Dustin Kerns has helped build men’s basketball teams before.
As a Wofford assistant, he helped the Terriers both build their foundation and appear in the NCAA Tournament. In the same role at Santa Clara, he played a part in 20-win seasons. And as a first-time head coach at Presbyterian College during the last two seasons, Kerns made a young Division-I program actually relevant with an offense that shot often from behind the 3-point line.
“Certainly I’ve been part of building three different programs,” Kerns said. “And there’s something fun with that. And I’m excited to continue that here.”
“Here” is Appalachian State.
Kerns was introduced Friday as the 22nd coach in program history. He’s tasked with re-energizing a fan base while placing the App State program back on a winning path. He replaces Jim Fox, who was fired earlier this month after five seasons with the Mountaineers. Fox went 56-99 during his tenure, registering more than 20 losses in three of the last four seasons.
“Although it seems like — it’s really only been 14 days since we undertook the opportunity to find the next men’s basketball coach at Appalachian, there is a process that goes through it and it takes a long time and there’s a lot of work that goes into it," Athletics Director Doug Gillin said.
“And it’s days like today that’ll make it all worthwhile.”
The Mountaineers have struggled to draw fans in recent years. During the 2018-19 season, App State had the worst home attendance in the Sun Belt, averaging 1,026 fans per game. Kerns comes from Presbyterian, one of the smallest D-I schools in the country.
Kerns inherited a Blue Hose program for the 2017-18 season that was coming off a five-win campaign. By his second season, he won 20 games and took Presbyterian to its first postseason tournament thanks to a berth in the CIT.
When it comes to engaging a fan base, Kerns said it doesn’t just come down to winning — though that helps. It’s about being present on campus. Kerns made that a point of emphasis while at P.C., and he plans to do it again.
“People want to be proud,” Kerns said. “I think there’s got to be engagement. My family and I will be very engaged in the community. Something I’ve done in the past as a head coach is I went and met with every fraternity, sorority, personally.
“I spend time with them, other student organization groups, I will do all of that. I can assure you that.”
On Friday, Kerns continuously mentioned the need to reconnect the past and present of the program. He said he spoke with former App State coaches Bobby Cremins and Kevin Cantwell that morning. He also called Donald Sims, the Mountaineers' all-time scoring leader, on Thursday night. He said he plans to talk with more former players.
Kerns also has connections to some of App State’s most successful time periods. He served as a grad assistant at Tennessee in 2003-04 for former App State coach Buzz Peterson. After his first stint at Wofford (2004 to 2007), he was an assistant at Santa Clara for Kerry Keating. Keating was one of Peterson’s assistant coaches during what might be the high point of App State basketball.
And then there’s his relationship with Matt McMahon. The current Murray State head coach is a former player and assistant at App State. The two grew up playing high school basketball against each other in Tennessee.
Kerns said he believes everything in life comes from timing. He thinks that now is the time for App State. And that can be true if everyone is involved in the goal.
“We’re going to get it done together,” Kerns said. “But this is a pretty cool place. There’s been a lot of really good coaches to come through here and our desire is to continue it.”