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Maryland Eastern Shore parts ways with Collins, makes Reed interim head coach

The school says it will conduct a national search in 2019. Clifford Reed will lead the team in the meantime.

Clifford Reed watches from the sideline as the Hawks warm-up before a game.
Mitchell Northam, Mid-Major Madness

The Bobby Collins era in Princess Anne is over.

On Monday, officials with Maryland Eastern Shore informed Collins that his contract as the Hawks’ head coach would not be renewed. The 51-year-old Eastern Kentucky grad was coming off his worst season at the helm of the Hawks, with a 7-25 record and just three wins in the MEAC.

In the short term, Maryland Eastern Shore has tabbed Clifford Reed as its interim head coach. The school says it will conduct a national search in 2019.

But why wait a year? That seems to be the question many are asking.

A guess: Eastern Shore is waiting on hiring a head coach because the school is changing presidents this summer. Juliette Bell — who had a big hand in hiring her friend, Collins — is leaving Princess Anne after this school year. It could be that she wants the new president to have a say in who the new head coach is. But really, Bell and whoever the new president is should take a step back from the athletic department. (This is why you have an athletic director, to direct athletics, so you — the president — don’t have to.)

The meddling of higher-ups at Eastern Shore has led them time and time again to make bad coaching hires. It’s one of the reasons why the Hawks have never been to an NCAA tournament and why they’ve had just three winning seasons since 1974.

Collins was never the right man for Eastern Shore. Four years ago, Bell picked him over Jareem Dowling and other candidates because they were close. Collins won in his first season, but did so with players that Frankie Allen recruited. Guys like Dominique Elliott and Mike Myers led the Hawks to 18 wins and then played overseas. Over the next three seasons, as more guys Collins recruited came into the system, the Hawks went 31-67 and appeared in the MEAC tournament semifinals just once.

The Eastern Shore of Maryland is an area that has produced some solid basketball talent, but Collins missed out on landing the best players. Jamaal King went to St. Francis (PA), Jorden Duffy went to a JUCO and then to North Texas, Keve Aluma went to Wofford, Manny Camper went to Siena, and Tariq Johnson is going to Wyoming. Collins was rarely seen in high school gyms in the Bayside Conference. Few high school players on the Shore knew he existed.

Reed and fellow assistant Ace Custis — who will be retained by the school — have been on Collins’ staff for the past four seasons, and each have had a hand in recruiting and X’s and O’s. And the players like them.

Custis is a local legend, having come from the Eastern Shore of Virginia before going on to play at Virginia Tech, where he’d eventually have his number retired.

Before joining Collins’ staff, Reed had been an assistant at Savannah State and Georgia Southern. Before that, he was the head coach of Bethune Cookman and won a regular season MEAC title there in 2011.

Dominique Elliott and Devin Martin, a pair of former Hawks playing ball overseas, both credited Reed and Custis with getting them ready for the pros.

If the Hawks needed a year-long band-aid, this is the right pick. And there’s a chance Reed has success in this year-long trial run and parlays it into a full-time gig.

Before settling on this move, the man at the top of the Hawks’ list for potential head coaching candidates was Dowling.

He is a former Eastern Shore player, starring for the squad from 2003 to 2005. Since then he’s built a career in coaching, working as an assistant at Cecil Community College, Slippery Rock, Morehead State, Arkansas State and Southern Miss. He’s now an assistant for Grant McCasland at North Texas. The Mean Green are competing for a CBI title.

Dowling wants to be a Division I head coach, but he may have outgrown Eastern Shore by this time next year, or he may be working somewhere else. A source told Mid-Major Madness that there is mutual interest between Dowling and Delaware State for its head coach opening. Dowling played his high school basketball at Delaware’s Howard High School.

Eastern Shore may have missed out on Dowling, but now they’ll have a whole year to look at other potential candidates.

For decades, the Hawks have been trying recapture the magic of 1974, when they went 27-2 and won an NIT game. For the past 44 years, they have been one of college basketball’s worst teams. Aside from brief success in that 2014-15 season, not much changed under Collins.