By Cam Huffman
Bob Bolen isn’t coming back to West Virginia. At least not to stay.
Rumored to be a strong candidate for the head basketball coaching position left open at the University of Charleston when Mark Downy left last week to take a job at the University of West Alabama, Bolen, who went to 14 straight NAIA national tournaments and won the 2004 NAIA national championship at Mountain State University in Beckley, is taking his name out of the discussion.
“I don’t want to close the door on any future opportunities, but I’m not a candidate at the University of Charleston,” said Bolen Saturday, on the road recruiting in his new position as an assistant coach at East Tennessee State University. “I’m really happy at East Tennessee, and I love Johnson City (Tenn.) and the coaching staff.”
Bolen — who wouldn’t comment on whether he’s been contacted by officials at UC — said he’s not sure where the next step of his career will take him, and he’s definitely not actively pursuing jobs. He said he’s the type of guy who likes to put down roots and stay in one place, and he was doing just that in Beckley, until Mountain State University lost its accredidation and eliminated its athletic program. Now the University of Charleston-Beckley, the school is only fielding junior varsity sports.
“I was very happy in Beckley, and I never planned on leaving,” said Bolen, who has won more basketball games in West Virginia than any other college coach. “I never made any effort to leave. I had phone calls, but I never tried to leave.”
He had no choice, though, after losing his job, because of no fault of his own, and ETSU head coach Murry Bartow gave him the opportunity to get back in the game he loves when he offered Bolen a job almost a year after MSU announced it was dropping athletics.
The veteran coach, who has a 489-123 record as a head coach, has jumped into the new job feet first.
“I’m on the road recruiting every Wednesday through Saturday in July,” said Bolen. “I’m keeping the roads hot. In the last three weeks, I’ve been in Augusta, Ga., Aiken, S.C., Myrtle Beach, S.C., Millwaukee, Wis., and Charlotte, N.C.
“I come back to campus Sunday night, go to workouts and take care of stuff at the office and am back on the road Wednesday morning. It’s a very busy time in recruiting.”
The process is also very different than it was at MSU.
The NCAA allows coaches only to evaluate prospects in July. They can’t speak to the players they watch and can only send them text messages in the evenings. At MSU, Bolen could speak with any prospect at any time.
“It’s totally different,” he said, explaining that he had to pass a test on the new rules before he could hit the road recruiting. “But I’m really enjoying it.”
Recruiting may also be the Beckley native’s excuse to make a few trips home. He said he plans on hitting the West Virginia prospects hard.
“I will definitely be recruiting in West Virginia,” said Bolen, who couldn’t identify specific prospects on his list, due to NCAA rules. “I think there’s a lot of talent in West Virginia that often gets overlooked. I’ll be recruiting all over West Virginia.”
Bolen’s family — wife Lisa and his three children, Katie, Jaysen and Andrew — has not yet joined him in Tennessee, but he hopes to have everybody there within the next week, when recruiting finally slows down. He’s confident they’ll all enjoy their new home.
“Johnson City is similar to Beckley, in a lot of ways,” said Bolen. “It’s three or four times the size, but it’s not like I moved to a big city or something. It’s still in the mountains and is very beautiful. I really like the city.”
The program isn’t bad, either. ETSU has made the NCAA Tournament twice in the last five years. After a disappointing 10-22 campaign last season, Bolen is anxious to help the Buccaneers reach that level again.
“It’s a fun challenge trying to help rebuild the program and get them back,” said Bolen. “I was by no means tired of things at Mountain State, but it’s been fun to take on a new challenge.”
Members of the Atlantic Sun Conference, the Bucs will join the Southern Conference in 2014.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.