Through his year in coaching exile, Tom Herrion never doubted he would return to the sport he loves.
"I never felt I would be denied," the ex-College of Charleston basketball coach said this week. "But obviously, I was just delayed."
Herrion, 39, returned to coaching this week when he was named an assistant coach at Pittsburgh, one of the most successful programs in the Big East Conference and in the nation in recent years.
"It's an absolute home run, a grand slam, whatever you want to call it," said Herrion, who was hired Monday by Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon. "It's just a great opportunity for me and for my family."
It's also a chance for Herrion to write a happier ending to his coaching career than the chapter that ended last summer after four years at College of Charleston. Despite an overall record of 80-38 in four seasons, Herrion was forced out last June, collecting a settlement of $787,000 for the last four years of his contract.
Herrion's dismissal led to the one-day tenure of Gregg Marshall and then the hiring of ex-Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, who led the Cougars to a 22-11 record last season.
Meanwhile, Herrion remained at his home in Mount Pleasant and worked about 30 games as a broadcaster for ESPN Regional and Comcast.
"I missed my players last year, being with my team day in and day out," Herrion said. "Broadcasting games is not the same as coaching, but under the circumstances it was a great opportunity to stay involved in the game. It offered some different perspectives, and I think I did a good job of maximizing those opportunities. Spending time at other schools, witnessing how other programs are run, I think that made me a better coach."
Herrion's teams compiled records of 25-8, 20-9, 18-10 and 17-11 in four years at College of Charleston. But dwindling win totals and attendance at Kresse Arena, and some of the players' off-court issues, convinced administrators that a change was needed. Herrion eventually settled for $787,000 of the $1 million buyout he had negotiated with the school.
"I'm tremendously thankful for the opportunity to be a head coach at a young age at College of Charleston, and for the success we attained," he said.
Herrion's name was connected to several job openings after the season ended. Pitt assistant Mike Rice took the head-coaching job at Robert Morris at about the same time Herrion visited Pitt's Petersen Events Center for an AAU event last month. Herrion, who worked at Providence from 1994-98, knew Dixon and ex-Pitt head coach Ben Howland from the Big East recruiting trails.
"We were friendly acquaintances, with a little bit of history," Herrion said. "When I went up there on my own for the AAU event, it gained a little momentum. Jamie and I had the chance to visit that weekend. It was clear their interest in me was growing, and it just took off from there."
At Pitt, Herrion joins a program that has made six straight NCAA Tournament appearances and has the most wins and highest winning percentage in the Big East over the last six years. He'll be recruiting much of the same territory he did as an assistant at Virginia and Providence.
"I have been blown away in a lot of regards here at Pitt," he said. "Their new arena is state of the art, and I've never had that as a head coach or an assistant. Usually, that's been an obstacle for us. The quality of life in this building is tremendous, and from the chancellor to the athletic director on down, they've made us feel so wanted."
Herrion is already on the job at Pitt, and his wife, Leslie, and son Robert will join him soon in Pittsburgh.
"I knew I'd stay in basketball, and I never lost my confidence that I could find the right situation for me," said Herrion, who comes from a basketball family - brother Bill is head coach at New Hampshire, and father Jim was a longtime coach in the Northeast. "And I think this is a great situation, in every respect."