Allen Sharpe believes he has a better chance to take a team to the NCAA Division II men’s basketball tournament.
He said that’s mainly why he decided to step down as Arkansas-Monticello’s head coach to take the same job at the Boll Weevils’ former Gulf South Conference partner in West Alabama.
UAM announced Sharpe’s departure Tuesday. Sharpe said the Livingston, Ala., university offered him the position “on the spot” when he interviewed Friday and he accepted it a day later.
“I don’t know if people realize this, but the Gulf South Conference has had three teams make it to an NCAA Regional for the last 13 years,” Sharpe said in a West Alabama press release. “There is a much better chance as a coach to take your team to a regional tournament at West Alabama and in the GSC.”
Sharpe explained why in a phone interview.
“More resources, more staff and more scholarships,” he said, adding it’s not easy to win without enough of those. “We’ve done it here (at UAM), but it’s more resources at West Alabama.”
As for getting to the NCAA tournament, two Great American Conference teams — Arkansas Tech (three times) and Harding (twice) — have made it in the league’s three-year history.
Since Sharpe’s hire in 2010, UAM has established a full-time assistant coaching position, its athletic director Chris Ratcliff noted. (Nick Woodruff was promoted from graduate assistant in 2012.) But when asked if any other resources were offered to Sharpe to keep him in Monticello, Ratcliff said: “It doesn’t matter what you give him. If you have an opportunity to be closer to your family, you’re going to take the opportunity.”
Sharpe, whose family is from Georgia and wife’s family hails from Tennessee, said he did not ask for any more resources to stay at UAM, and the school didn’t offer.
“This is a great opportunity for me and my family at a place where we really want to be,” Sharpe said of West Alabama in the release. “Over the course of time there had been some lean years at UWA, but what Coach (Mark) Downey was able to accomplish in just one season showed me what can be done at West Alabama.
“Hopefully we can get in there, keep it going and take it even further. There are a couple of good players returning. We need to add just a few pieces to keep us headed in the direction we want to go.”
Downey accepted an assistant coaching position at Division I Bowling Green in Ohio. He led West Alabama to a 17-11 record (14-6 in Gulf South) and an NCAA Division II tournament berth. UAM was a member of the Gulf South from 1995-2011.
The West Alabama post is one with recent historical ties to UAM and Southeast Arkansas. Current Arkansas-Pine Bluff assistant coach Eddie McCarter was the Tigers’ head coach from 2007-11 and former Arkansas-Little Rock and UAM head man Mike Newell succeeded McCarter for two years afterward.
Sharpe is much familiar with Alabama, having coached at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, where he produced future UAPB standout Mitchell Anderson. In 12 years as a head coach, including time at Truett-McConnell College in Georgia, Sharpe has never had a losing season and owns a 276-97 record.
“If you keep up with our roster, the last two years we’ve had a lot of players either from Alabama or went to junior college in Alabama,” Sharpe said. “I’ll be much more comfortable recruiting at West Alabama because I’m familiar with Alabama. … It’s hard to get them here (to UAM) because you have to pass a lot of colleges to get to Monticello.”
Sharpe, whose father Gary led UAM to the 1986 NAIA championship game, posted a winning season in each of his four years in Monticello, an unprecedented streak for the program. He went 70-42 with the Boll Weevils, including marks of 19-10 overall and 12-8 in the Great American Conference this past season. His best season was 2011-12, when UAM was 21-9 and reached the semifinals of the GAC tournament.
Two of the past three scoring leaders in the GAC — L.A. Farmer in 2011-12 and Kori Forge in 2012-13 — played under Sharpe.
Since the GAC began play three years ago, UAM finished in the top three in conference standings each season but is 1-3 all-time in the league’s tournament.
Ratcliff said the position will be advertised starting today. He added he doesn’t have any immediate candidates in mind, adding he hasn’t “even decided which direction to go” in selecting specific qualities to look for in the next head coach.
“It’s tough anytime you see someone leave,” Ratcliff said. “But in coach Sharpe’s case, he had an opportunity to be closer to home.”