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Robinson, LeForce, Wells, Bird inducted into ETSU Hall of Fame

JOE AVENTO • Jan 20, 2007 at 10:39 AM

JOHNSON CITY - Alan LeForce has had a very long career as a basketball coach, but there's one short stop that never made it onto his resume.

He was an assistant coach at The Citadel - for a couple of days.

Les Robinson, who left The Citadel to come to East Tennessee State in 1985, actually hired LeForce at the Charleston, S.C., military school just days before ETSU came calling.

"It can be announced now," Robinson said. "I actually hired him on a Monday as an assistant coach at The Citadel, but that same week I got involved with East Tennessee State, so nobody ever knew it. As the week progressed I made three trips here and I took the job.

"Alan was definitely going to be an assistant at The Citadel, we just hadn't announced it. I told Alan, ‘Let's hold it. We may be going to Tennessee.'"

Once in Tennessee, the two teamed with Dave Hanners to put together what turned out to be the most exciting time in ETSU basketball history, combining to win four consecutive Southern Conference championships and making ETSU a national name as a mid-major that could play with just about anybody - and beat them on a given night.

So it was only fitting that Robinson and LeForce were together again this weekend, being inducted into the ETSU Athletics Hall of Fame on Saturday as part of a five-member class that also included runner Kim Bird, quarterback Todd Wells and basketball player Amy Engle.

"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Les, I'll tell you that right now," LeForce said Friday night at a reception for the inductees. "He's a great friend. I've known him for many, many years. He certainly deserves this honor. I'm just glad to be here with him.

"Honestly, it feels like I never left. I've been a few places in my career, and this is my favorite. We love it here. We spent 12 or 13 years here. The people of Johnson City, the university . you can't ask for a better place."

When Robinson left ETSU after the 1989-90 season for North Carolina State - he tripled his salary and got to coach his alma mater - LeForce took over and was the man who led the team to its biggest win ever, a victory over Arizona in the 1992 NCAA tournament as a 15th seed.

"That's nice to be remembered for," said LeForce, whose Coastal Carolina women's team was playing at UNC Asheville on Saturday. "But we had a bunch of good players. I was fortunate enough to inherit those guys and they played hard for me.

"We did get a nice win over Arizona, but we had a lot of good wins before that. We beat Tennessee, we beat North Carolina State, Cincinnati, Xavier, Memphis State. In my opinion, that's probably one of the top three or four teams, if not the best, that's ever been in the Southern Conference."

Engle was the 11th woman basketball player to score 1,000 points in a career at ETSU, surpassing that plateau in just two seasons (1994-96). She was a two-time All-Southern Conference selection after averaging 18.8 points a game and was the league's player of the year in 1996.

These days she pulls for the Mocs of Tennessee-Chattanooga, where her husband, John Shulman, is head coach. Shulman was an assistant under LeForce at ETSU.

"My allegiance is definitely to my husband," she said. "It's definitely tough, though, especially coming this year to the dome and they beat us."

It was only fitting that a former football player was inducted less than a month after the school announced a plan to potentially bring football back to campus. That was good news for Wells.

"My old roommate, Adam Walton, sent me an e-mail with the story about how they're trying to raise money, possibly build an outdoor stadium," Wells said. "I think it's great. I hate that it ever had to go away, but I understand it. I do hope they get a chance to bring it back. I look forward to coming to some games."

Wells is still the SoCon's all-time leader in total offense with 8,711 yards. His 7,735 career passing yards rank second in SoCon history only to Greg Ryan, the man he replaced at ETSU.

Well's best game came in his freshman year, 1997, when the Bucs beat sixth-ranked Appalachian State 51-28. He set ETSU single-game records for passing yards (377) and total offense (447 yards) in that contest.

"I remember that one very well," he said. "That was the biggest one. Of course there were many others, too. Furman comes to mind, when we upset them my senior year.

"A lot of my memories aren't even from on the field. Going on the road, Friday nights with the guys, getting ready for games. Even going to school . I loved going to school here. I wouldn't have changed it for anything."

Bird, a 1984 All-American under legendary track and field coach Dave Walker, still holds four school records, in the indoor 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 and outdoor 10,000.

"This really is a big honor, especially because it came from Coach Walker," Bird said of his induction. That's really the key for me."

Robinson, now athletic director at The Citadel, recalled when he and LeForce began coming to Johnson City shortly after taking the job but before moving here full time.

"We were a team," Robinson said. "We came up the mountain together years ago. We called it coming up the mountain because we were coming from sea level from Charleston. It was a great move for all of us."

Robinson will be remembered as the front man for those great ETSU teams, one of which almost pulled the greatest upset in NCAA tournament history when the 16th-seeded Bucs took No. 1 Oklahoma to the brink before falling by one point in 1989. But he deflected the credit for his accomplishments to his assistants, players and fans.

"This is a great honor," said Robinson, who was also athletic director at ETSU. "But it's really more about Dave Hanners, Alan LeForce and the players. It was just a special time. There's just good people up here. I loved the five years I spent here."

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