Ed Conroy has made the late-night walk from McAlister Field House to his house on The Citadel campus many times over the last four years -- after wins, after losses, after marathon tape sessions.
None of them was like the walk he made Tuesday night after he called Citadel basketball players, eight of whom are rising seniors, and told them he was no longer their coach.
"It was agonizing, the toughest thing I've had to do in coaching," Conroy said Wednesday after he was introduced as Tulane's new coach at a news conference in New Orleans. "Nothing compares to it. And when I walked home (that) night, all by myself, no one else on campus … it was emotional."
It was emotional for Citadel players, too.
"I was pretty shocked," junior guard Zach Urbanus said from his home in Austin, Texas, where he is on spring break. "I knew coach would be getting a lot of offers over the next few years. But I thought he would wait until we graduated."
But the chance to coach at Tulane, a private school of about 11,000 students that plays in Conference USA, was enough to convince Conroy to leave his alma mater after four seasons. He chose Tulane over an offer from UNC Wilmington. Terms of Conroy's contract at Tulane have not been disclosed, but former Green Wave coach Dave Dickerson reportedly earned close to $400,000 per year.
While Conroy faces a major rebuilding job at Tulane -- the Green Wave was 8-22 last season and averaged just 1,740 fans per game at 3,600-seat Fogelman Arena -- The Citadel must replace the coach who led the Bulldogs to 36 wins over the last two seasons, the most successful two-year stretch in school history.
Athletic director Larry Leckonby said Wednesday that he would conduct a "national search" for the new coach, and acknowledged that two candidates will be current assistant Doug Novak and ex-Charlotte assistant Rob Moxley, who worked with Leckonby at Maryland.
Novak, an assistant to Conroy for four seasons at The Citadel and one year at Francis Marion, told The Post and Courier on Wednesday that he is "extremely interested" in succeeding Conroy. Moxley, who already has interviewed at Gardner-Webb, also expressed interest.
Novak, who has head-coaching experience at Iowa Western and Anderson University, would be the players' choice, Urbanus said.
"That's kind of who we are rooting for," said Urbanus, one of five returning starters, four of whom will be seniors next season. "But the decision is not ours. He would be the easiest transition for our final seasons."
Conroy also endorsed Novak, saying, "I think Doug is a great coach and he would be successful anywhere."
Leckonby said he would set no timetable on his search, and sees no immediate need to name an interim coach. He will consult on the mechanics of the search with Citadel president Lt. Gen. John Rosa, but said work already has begun.
"The ball is rolling, and I'm amazingly popular today," Leckonby said. "I've heard from a lot of old friends across the country. The response (from interested coaches) has been overwhelming, really.
"We want to take our time and find the best leader that we can. That could come from here in Charleston or some place we haven't even heard from yet."