Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Welsh is the answer, but the questions are just beginning

Will the foundation of his new house be in place for Tim Welsh, or will he face unexpected structural issues over the next five years?

It’s officially official: Hofstra issued a press release announcing a press conference for tomorrow at 11 a.m. introducing Tim Welsh as the Flying Dutchmen’s new head basketball coach. But since it’s April 1, I can still hold out hope that Tom Pecora is going to step out from behind the curtain to the sound of thunderous applause and the thud of one guy fainting with joy, right?

While my first choice would have been Van Macon—mostly because of the stability and continuity he would have represented as well as the belief he has earned this opportunity, partially because it would have been cool if this hire was part of the Jay Wright tree—I can’t argue too much with hiring of Welsh, who has agreed to a five-year deal worth a reported $3 million (more on that eye-popping figure in a bit).

Welsh led Iona to one NCAA Tournament and two NITs in three years in New Rochelle and recruited the players that went to the NCAA under Jeff Ruland in 2000 and 2001. Welsh then spent 10 years at Providence, where he reached the NCAA Tournament twice and the NIT three times while compiling a 160-142 record. He was fired following the 2008 season and Providence attempted to replace him with, we kid you not, beloved George Mason coach Jim Larranaga.

Speaking of Larranaga: In a remarkable bit of coincidence, he just signed another contract extension today. Nope, not trying to remind everyone who he almost succeeded, or who the big dog is in the CAA, not at all. Maybe Mason is just going to ink Larranaga to an extension every time he has to suspend a player, in which case he’ll coach long enough to become the Connie Mack of the CAA.

Anyway, landing Welsh—who should be familiar to the local high school and AAU coaches and shouldn’t need much of a reintroduction to the scene—in such swift fashion is a feather in the cap of athletic director Jack Hayes. This was the first high-profile coaching search conducted by Hayes, and his ability to file through his rolodex (Hayes graduated from Providence and worked at Big East rivals UConn and St. John’s), quickly close a deal while multiple other local schools are all seeking coaches and get the approval—financial and otherwise—of Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz was impressive.

This is a potentially perfect fit for Welsh, who heads into what very well could be his legacy job (yes, I am overusing that term this year, sue me). Hofstra is a great spot for someone who still has the hunger but no longer wants to deal with the constant pressure and scrutiny of a BCS gig.

Welsh could be Hofstra’s version of American’s Jeff Jones—someone who was once the hip and hot coach at a big six school but who, after being discarded despite a successful track record, is content to finish his career at a lower profile school where he is appreciated and expectations are more reasonable.

Hofstra has had just three coaches in the last 20 years. Coaches don’t work under a great deal of pressure here. Just remain competitive (the second Butch van Breda Kolff era gets a bad rap because of the rough final two seasons in which the Dutchmen had no real conference affiliation, but he was eight games over .500 with a regular season ECC championship in his first four seasons), play by the rules, play well with others and you can stay as long as you want—even now, with Hofstra making a historic commitment to men’s basketball.

For that, Rabinowitz—the target of this morning’s blog—should be commended, albeit in measured, reserved and skeptical tones.

Some people will wonder if I’m just being cynical and contrarian just for the sake of being skeptical and contrarian. Who, me? Never! But as impressed as I am with the lucrative contract awarded to Welsh, I’m also wondering if the deal is more reactive than proactive—instinctual jabs aimed at Pecora for bolting for a lesser program for a lot more money as well as those who have criticized Hofstra’s since it extinguished football.

Giving Welsh $600,000—a 50 percent raise over what Pecora made in his most lucrative year—allows Hayes and Rabinowitz to effectively end any conversation about the future of Hofstra athletics. It also indicates the school thinks far higher of Welsh than it ever did of Pecora. And if you happen to think Pecora is really greedy and foolish because he ended up at a 2-26 school that only pays him $50,000 more than Hofstra is paying his replacement, well, my guess is Hofstra wouldn’t mind that at all.

But it must be asked: Why wasn’t Hofstra willing to pay its head men’s basketball coach $600,000 last week? If Hofstra is going to offer $600,000 to a coach, shouldn’t it reward the guy who turned this INTO a $600,000 a year job? Most importantly, after giving the head coach a dramatic raise, is Hofstra ready to make a commensurate re-investment in the program? If Hofstra is spending almost as much on its head coach as Fordham, is it ready to spend almost as much on the entire program as Fordham?

Yes, I know, Pecora never led Hofstra to the NCAA Tournament, and I understand it would have been difficult to spin a 50 percent raise for Pecora after nine straight years without a conference championship. But c’mon. This is Hofstra, where nobody ever knows about a “two-year study” to determine the future of the football program. If the school wanted to hike Pecora’s salary and redouble its investment in men’s basketball, it could have very easily done so behind the scenes.

And if Pecora thought Hofstra would be, at some point soon, ready to make a Fordham-type investment in men’s basketball, would he really have left a nice situation for a monstrous rebuilding job?

Maybe this was the plan all along once football disappeared and as simple as Hofstra doing what Kyle Whelliston says all non-football schools should do: Allocate more resources to men’s basketball than any other sport.

And hey, maybe Pecora was gone no matter what. Maybe he had stars in his eyes and didn’t want to wait any longer for the A-10 to invite Hofstra, or for Hofstra to join an entirely new conference that is on par with the A-10. Maybe he wanted the royal welcome he got at Fordham. Maybe he likes maroon. Maybe it was just time for a divorce. Pecora was inherited by both Rabinowitz and Hayes. Maybe they were saving the big payday for their guy.

But still, today, this feels a lot like the Mets responding to the criticism generated by the 2002 firing of Bobby Valentine by overpaying for Art Howe. After signing Howe to a four-year, $9 million contract—a longer and more lucrative deal than Valentine ever had—the Mets spun a yarn about how they got a guy who “lit up the room” during his interview. No offense to Howe, one of the nicest men to ever occupy a manager’s office, but the night light in a bathroom has more wattage than Howe.

That is not to compare Welsh to Howe, AT ALL, or to declare Welsh will be a disastrous hiring. Just saying it feels like Hofstra is consumed with winning the press conference and quieting critics.

Paying a head coach a sky-high salary is the equivalent of slapping some sharp-looking siding on a house. It’s no good unless the foundation is in place. Is Hofstra willing to make the investment necessary to make this hire worth it? The school will win the press conference tomorrow, no doubt about that. But is it ready to win the next 1,826 days, as well?

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1 comment:

variaban said...

Maybe Pecora didn't get the pay raise because he's always trying to throw in comments about not really enjoying CAA play and using the demographics as an excuse for not winning the CAA tournament or getting an NCAA bid. Sort of similar to the Larranaga bashing by HU fans even though the man is a great coach and a great representative of the CAA everywhere he goes.

Maybe if they (bitter HU fans, students, etc) focused less on GMU and attending more HU games, the school and the team would see greater interest in their B-Ball program and provide some confidence in their decision allocating money for the sport.

Welsh seems like he wants to get in and kick some ass, doesn't really matter who he plays or what conference he's in, he just wants to win. Then again, he's going to have to show that in the next year.