We've been reading ...
Your hoopscribe came across a well-done, thought-provoking piece about the nation's best mid-major level coaches recently. Anyway, it did provoke my thoughts.
Well-done, thought-provoking ... and, lacking in, it says here, expertise related to the MAAC.
The story, done by Jason King for Yahoo Sports, highlighted, in no particular order, Blaine Taylor, Old Dominiion; Shaka Smart, VCU; Steve Alford, New Mexico; Tommy Amaker, Harvard; Randy Bennett, St. Mary's; Mike Davis, UAB; Fran Dunphy, Temple; Steve Fisher, San Diego State; Tim Floyd, Texas El Paso; Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa; Chris Mack, Xavier; Chris Mooney, Richmond; Stew Merrill, Utah State; John Pastner, Memphis; Dave Rose, BYU; and, Sydney Johnson, Fairfield (formerly Princeton).
The article mentioned nine others as also meriting a mention.
Yours truly has two proverbial bones of contention ...
1) Since when have the upper-echelon teams from Conference USA and the Atlantic 10, among others, ever been considered "mid-majors?"
The resources at schools like Memphis, BYU, Xavier, Richmond and more than a few others on the list, dwarf the true mid-majors that inhabit the MAAC.
2) There are 25 coaches, total, mentioned within the article and not a single one has ever coached a game in the MAAC.
OK, Fairfield's Johnson is now a MAAC coach, but his work to gain mention came at Princeton, his last stop.
The guess here is that the article's writer isn't very familiar with the MAAC. Before he moved to Yahoo Sports he worked for the Kansas City Star. He is a graduate of Baylor University. Both locales are far removed from the MAAC's northeast base.
If any opinion maker wants to opine about the top mid-major coaches, they had better look strongly at our conference of preference, because there are plenty of outstanding candidates within it.
Where to begin?
How about Joe Mihalich, who inherited a mostly downtrodden Niagara program located in a region that only true snow-lovers can enjoy for a good portion of the year. And, all Mihalich has done is to put up 11 winning seasons in his 13 at Monteagle Ridge. Great coaches usually move on, and Mihalich is the conference's dean of men's coaches. But, he got hired relatively late in his career, after a lengthy run as an assistant at La Salle, and Mihalich watched his children grow up over his time in Niagara. He has had opportunities to move on, but didn't want to displace his family. And, a note here: Mihalich nearly came into the MAAC many years before he landed at Niagara, finishing as the runner-up candidate in a Siena coaching search in 1994, losing out to Bob Beyer.
Or, how about Jimmy Patsos, who inherited a Loyola program that ranked as the worst nationally, in terms of consecutive losses in a season, the year before his arrrival. Patsos, a former Maryland assistant, hasn't yet won a MAAC title, but he has lifted his program to the upper half of the conference standings regularly and has made Loyola a place for local products to consider as a college destination, a situation that didn't exist before his arrival.
Then, there's Tommy Dempsey at Rider. In recent years his teams have won non-league games over nationally ranked Mississippi State (two years ago) and higher-caliber opponents USC. TCU and Loyola Marymount last season. And, a year after losing his best player (Ryan Thompson) and returning a group comprised almost entirely of role players, the Broncs were even better than the previous season, finishing 13-5 in conference play this past year, good for a tie for second place.
More? How about Tim Cluess at Iona? Previously a Division II coach Cluess made his mark in his first season at Iona, leading the Gaels to 25 wins, a four-win improvement over the previous year (a season good enough for previous coach Kevin Willard to move on to Seton Hall), and taking the program to the finals of the Collegeinsiders.com post-season tournament. He did that in his first Division I season.
And, then, there's John Dunne at Saint Peter's, a program whose facilities and financial support for its athletic program doesn't rank anywhere near the top of the conference. Dunne came in after previous coach Bob Leckie abandoned ship when the program's all-time best player, Keydren Clark, graduated. The early results were predictable, just 11 total wins in his first two seasons. And, early last season, his best player (Wesley Jenkins) suffered a knee injury and never approached full physical capabilities. But Dunne's team won 11 conference games for the second straight season (a Saint Peter's first since 1987-88 and 1988-89) and captured the MAAC's post-season tournament for the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA's.
And, even though Mitch Buonaguro "only" won 13 games in his first season as Siena's head coach, he did so despite more personnel injuries than any other conference program. Included was a severe ankle injury to his lone outside threat, Clarence Jackson, that had Jackson limp through games he was able to play. And, Buonaguro long ago stamped himself as knowing a little about the sport. It was his game plan, when he was an assistant coach at Villanova, that resulted in that program's historical upset victory over Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA tournament's national championship game.
And, we haven't even considered the other conference coaches, Tom Parrotta at Canisius, Chuck Martin at Marist and Steve Masiello at Manhattan.
Masiello is just beginning his first year as a Division I coach. Parrotta has been at Canisius for five years and since a 6-25 finish in 2007-09 his record has gotten progressively better each season. It was 15-15 this past year, not exactly overwhelming success. But, it was the first time the program didn't finish with a below-.500 mark since the 2000-01 season. Martin has been a seemingly annual victim of player defections, some not his fault. But, he appears to have good young talent in place right now. The jury is still out on whether he'll succeed at Marist, but his track record, particularly as an assistant coach at Memphis where he was a proponent of the effective dribble-drive offense, earns high marks.
That's nine overlooked MAAC coaches. Fairfield's Johnson is No. 10, and he's on the list. And, deservedly so for his work returning Princeton to the upper echelon of the Ivy League.
The bottom line is that it says here the MAAC has never been so strong, top to bottom, in terms of strong coaching.
And, those who don't see it just aren't looking hard enough.