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Coppin State basketball coach Fang Mitchell agrees to new deal

Faced with a mandate to reverse Coppin State's long, painful slide to basketball mediocrity, Fang Mitchell rebuilt the program almost overnight and delivered the program's first winning season in seven years in 2010-11.

Now, apparently, he will get a chance to continue the turnaround.

The iconic coach said Tuesday that he has agreed in principle on a new contract that will allow him to reap the dividends of his 2010 recruiting class of precocious junior college players.

"I want to be able to coach the guys I brought in," Mitchell said Tuesday.

Mitchell's job security has been in question for more than a year, and it took more than a month after the 2010-11 season ended to arrive at a resolution for next season.

Mitchell said he had reached "common ground" in his negotiation with university president Reginald Avery and that he expected the contract to be finalized this week.

Avery was off campus Tuesday and unavailable to comment. Athletic director Derrick Ramsey, who issued the winning mandate, declined to comment.

It is believed the contract is for multiple years.

Mitchell gave Coppin a national profile in the 1997 NCAA tournament, in which the Eagles upset second-seeded South Carolina. That was one of four NCAA appearances for Coppin in the 1990s, a decade when Mitchell ruled the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with stifling defense and fast-break offense.

He crafted a rich tradition despite his teams' playing in a dimly lit gym off North Avenue in an impoverished part of town with recruits who had been passed over by bigger Division I colleges. In an eight-year run from 1990 to 1997, Coppin went to six postseason tournaments, including two National Invitation Tournaments.

In 25 seasons in Baltimore, Mitchell has won 394 games and 10 regular-season titles.

But the past 11 years of Mitchell's reign were marred by losing teams, dwindling funds for the program and an exodus of disgruntled recruits. His pipeline to Philadelphia recruits disappeared, and the school's talent level dropped.

With the advent of Coppin's new, $136 million on-campus arena a year ago, there also was new emphasis on generating increased revenue. At the same time, Ramsey said he expected the basketball team to compete for championships as well as maintain high academic standards.

Mitchell, 63, cleared his roster after a disastrous 8-22 season in 2009-10 and brought in eight new players. Picked to finish at the bottom of the league, the Eagles finished third in the MEAC at 11-5 and went 16-14 overall.

Coppin led the MEAC in scoring this past season, and Mitchell returns most of the players from that team, including rising junior Michael Harper (15.2 points per game) and junior college players Akeem Ellis (12.2), Tony Gallo (11.4) and Antonio Williams (6.7 rebounds).

In addressing his prolonged negotiations with the university, Mitchell emphasized that the delay had nothing to do with money. The new deal will not include Mitchell's previous guarantee on nonconference revenue games, a contract clause that drew debate within the school administration.

"There is no guaranteed game money," Mitchell said Tuesday. "It's not an issue, and it hasn't been an issue."

Mitchell's career record as a college coach is 620-402 over 33 years. He spent eight years at Gloucester County Community College before arriving in Baltimore in 1986.

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