Family, university support key to Senderoff’s success


Coach Rob Sendoff looks up at the clock after the final buzzer against Central Michigan at the M.A.C. Center on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017. Kent State lost 105-98 in overtime.

Nick Buzzelli

As he sat on the elevated stage in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena media room Saturday night — still beaming over the upset win that occurred on the court 30 minutes prior — the Flashes’ Coach Rob Senderoff openly acknowledged the journey that led him to this gratified moment.

He just captured his first Mid-American Conference Tournament title behind a 70-65 win against The University of Akron, but now he had some time to reflect.

There was the five-year stint he spent bouncing between mid-major programs early in his career before landing at Kent State the first time around, from 2002-06.

And then there was his short tenure as an assistant at Indiana under then-Coach Kelvin Sampson before resigning because of a phone call scandal involving recruits that resulted in a 30-month show cause penalty from the NCAA, and the penalty was to follow him through that timespan.  

After he left Indiana University Bloomington, though, not many schools were willing to take a chance on Senderoff. He was too much of a risk.

Laing Kennedy didn’t view him as one. In 2008, the former Kent State athletic director hired him back as the program’s associate head coach serving under Geno Ford.

“Personally, I had some baggage that not everybody would have given me an opportunity to coach here,” Senderoff said during the press conference. “And I’m more thankful and grateful for the opportunity that those people gave me and just feeling happy that I was able to help lead the group to get back to the NCAA tournament.”

One year after current Athletic Director Joel Nielsen took over in 2010, Senderoff was promoted to head coach following Ford’s departure for Bradley University, despite his prior penalty from the NCAA.

“It didn’t take him out of the mix, obviously,” Nielsen told USA Today in 2014. “But it was something that I talked to our president (Lester Lefton) about (and) people close to the program about. I obviously did my due diligence on his case and his background, which we typically do with everyone, especially from an NCAA standpoint, and what Rob’s track record looked like since the Indiana incident.”

When Kent State takes the floor of the newly constructed Golden 1 Center Friday night at 10 p.m. EST against perennial powerhouse UCLA, it will be the first time that senior Jimmy Hall will play on college basketball’s most prominent stage, a feat he’s been waiting for since Senderoff redeemed him in 2014 following his mishap at Hofstra University.

“It means everything to me, my senior season. It’s an unbelievable way, but I would have never imagined it, to go out like this,” Hall said at Kent State’s official Selection Sunday watch party at Water Street Tavern. “Since the summertime, we’ve been talking about going to the (NCAA) Tournament.”

It won’t be the first time that Senderoff will be in the “Big Dance,” though. The 43-year-old made it in 1997 as a graduate assistant on Charlie Coles’ staff at Miami University.

He was a part of it in the controversy-marred season at Indiana and went twice as an assistant at Kent State, including 2002’s Elite Eight run fueled by Trevor Huffman and Antonio Gates.

But, it will be the first time he qualified as a head coach, something he attributed to Kent State President Beverly Warren’s continued commitment to the program.

“I know how important it is to the school and to our current president, President Warren. I know how much she loves basketball. The amount of support she’s given to our program is just incredible, not just financial support, but personal support,” he said. “She’s at almost every game. It’s amazing the investment she has personally in our guys and knows every player on the roster.”

Senderoff has been waiting a long time to make his return to the NCAA Tournament. The long hours he spends in the gym and on the recruiting trail hasn’t been easy for his wife and two young daughters. As a result, he said he planned on giving them a hug after wrapping up his 15-minute post-championship game press conference.

But it’s this type of personal support — both from his family and the Kent State community — that made this magical run possible.

“These guys deserve all the credit,” Senderoff said, pointing to Hall, sophomore Jaylin Walker and senior Jon Fleming. “But you asked about the personal thing, I mean my family. I was happy for them because this isn’t easy for a family … I just felt happy for them and really grateful to the people at Kent State who gave me this opportunity to lead the program.”

Nick Buzzelli is a sports reporter, contact him at [email protected]