Quick Quiz: What milestone does Niagara coach Joe Mihalich share with just five other college coaches?
The other five are Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Tom Izzo (Michigan State), Phil Martelli (St. Joseph's), Mark Few (Gonzaga) and Rick Stansbury (Mississippi State).
Anser: Those six are the only active college basketball coaches with at least 200 victories and a .600 winning percentage at one school.
Mihalich has 205 victories over 11 seasons with the Purple Eagles and a .608 winning percentage (a 205-132 record).
Mihalich, too, holds another milestone. No other coach in the history of the MAAC has been at the same school for so long. Mihalich is now entering his 12th season at the conference's northern-most outpost. Only former Marist coach Dave Magarity was at a current MAAC school longer. He was there for 18 seasons, but only the last seven of those after the Red Foxes joined the league in 1997.
So, this blog entry is meant to give a small measure of appreciation to the Philadelphia native who has not only resurrected a program that struggled for years prior to his arrival, but has taken it to new heights.
The Purple Eagles have been to four national post-season tournaments (two NCAA's, two NIT's) in the past six years, and this past season's 26-9 record accounts for the highest single-season victory total by a Niagara team since the 1921-22 season.
Mihalich has been at Niagara for so long that he professes allegiance to the Buffalo Bills rather than to any Philadelphia team, despite having spent the first 41 years of his life in the City of Brotherly Love, including 17 seasons as an assistant coach at La Salle.
And, Mihalich's tenure is likely to continue for years to come. At age 53, he's not the young, hot coach more often in demand when bigger schools come calling. He has surely had opportunities to move on in the past, but he has embraced the quality of life in the Niagara region, a nice place to raise a family, as well as the security of a good job at what has become a very good mid-major level program.
And, none of that might have occurred where it not for, hindsight will show, a decision by Siena administrators 15 years ago.
When Siena coach Mike Deane left that program in 1994 for a position at Marquette, Mihalich was on the very short list of potential replacements. If memory serves, he was one of two finalists for the position, and so sure he would get the position that he asked this blogger (then working for an upstate New York newspaper) about the quality of local school districts his children might attend.
Instead, Siena's other candidate, Bob Beyer, was picked over Mihalich.
Mihalich coached four more seasons as a La Salle assistant before getting his first opportunity as a head coach when Niagara hired him prior to the 1998-99 season.
Siena probably can't complain too much. Although Beyer proved to be a disaster as a head coach, his time there was followed by three terrific seasons under Paul Hewitt (now the head coach at Georgia Tech).
And, if history had been different, maybe current coach Fran McCaffery, who has taken the Saints to unprecedented levels of success, would never have landed at Siena.
But, no one is complaining at Niagara, either. The Purple Eagles have had Mihalich for 11 years so far and, probably, for many more to come.
For Niagara, things couldn't have worked out any better.