Loyalty, stability mark Eric Duft’s hire as 10th head coach of Weber State men’s basketball
OGDEN — There were enough times Eric Duft had the chance to leave Weber State over the last 16 years that it definitely qualifies as plural.
Four years ago, the from-the-start assistant coach of Randy Rahe’s seriously considered if it was time to move on to a new experience.
“But ultimately,” Duft said Thursday, “the reason that I stayed is because I wanted to be the head coach at Weber State University. And I wanted to be as loyal to coach Rahe as I possibly could be, and I wanted to help him every step of the way — but when he decided to move on, I wanted to be in a position to be the next head coach.”
His loyalty led to that reality Thursday when Duft was introduced as the 10th head coach of Weber State men’s basketball’s Division I era, taking over for Rahe after the veteran’s surprise retirement was announced Monday.
He sat by his wife, Sherri, at the Dee Events Center on Thursday as he thanked Rahe, his current staff, and current and former players. He teared up when thanking his family for everything that goes into being connected to a college basketball coach, especially his mother and his late father.
Duft said the process was quick. Rahe told him about his decision late last weekend and, by Monday, Duft was meeting with athletic director Tim Crompton and university administrators to discuss his long-awaited promotion.
And that, according to Duft, was crucial to the health of the program. As of Monday, Weber State had five players set to return from last season, four new additions officially signed, one new player committed but yet to sign, and two recruits arriving that night for an official visit.
“I appreciate the administration moving quickly on this to give stability to our current players, the players that we’ve signed. My whole focus and our staff’s focus through this process was to make sure that we took care of them and their families, we answered any questions that we could. We assured them that the program was going to remain stable and that continuity was going to remain in place,” Duft said. “We were on the phones constantly those first couple of days. But we had great feedback.
“When something like this happens and happens quickly, it can be a shock to the system. But they’ve been terrific.”
That committed-but-unsigned player was Southern Illinois transfer guard Steven Verplancken Jr. By Monday night, he told the Standard-Examiner he was still committed to Weber State and, Thursday evening, he had officially signed.
The speed of the transition means there was no search. That might have removed an opportunity for something new, but that was balanced against a process that may have led to short- and long-term instability. So Duft, 49, was rewarded for his 13-year run as a Division-I associate head coach.
“Randy’s a Hall of Famer. He’s the all-time winningest coach in the history of our program and conference. The fact that he’s had an assistant coach by his side who has been with him as long as he has, and has been part of that success, and Randy’s been preparing him to be a head coach is fortunate for us,” Crompton told the Standard-Examiner. “It certainly speaks to Randy’s preparation and also Eric Duft’s readiness. We love Randy and we’re excited for coach Duft to get his opportunity.”
Former players like Damian Lillard, Kellen McCoy and Isiah Brown were among those to praise and express support for Duft’s hire. Former Utah State head coach and current Boise State assistant Tim Duryea also chimed in Thursday night on Twitter.
“Eric is one of the highest character people I have ever had the opportunity to know and work with. He will be an outstanding coach and leader at Weber State. They are lucky to have him,” Duryea wrote. “Great coach and great family.”
As previously reported in the Standard-Examiner, Rahe said fourth-year assistant Eric Daniels and first-year assistant Jorge Ruiz were committed to remaining at Weber State. Duft said Thursday that Daniels will be his lead assistant coach.
“Eric Daniels is an incredibly gifted coach and recruiter … I appreciate his loyalty, he’s a rockstar in the profession and I’m glad to have him by my side,” Duft said, adding that Ruiz “is going to do fantastic things.”
Duft said he will continue to run Weber State’s offense, as he has for 16 years, and Daniels will continue to head the defense and adapt what that looks like to each roster. But he will look to make the program his own, including changing the structure of practice to a more “European” model that involves more five-on-five work, and being “good situationally during games” as things he’ll implement.
His stated vision includes being “fearless in the pursuit of excellence,” giving the community a team and a group of young men they can be proud of, and maintaining a “players’ program” where former players can mentor current players.
Thursday was a big moment for the Duft family. Their oldest son, Jaret, began kindergarten when they first moved to Utah as Eric accepted a job on Rahe’s bench. He’s now a junior in college, but was home to hear the news earlier this week. Their second, Halle, is still away at college and got to hear the news over the phone.
“They’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, and they live and die for every win and loss, and I’m so proud of who they are,” Duft said of his children. The youngest two, Easton and Kourt, are at home and are also around the team frequently.
“They’re so into Weber State basketball and what we’ve got going on here. They were jumping up and down (when told the news). And then all they could talk about was recruiting, who else we were going to get, and ‘dad, you better make sure coach Daniels and Jorge are out there working hard in that recruiting,'” he said. “So they were excited. It was a good time for our family.”
“Our kids have all really grown up here and we feel like through them, we’ve gotten to know so much of the community too,” Sherri Duft said. “It’s been a great place to raise all of them, too, and we’ve loved the stability we’ve had here for raising our family.”
Amid all the congratulatory calls and texts this week have also come interested parties in the open position on Eric Duft’s bench. He said he’s had some conversations this week but has mostly been focused on his current players and their families. He wants to have the newest coach on campus no later than one month from now when all 2022-23 players have reported for summer semester and workouts.
That, finalizing the last three roster spots and scheduling are the orders of business between now and the end of June. Ruiz now takes the lead in scheduling with Duft, though the new head coach said next year’s schedule is mostly finished, at least in draft form.
“With recruiting going longer now, scheduling’s been pushed back because teams are a little bit reluctant to sign contracts until rosters are finalized,” he explained.
In the space of one week, Duft’s patience paid off and his persistence in remaining at Weber State indeed led him to the first chair on the bench.
“These last few days were a whirlwind,” he said. “I’m extremely excited and proud to be named the 10th head coach in Weber State history. Weber State has such a great tradition. We’ve had some tremendous coaches and players throughout the history of the program and I’m just really proud and excited to be part of that, and humbled and ready to get to work.”