Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Coyle Seeks To Restore Luster To St. Peter's Program

It has been 15 years since Pat Coyle last coached in the MAAC, but she continued to follow the conference from afar and her opinion about it remains pretty much unchanged since then.

"It's a real good league, it's well run and it has a lot of terrific coaches," said Coyle, in a recent phone interview.

And, now, add one more terrific coach with Coyle's hiring to take over the Saint Peter's women's program this spring.

League followers have already seen what Coyle can do, based on her six-year stint at former conference member Loyola (1992-98). When she took over there the Greyhounds had won a grand total of 27 games over the previous five years. But Coyle's first season there resulted in 14 victories and an 8-6 MAAC record, the program's first-ever winning season in conference play.

Coyle's team then put up 18- and 20-victory seasons the next two years, winning the MAAC's post-season tournament and advancing to the NCAA's in both those seasons (1993-94, '94-95). She finished up with seasonal records of 15-13, 9-19 and 20-9 and was off to a 4-1 start to the 1998-99 season when she left Loyola to take a position as assistant coach with the WNBA's New York Liberty.

She eventually became that franchise's head coach for five seasons before she was replaced and, then, became an assistant coach at Pittsburgh where she had been for the past three seasons before Saint Peter's brought her back to the MAAC.

It seems to have come full circle for Coyle, who took on a significant rebuilding process at Loyola and, now, faces another one with the Peacocks.

Saint Peter's has had one overall winning season over the last 11 years, has a league-worst 13-79 mark over the past three seasons and finished last in the MAAC standings (2-16 and 2-28 overall) this past season.

"I'm not real concerned about what happened here in the past," said Coyle. "I haven't even looked at film from last year. I want to form my own opinion about what's here. Everyone's starting with a clean slate."

It's a slate that Coyle, a relatively late hire this past June, has been trying to fill in quick order.

"It has been non-stop since I got hired," she said. "It has been everything from trying to get to know the players, to getting out recruiting, to making connections with high school and AAU coaches ... just about everything."

It has also involved hiring a staff, a process that included a significant coup when Coyle brought in Phyllis Mangina, who had been the head coach at Seton Hall for 25 years (through 2009-10).

"I can't believe no one snatched her up to be a head coach since then," said Coyle.

Mangina had been serving as a TV color commentator for MAAC and Northeast Conference televised games since her departure from Seton Hall.

The past three months have also included getting to know some players.

"We had five here for summer school, which allowed me to work with them, get to know them and kind of gauge where they are," added Coyle.

Around for the summer were returning front-court starters Kaydine Bent and Antonia Smith, and rising sophomore frontcourt reserve Neechelle Ingram. Also on campus for the summer was incoming guard 5-foot-3 Marcia Senatus of Trenton Catholic H.S.

Coyle also knows she has other good returnees, particularly with guard Aziza May and Bridget Whitfield, one of the league's top perimeter shooters who was a perfect 8-for-8 in from three-point range in a game against Siena this past season.

"I'm real excited about being here," said Coyle. "I feel like it's a job we can do, and I look forward to the challenge. Sometimes all a program needs (to rebuild) is a new voice."

Considering her glittering resume, Coyle's is a voice that should command considerable respect.

"I'm sure, in this era of the internet, our players were looking me up on Google and knew all my background pretty quickly," said Coyle. "That (having a WNBA pedigree) doesn't hurt. But, you get your credibility by what you do on the floor with your players. We've got to get them better and doing that will get their respect.

"We've got to get the point across that you have to get it done every day. Recruting is a means of getting good players here. If you have good players, then you're probably going to be a good coach."

And, that's where Coyle's background could pay off in dividends. When a coach with WNBA experience as a head coach comes into a young lady's living room to pitch a college, the recruit is a lot more likely to listen.

If enough good players like what they hear from Coyle enough to attend Saint Peter's, then things will turn around in the near future.

And, it's not like it can't happen. Getting good players turns things around quickly, and evidence of that is as strong at Saint Peter's as it is at any MAAC program.

The Saint Peter's women's team had been to seven NCAA tournaments over the MAAC's first 21 seasons, more than any other conference team to that point (through 2001-02), and more than any New Jersey-based school other than Rutgers.

The Peacocks had also won at least 20 games in a season 15 times from the league's start in 1981 through the 2001-02 season, again more than any other MAAC team.

Its hallmark, mostly under Mike Granelli who retired after the 2003-04 season, not only was a program of talented players but ones that usually outworked opponents.

That attitude appeared to remain in place despite the team's recent woes, although the program's talent level hadn't matched its on-court desire during its stretch of losing seasons since Granelli's departure.

"What's really attractive about this job is that Saint Peter's has a real strong history," added Coyle. "This program has had some great success in the past. Granelli did a real good job here. I know, because I had to coach against him when I was at Loyola, and it was just a nightmare whenever you had to look forward to playing against Saint Peter's.

"That's what we want to bring back. This program was real good not that long ago. It was the Marist of this league before (Brian) Giorgis went to Marist and they started dominating the league."

That's what Coyle, already a proven program builder within the league, wants to restore at Saint Peter's. She wants her program to be the new Marist.

But if Coyle can bring her program back to its former level, then just becoming the old Saint Peter's will be plenty good enough.

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