HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — An era of 15 seasons is coming to an end as Kirby Dean announced he will resign from his role as head men's basketball coach at Eastern Mennonite University at the end of the season.
Dean, in his 15th season at his alma mater, is leaving to be the director or parks and recreation for Rockingham County.
He is the all-time winningest coach in program history and, in just the past nine years, has led the Royals to six of their seven most successful seasons in school history.
"This is without question the toughest decision I've made in my life," Dean said. "I've loved my time here at EMU and the success we've had has surpassed the wildest expectations I could have ever had coming into the job in 2003. I never thought I'd be blessed with the players that have played for me."
He cited family reasons for making this season his final one as head coach.
"It really came down to what's best for my family at this juncture of my life," he explained, "and the recruiting road for the last 25 years and especially the last 15 here at EMU has really taken a toll on me. The time away from home was far less painful back when my wife could travel with me all over the place and I didn't have a daughter at home wondering where I was."
Taking over a team that finished 3-22, and a program that had earned just seven winning campaigns in the previous 37 seasons, Dean quickly doubled his win total in each of his first two years with the Royals. The 2009-10 team vaulted EMU onto the national scene, going to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
Dean currently has a coaching record of 194-186, giving him 101 more wins than Sherman Eberly, who is second in EMU history with 93 victories. He has earned double digit wins in each of the last nine years.
Director of Athletics Dave King said Dean not only put his stamp on the men's basketball program at Eastern Mennonite, but on the campus as a whole.
"While understanding Kirby's decision and respecting him putting his family first, his departure is a huge loss for EMU," said King. "What he has done for the men's basketball program and the university is hard to put into words, and the impact he has had on the lives of many young men cannot be measured. The community got to see exciting and entertaining basketball, the competitiveness and the wins, but I was privileged to watch the investment in lives that Kirby carried out each day. To me, that will be his greatest legacy. There are many young men who will continue to benefit from the lessons he taught while they were part of the basketball program."
Dean has coached 21 All-ODAC players, including three-time First Team honoree Jason Sager and 2011 ODAC Player of the Year Todd Phillips. Phillips was named to three different All-America teams, including First Team All-America in 2010.
He earned the ODAC Coach of the Year award in 2010, when his Runnin Royals won the ODAC Regular Season Title, twice upsetting the nation's top-ranked team. They broke numerous program scoring and attendance records before their run in the NCAA Tournament, and hold the best record in program history at 25-5. The following year, EMU finished at 22-5, marking the two best seasons ever for the Royals. Combined with a pair of 17-win seasons from 2013-15, the basketball men have earned the program's four best seasons during the past eight years.
He has also coached at D-I Virginia Military Institute and Waynesboro High School.
A native of nearby Penn Laird and graduate of Spotswood High School, Dean was excited to give back to his community in a new way.
"The chance to work for the county I've grown up in and loved my entire life was just too good to pass up especially considering the age of my daughter," he said. "Few coaches get to leave under good circumstances, so I'm happy this process has been amicable. Working at EMU was a dream come true, the school and the people I worked with made it everything I always believed it would be. Thankfully, back in 2003, the athletic director at that time, Larry Martin, took a chance on me. Then Dave King came along and I can't imagine ever working for a better athletic director and a better person than he has proven to be."
King said there are few coaches anywhere that work as hard as Dean does.
"He is a tireless recruiter, consistently optimistic and accepts every challenge or hurdle that stands in his way of being the best coach he can be and coaching the best team possible," explained King. "He has been a positive representative for the university and built connections that have benefited the university in many ways. I have often wondered if there was anyone in Virginia that Kirby didn't know or who didn't know him. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Kirby and will miss him greatly. He is a man of deep faith and integrity and I wish him the best in his new career."
King said a national search for Dean's replacement would start immediately.