Providence Journal

Rams dig deep to entice Baron

URI officials are close to offering a contract extention and a raise to Jim Baron, who, as of last night, didn't know if he's going to visit the Virginia Tech campus.


Journal Sports Writers

SOUTH KINGSTOWN -- University of Rhode Island officials have decided they won't lose their men's basketball coach without a fight.

Aggressive negotiations aimed at keeping Jim Baron at URI were conducted yesterday, the Providence Journal has learned, even as the coach and his family were considering to visit Virginia Tech.

URI is offering a significantly improved package, one that would move Baron well beyond his current $300,000 pay range, sources indicated. Equally important, the school reportedly is considering a major extension in length of the contract, the sources said.

In an indication that the talks were serious, something of a news blackout was imposed by both sides. The only comment came in a brief statement from Linda Acciardo, the school spokeswoman.

"The university is in direct discussions with Jim Baron's agent (Robert Ades) and we are addressing both monetary and non-monetary issues," Acciardo said last night. "It's really important the university do everything it can within its resources to keep Jim Baron at URI. We don't want to jeopardize the process by having a dialogue about it in the paper."

The turn of events is both significant and surprising.

Baron appeared set to leave for Virginia Tech of the Big East. He met with Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver in Rhode Island Friday and was invited to visit Blacksburg today.

Tech reportedly is prepared to offer its new coach in the $500,000 range, perhaps even more, which still would be in the lower half among Big East coaches.

In the past, URI has thrown in the towel when other schools have waved that kind of money at a coach. This time, with the popular Baron the target after doing a masterful job in rebuilding the Rhody program, URI officials are fighting back.

As it is, the school already had offered Baron a two-year extension that would carry him to 2008. Figures on URI's new proposal couldn't be obtained, but a source indicated that the proposal was "a substantial upgrade" from what Baron had been earning, with several more years also added to the deal.

Baron said he is not sure what he will be doing today.

"I'm waiting to hear from Virginia Tech," he said last night.

It was learned that Baron has postponed his final radio show of the year scheduled on WHJJ. Further complicating the situation was that travel to Blacksburg is still slowed after that area was hit by a major snowstorm over the weekend.

If Baron leaves, it would continue a frequent exodus of URI men's basketball coaches over the last 20 years.

URI has redefined the term "coaching carousel." If Baron bolts, the Rams' next coach will be the program's fifth in the last eight years. That's a dizzying stretch of comings and goings stretching from the final year of Al Skinner through the tumultuous Jim Harrick and Jerry DeGregorio seasons, and on to Baron. No school has said hello and goodbye to coaches more than any other program in the country.

Since Claude English left URI in 1984, only one coach (Skinner) has remained in Kingston for more than two seasons. Brendan Malone, Tom Penders, Harrick and DeGregorio all bid South County adieu after two years.

That constant change can cause catastrophic problems for a basketball program. Recruiting, staffing, scheduling and several other key components every successful program needs are disrupted by a revolving coaching door.

Providence was always the local school tabbed as the stepping-stone job, and with good reason. From 1987-98, the Friars penciled five different names on the door of its basketball coaching suite, but Tim Welsh just completed his fifth season as PC's coach. In those five years, Welsh has coached against three Rhody mentors.

If Petro is forced to convene his customary search committee by the end of this week, the good news is he'll have plenty of experience. Petro led committees that hired Harrick, DeGregorio and Baron. The last search took a whopping 43 days, a period that if repeated would wipe out the bulk of the spring recruiting period.

The timing this year also is somewhat ironic. Four years ago, it was on April 1 -- April Fool's Day -- when Jim Harrick announced he was leaving for Georgia, changed his mind and told URI officials he was staying, then changed his mind once more and went to Georgia, after all.