The atmosphere at Duquesne's team meeting Thursday afternoon was predictably tense when coach Ron Everhart swung open the door to the room.
Everhart had interviewed for the vacant Penn State job earlier in the week and was considered a front-runner for the position. He insists he was still wavering about whether to keep his name in the running right up until meeting with his players.
"I walked into that meeting thinking I was going to stay involved in the process and I was going to wait and see what was going to happen at Penn State," Everhart said. "I had no intention of going in there and telling my players I was going to stay. It was just a natural thing. I don't know why it came out like that. I just knew it was the right thing to do and that the timing was perfect."
Everhart's impromptu declaration that he was staying at Duquesne provoked everything from smiles, to cheers, to sighs of relief from his players. One player even leapt out of his seat in excitement that the Dukes were keeping the coach who has led a long-struggling program to three consecutive postseason appearances.
The rare opportunity to move to the Big Ten was tempting for the 49-year-old Everhart, who has rebuilt McNeese State, Northeastern and Duquesne but has never been a head coach at a power-conference program. Ultimately, however, Everhart decided against abandoning Duquesne at a time when the program is on the verge of contending in the Atlantic 10 and is receiving unprecedented fan support and financial backing from the administration.
"This situation has transformed from a place where when I came here I'd go into houses and people would ask me if we were Division I," Everhart said. "I feel like I've put a stamp on this program over the last five years to where we've gotten to three straight postseason appearances, an NIT and two CBIs. Now it's time to get it over that hump to where you hope to be an NCAA contender."
Everhart pulling out of contention for the Penn State job was the latest blow to the ego of Nittany Lions fans hoping their basketball program can someday become more than just a coaching dead-end.
First, coach Ed DeChellis left for Navy rather than wait for a contract extension that might never have come at Penn State. Then, East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo decided he'd rather stay put than come to Happy Valley. And now Everhart has backed out of the running too, meaning the Nittany Lions are left with candidates like Boston University's Pat Chambers and Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Rob Jeter.
Everhart felt it would be "cheating himself" if he didn't at least listen to the overtures from Penn State over the past week. He described the Penn State job as "a great opportunity" and "much better than the perception out there," but acknowledged the timing wasn't right for him to leave Duquesne.
Making the decision Thursday certainly saved Everhart an awkward evening since his players gathered at his house that night to watch Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
"The atmosphere surrounding that was one of us staying together and being committed," Everhart said. "It worked out real nice."