Ron Hunter, who led Georgia State to the Sun Belt title and the NCAA tournament three of the past five years, told the AJC on Sunday morning that he’s leaving to coach Tulane.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “I can’t thank the people of Atlanta enough. This really is not about money. I agonized about this until midnight last night. I love the people of Atlanta and the Georgia State community. Again, I can’t thank them enough. But it’s time. At this point in my career, it’s time.”
Hunter is 54. Tulane just went 0-18 in league play and fired coach Mike Dunleavy, but the Green Wave is based in the American Conference, which is home to four schools that made this NCAA tournament field of 68. (Georgia State has been eliminated in the past two NCAAs by Cincinnati and Houston, both from the American.)
After the Panthers lost to Houston in Tulsa on Friday, Hunter told the AJC: “I’m going to take the next 48 hours to decide my future.” He met with representatives of Tulane after returning to Atlanta on Saturday.
Hunter coached the Panthers for eight seasons, compiling a record of 171-95 and leading the school to six 20-win seasons. Before he arrived, the program had posted only three 20-win seasons and reached the NCAA tournament but twice in its history.
Hunter and his son, R.J., were the authors of the greatest moment in Georgia State sports annals and one of the giddiest in NCAA history. On March 15, 2015, the 14th-seeded Panthers rallied from 12 points behind inside the final three minutes and stunned third-seeded Baylor on the younger Hunter’s winning 3-point shot with 2.7 seconds remaining. This prompted his father, who’d torn his Achilles in celebration of winning the Sun Belt title four days earlier, to fall from the rolling chair he was using on the sideline.
This year’s Panthers went 24-10, finishing first in the Sun Belt and beating SEC teams Georgia (by 24 points) and Alabama in non-conference play. Hunter expressed hopes of a similar NCAA upset of No. 3 Houston, but his Panthers fell behind 15-3 in the first four minutes Friday and lost, 84-55. With junior star D’Marcus Simonds announcing his intention to declare for the NBA draft after the game, Georgia State will be without its four top players next season.
Beyond that, Hunter had begun to chafe over the Sun Belt’s middling status. It’s a one-bid league, meaning that only the winner of the conference tournament gets to grace the Big Dance. Indeed, Hunter’s best GSU team — the 2014 bunch that went 17-1 in league play — lost by one point in overtime to Lousiana-Lafayette in the tournament final and was relegated to the NIT.
“This (meaning Tulane) is the kind of job I’ve always taken,” said Hunter, who previously had been head coach at IUPUI in Indianapolis. “The expectations are kind of mid-level, and you try to exceed those expectations. Mark my words, I’ll get it done.
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