Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Siena Makes Right Move In Hiring Jimmy Patsos

The white smoke appears to be coming out of a chimney at Siena's Loudonville, N.Y., campus indicating that a new men's basketball coach has been chosen.

As has a variety of local media outlets, your Hoopscribe's sources confirmed that Jimmy Patsos will be coming north, taking over at Siena after nine seasons as Loyola's coach.

Your blogger can't remember a single time when a MAAC program hired a coach from another program within the conference. But, Patsos' interest in Siena was predicated more than a little on Loyola's decision to leave the MAAC for the Patriot League after the current academic year.

Loyola is making the move for reasons that have little to do with basketball. Its lacrosse program is that school's primary sport, and the Patriot League offers a more-competitive league for that sport. Primarily, though Loyola's move is a business decision, one designed both to affiliate the school with others of high academic reputations as well as to bring Loyola's athletic teams to areas (Washington, D.C., Boston) where the school hopes to attract more admission candidates.

The Patriot League, though, is not only a step down competitively from the MAAC for basketball but presents the challenge of recruiting from a smaller pool of potential players due to that league's higher level of admissions standards.

While Patsos had been saying all the "politically correct" things about Loyola's move, he left little doubt that he didn't embrace the move from a basketball perspective.

Thus, Patsos to Siena came at the perfect time. The "Perfect Storm," if you will, a combination of Loyola's move and Siena's opportunity.

The league change made Patsos more likely than ever to look elsewhere for employment, and the Albany market has always been an attractive one to him. Patsos has never hidden his love for the Albany area and its diversity of non-sporting lifestyle benefits as well as for the opportunities Siena's basketball program can offer. What's not to like about a higher operating budget, a 15,000 arena home court and a large and passionate (as long as the Saints win games) fan base.

Your scribe has followed every Siena coaching search, in some form or other, since John Griffin left the program to try his hand on Wall Street back in 1986.

Siena's past coaching hires have been mostly of the hit and miss variety. There have been some solid contacts made in past hiring processes, as well as some egregious swings and misses.

This one, it says here, is the proverbial home run and all who read the words that often appear in this forum know that I haven't hid my preference for the hiring of Patsos.

It marks only the second time the program has hired a coach who comes in directly from being a head coach elsewhere. The first of those hires came eight years ago when Siena brought in Fran McCaffery from UNC-Greensboro, and that one worked out pretty well, didn't it?

Finances have a little to do with that. In recent years, Siena has been willing and able to pay its head coach an attractive enough salary to entice a candidate from another school to come to Loudonville. Heck, two of its three final candidates (Patsos and Andy Toole at Robert Morris) already had Division I head coaching positions.

That hasn't always been the case. When finances were a little tighter at the school, it was necessary to find the young-assistant-on-the-rise candidate chomping at the bit for a first opportunity to run a program and not requiring a break-the-bank salary.

But conventional wisdom tells us that the 18-inch move from the bench-seating position of top assistant to head coach is a significant one.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. It's almost impossible to predict.

Mike Deane came to Siena after being an assistant at Michigan State, had eight successful years (1986-87 through 1993-94) and lifted the program from a fledgling Division I level to one that went to an NCAA tournament and three NITs. That was a hit.

His replacement, Bob Beyer, came in after a year as an assistant at Wisconsin (and several years before that as a Deane assistant at Siena), and failed miserably enough to get fired after three years. Swing and a miss.

Next came Paul Hewitt (1997-98 through 1999-00), previously an assistant at Villanova. Hewitt took the rubble that Beyer left behind and turned the program around immediately. His second and third seasons resulted in NCAA and NIT appearances, and he is arguably the best coach ever to walk the Siena sidelines. Another hit.

After Hewitt came Louis Orr, direct from an assistant's position at Syracuse. Orr lasted all of 49 weeks and, then, moved on to Seton Hall. Behind the scenes, Orr had an executive disconnect from his players and the perception here was that he wasn't ready yet to be a head coach. He didn't last long enough at Siena for that perception to be reinforced. A miss ... or, at best, a foul ball.

Orr was replaced by yet another assistant, Rob Lanier in 2001. The runner-up in that search was former Siena player Matt Brady. Lanier's resume was just a little better (he was a successful assistant at Texas, while Brady was an aide at St. Joseph's). Hindsight indicates Siena should have hired one of its own. Brady went on to four strong seasons at Marist and, now, is the head coach at James Madison University which made it to this year's NCAA field. Lanier went to the NCAA's in his first season, to the NIT in his second and, then, had two down seasons that resulted in his dismissal. A miss.

McCaffery, formerly a head coach, followed Lanier and, like Hewitt, quickly turned around what had been a less-than-stellar situation. If Hewitt wasn't the best coach in Siena's Division I history, then it was McCaffery. A solid hit.

McCaffery's top assistant, Mitch Buonaguro, was promoted when McCaffery moved on to Iowa. Buonaguro had been a head coach at Fairfield but had been an assistant for nearly 20 years before his promotion at Siena. A miss.

Buonaguro's poor won-loss record in his three seasons resulted in the current search that produced Patsos.

So, if you're keeping score of Siena's success rate in hiring individuals directly from the ranks of assistant coaches: Deane, Hewitt were major "hits." Beyer, Lanier, Buonaguro and Orr were "misses."

That's 2-for-6, a good batting average for baseball players but not necessarily for administrators who pick basketball coaches.

The program's 1-for-1 rate for hiring directly from the ranks of head coaches (McCaffery) is perfect.

And, now, comes another one in Patsos.

The benefits?

In nine seasons as head coach, Patsos theoretically has worked out all the growing pains. He knows how to do whatever it is that goes into being a successful head coach.

What else?

- He comes in from another MAAC program. He knows the league immeasurably better than any other candidate Siena had at any time in the process. We've seen new coaches come in, put up a large display board with names of every other MAAC program's players ... and not know much beyond the names, not really have any idea how good any of those players were. Patsos knows every player in the league from having coached against them, having directly scouted them. He knows every recruit coming into the league and, probably, knows every high school junior and sophomore on the recruiting lists of other MAAC programs.

- He has "big time" experience, having spent 14 seasons before his hiring at Loyola as an assistant to Gary Williams at Maryland.

- He is extremely well-connected in the basketball "fraternity," enough so to have occasionally been invited to the famous weekly "Red Auerbach lunches" in the D.C. area the last few years of Auerbach's life. He'll have no problem bringing in quality assistants. His lengthy list of connections will serve him well on the recruiting trail.

- He has is a larger-than-life presence, which of itself attracts interest in a program by the force of his passion.

- A former sideline "wild man," he has considerably toned down his in-game theatrics. It's all part of understanding what does and doesn't work, part of the growth of a head coach.

- He is universally loved not only by those in his program, but might have been the most popular individual on the Loyola campus. By all accounts, he was appreciated by everyone at Loyola, from the maintenance crew to the school administrators.

- He knows how to restore luster to a program, and to attract interest and Siena needs that on both counts right now.

The year before his arrival at Loyola, that program finished 1-27 and had the nation's worst Ratings Percentage Index. The Greyhounds' previous coach, Scott Hicks, once revealed that high school athletes in the fertile Baltimore/D.C. recruiting area perceived themselves as failures as players if their best option for a scholarship was at Loyola.

Patsos quickly changed all of that. Loyola had a winning record in his second season. Interest increased from moms-and-dads-only attendees (literally fewer than 100 attended games) to near sell-out average crowds in recent years, often dotted with local celebrities. And his recent Loyola rosters were well-populated by players from the Baltimore area who passed up offers from elsewhere.

And, Patsos has won 47 games over the past two seasons, the most of any MAAC program. His teams have been to national post-season tournaments the past two years, the NCAA's in 2011-12 and the CIT this season.

As is always is with coaches of any sport, it all comes down to winning. Patsos knows how to do that, as his tenure at Loyola indicates.

He is the full package. By far the best candidate in the assembled field of candidates for this particular opening.

It says here that Siena has hit another home run in bringing in Jimmy Patsos as its new head coach.

The search is over. The white smoke has been seen.

Sit back and enjoy.

No comments: