Akron Zips head men’s basketball coach John Groce officially announced the coaching staff for the 2017-18 season on Wednesday.
Joining Groce at the helm are Associate Head Coach Dustin Ford, Assistant Coach Rob Fulford, Assistant Coach Robby Pridgen, and Director of Basketball Operations Cole Pittis.
“Our goal was to put together one of the best coaching staffs in the country that fit our mission, to impact and develop student-athletes, and this group fits that framework perfectly,” Groce said. “We have a very experienced staff. All of our coaches have been successful at a variety of places and have a high level of expertise in recruiting, developing players and mentoring young people.”
Dustin Ford enters his 10th season on Groce’s staff. Ford spent five years as an assistant at Illinois and four seasons at Ohio under Groce. At Illinois, Ford helped lead the Fighting Illini to a 95-75 overall record with four postseason appearances, including a berth to the NCAA Tournament in 2013. At Ohio, the coaching duo led the Bobcats to an 85-56 overall record from 2008 to 2012. During that span, Ohio won two Mid-American Conference championships with two NCAA Tournament appearances, including a run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2012.
Prior to arriving in Athens, Ford served three years as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator on Larry Hunter’s staff at Western Carolina (2006-08). He was promoted to associate head coach in the spring of 2008. During his tenure at Western Carolina, he was responsible for recruiting two eventual Southern Conference Defensive Players of the Year in Brigham Waginger (2010) and Richie Gordon (2011) as well as SoCon Freshman of the Year Harouna Mutombo (2009).
Ford began his coaching career as the head varsity coach at Jackson High School in Jackson, Ohio, spanning four seasons (2002-05). Before entering the coaching profession, Ford was a standout player at Ohio, starting all four years (1998-01). He led the Bobcats in 3-point field goals as a junior and senior. Ford’s 166 career 3-pointers and 310 career assists currently rank seventh and eighth, respectively, in the Bobcats’ program history.
“Dustin is very talented in all areas,” Groce said. “We have been together for almost a decade now, and with that comes an understanding of what it takes to be successful and the processes that are involved for us to move our program forward. He not only has great familiarity with Akron, but with the MAC in general having played and coached in the conference previously. In addition Dustin grew up in the state and has established deep relationships throughout Ohio that will be beneficial to our program.”
With over 15 years of coaching experience, Rob Fulford is one of the more seasoned coaches on the staff. Prior to being hired at Akron, Fulford spent three seasons as an assistant at Missouri. He broke into the college ranks with Mizzou after building one of the nations most successful prep school programs in the country.
In 2009, Fulford founded Huntington Prep. in Huntington, W.Va. In five seasons as head coach, Fulford recorded a 139-18 overall record that included three consecutive seasons ranked inside the nation’s Top 10 and a season with a No. 22 ranking (2010-11; 25-3 overall). The 2013-14 team finished No. 3 in the nation with a 29-5 record, the 2012-13 team posted a 30-3 overall mark with a No. 7 ranking, while the 2011-12 squad went 28-2 with a No. 5 finish. During his tenure at Huntington Prep., Fulford produced NBA prospects Andrew Wiggins and Gorgui Dieng of the Minnesota Timberwolves, as well as, Stefan Jankovic of the Miami Heat.
Fulford also spent time as the head coach for Mountain State Academy (2006-09) and as an assistant at Mountain State University (1997-2000). As head coach of Mountain State Academy, he posted an 81-14 record over three seasons, and as an assistant at Mountain State University, he helped the NAIA powerhouse to an 84-16 mark.
“We are really excited about adding Rob to our coaching staff,” Groce said. “I was able to develop a relationship with him when he was at Huntington Prep. Watching Rob recruit, coach his team in practices and games, interact with our coaching staff, and mentor his players left a strong imprint on me. While at Missouri, Rob once again positively impacted their recruiting efforts, their player development and the coaching of their team. His unique perspective of being in both arenas, prep school and college, will be a great asset to our program as these experiences bring multiple international and national relationships.”
Akron, Ohio native Robby Pridgen joins the Zips’ staff after eight seasons as an assistant at Robert Morris. During his time at RMU, the Colonials posted a 157-118 overall record with five 20-plus win seasons and a 97-45 Northeast Conference mark. He helped lead the Colonials to back-to-back NIT appearances in 2013 and 2014, earning a pair of NEC regular-season titles. In addition, Pridgen made two trips to the NCAA Tournament after the Colonials won their seventh and eighth NEC Tournament Championships in 2010 and 2015.
Prior to Robert Morris, Pridgen spent three seasons as an assistant coach at alma mater Roanoke College, where he helped guide the Division III Maroons to an overall record of 54-27 with 17-plus wins in all three campaigns. In 2006-07, the Maroons made an appearance in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Tournament championship game and posted an overall record of 17-11 that season, followed by marks of 18-9 (2007-08) and 19-7(2008-09).
Pridgen started his coaching career as an assistant at Division III Mount Union (2003-04) before spending two seasons at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP, 2004-06).
As a player, Pridgen ranks sixth all-time on the career scoring list at Roanoke after compiling 1,586 points. In addition, he owns career records for 3-pointers (228), 3-point field goal attempts (568) and free-throw percentage (.864). In Roanoke’s single-game record book, Pridgen owns the record for 3-pointers made in a game with nine. He played his prep career at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio.
“I have always admired Robby,” Groce said. “Robby was a big part of Robert Morris’ success on the court and on the recruiting trail over the last 8 years. He is a very good evaluator of talent and brings a variety of geographic areas and established contacts to our recruiting efforts. In addition, he will make a big impact in our player development area where he is a gifted and passionate teacher of the game. The fact that Robby is from Akron, Ohio and played at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School makes this opportunity even more special for him and his family. He takes a great deal of pride in the City of Akron and the University.”
Making his third stint with the Akron basketball program is Cole Pittis. Pittis returns to the Zips basketball program following a one-year hiatus to Eastern Florida State College. Last season, Pittis helped lead the Titans to the NJCAA National Championship game and a 31-6 overall record.
Prior to his time at EFSC, Pittis was an assistant to the head coach at Akron (2015-16) under former head coach Keith Dambrot. In addition, Pittis spent three years on Akron’s staff, serving as a graduate assistant coach (2008-10), as well as the video coordinator and assistant director of operations (2010-11). During Pittis’ time with the Zips, Akron won two MAC Tournament titles (2009 and 2011) and a regular-season championship (2016). Akron advanced to postseason play in all four seasons, including two NCAA Tournament berths (2009 and 2011) and appearances in the NIT (2016) and CBI (2010).
Between the first two stretches with the Zips, Pittis joined his former college coach Geno Ford’s staff at Bradley for three seasons. Pittis acted as director of operations for two seasons (2012-13 and 2013-14) and was promoted to an assistant coach for the 2014-15 season.
Furthermore, Pittis played for and coached with Ford at Muskingum, earning first-team All-Ohio Athletic Conference honors and OAC All-Tournament Team as a senior. Upon graduation, Pittis immediately began his coaching career by joining Ford’s Muskingum staff as an assistant coach for the 2006-07 campaign. After Ford left Muskingum for Kent State, Pittis joined the Mount Union staff as an assistant coach for the 2007-08 season.
“Cole’s familiarity with the University, the City and Akron Basketball has been a real asset in our seamless transition, as this will be his third stint with the program,” Groce said. “His knowledge of the University processes and our returning players has been a real blessing. Cole is a well-rounded individual and has a great understanding of the inner workings of a college basketball program. He has done everything from being a Division I and junior college assistant coach to being a DOBO. He brings enormous benefit to the staff and knows how to get things done with scheduling, academics, camps, recruiting, campus visits, coaching, etc. Cole also has strong Ohio ties having played high school and college basketball in the state followed up by coaching stops at Muskingum, Mount Union and Akron.”