But our relationship really started when this job opened up and I contacted him to let him know I was interested,” Bolen said.
Bartow probably jumped at the chance to bring Bolen aboard.
On Jan. 26, 2012, MSU’s 84-67 win over Talladega (Ala.) was career win No. 479 for Bolen, giving him the most wins ever by a West Virginia college coach. It broke the record previously held by Joe Retton at Fairmont State.
Bolen got the basketball program restarted at the school in 1994, when it was called The College of West Virginia. The Cougars went 17-16 in his first season and followed that up with a 14-18 record in 1995-96.
That was the only losing season Bolen ever had as head coach. In fact, his teams never won fewer than 22 games over the next 16 seasons.
He took MSU to 14 straight NAIA national tournaments, advancing to the national championship game four times. The 2004 team finished 38-1 and defeated Concordia (Calif.) for the school’s only national championship.
The Cougars lost to Oklahoma Baptist in the 2012 NAIA semifinals and finished with a 26-7 record.
Bolen, 489-123 as head coach, was looking for a job through no fault of his own. MSU lost its accreditation last June and the athletic program was cut soon after.
University of Charleston took over the campus on Jan. 1 and later announced it will field junior varsity athletic teams.
The last year has been bittersweet for Bolen, who missed coaching but also got more time to simply be dad to his and wife Lisa‘s three kids, Katie, Jaysen and Andrew.
“I did (miss coaching) but I treasure the time I got to spend with my family,” he said. “I don’t have any hobbies without basketball around.”
Bolen missed his son Jaysen’s 12th birthday on Thursday, but that time will be compensated for this weekend.
“The last eight and a half months have been so enjoyable,” Bolen said. “I got to see my son‘s basketball games and my daughter‘s volleyball games.”
Except for the time he spent as a player at Bluefield State, Bolen has never called any place other than Beckley home. But he’s excited about the opportunity that awaits in Johnson City.
“Johnson City is similar to Beckley. It’s a lot bigger, but it’s similar,” Bolen said. “It’s only 2 1/2 hours from Beckley and the kids will still get to spend time with their grandparents, and that is important.”
East Tennessee announced Wednesday that it will rejoin the Southern Conference in 2014.
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