Thursday, May 27, 2010

Softball’s success is a reminder not to forget football’s lessons

Next year, let's not wait until the NCAA Tournament to applaud the Flying Dutchwomen softball team.

I’ve been beaten to the punch all over the place this week. On Tuesday, I surfed the CAA Zone, where poster Stuball888 started a thread lauding the Flying Dutchwomen softball team for a tremendous 2010 campaign. Well, drat, I guess I won’t be the first to do that.

Then I pondered trying to set up a couple interviews about the Dutchwomen’s NCAA Tournament run and, in particular, their epic and eventually noble defeat at the hands of perennial powerhouse Arizona. But I checked the official Hofstra athletics site, just to make sure Charles Jenkins hadn’t signed with a team in Denmark, and saw Jeremy Kniffin—the crack men’s basketball SID who certainly deserved last weekend’s excitement after all the headaches the coaching searches and player transfers gave him in the two months he was supposed to be focusing on his spring sport—had already penned an excellent and detailed appreciation of the season and the program.

Included in his story was a link to a tremendous column by Arizona Daily Star columnist Greg Hansen, who did a nice job of chronicling a classic game as well as explaining just how much of a scare the Dutchwomen put into an Arizona squad so successful at home that fans expect games to be called after five innings due to the mercy rule.

So I suggest you check out their work, and then ponder how appropriate it is that the last gasp of the 2009-10 athletic year at Hofstra was taken by the softball team, because its anonymous success is a reminder of the lessons we should have taken from Dec. 3.

That it took a scintillating NCAA Tournament run for most of us—myself most certainly included—to climb aboard the softball bandwagon is an indicator those lessons haven’t sunk in quite yet. The softball team averaged 307 fans for 22 games at Hofstra Softball Stadium, less than half the capacity of just under 1,000. Other average attendances for winter and spring sports:

Men’s basketball: 2,410 (17 games)
Men’s lacrosse: 1,693 (7 games)
Women’s basketball: 522 (14 games)
Women’s lacrosse: 206 (8 games)
Baseball: 181 (19 games)

Look, I understand no Hofstra team will ever play to capacity crowds. I also understand the demands of real life, as well as a simple matter of liking some sports more than others, makes it impossible to support every team equally.

Even following certain teams from a distance doesn’t diminish the—wait for it!!!—pride we can take in their success, in the way a citizen takes pride in a community landmark. There is security in knowing the softball team is churning along, winning conference championships and making the university look good. The program is so consistent, it almost lulls us into complacency. We don’t have to check up on it. It’s as much a part of Hofstra as tulips and tuition hikes. It’s always there and it’ll always be there, it doesn’t need our support.

Well, a lot of us thought that too, about football, which wasn’t as successful this decade, on the field, as it was during the ‘90s, but was still sending players and coaches to the pros with impressive regularity. Turns out football needed our support.

What was the common lament among Hofstra sports fans in the aftermath of Dec. 3? “We could have done more.” No, we couldn’t have barged into a super-secret Stonecutters meeting and influenced “their” decision, but if the football team was drawing more fans in a season than Delaware does to a single game—or if the student section didn’t number in the mid-triple digits—it would have been tougher to justify the nuking of the program.

Not impossible, given the determination of the decision-maker, but that “500 students” figure couldn’t have been bandied about as a reason for the execution and then relayed, 1984-style, by half-wits in the media who thought “500” referred to the actual average attendance. (Look at that, I’m blasting the mainstream media—guess I’m a real blogger now!!!)

That’s not to say softball is any danger whatsoever of suffering football’s fate. But, again, we have to salvage some kind of positive from the demise of football. And what better way to do so than by supporting the teams that are left by overcoming the biases that relegate most sports at Hofstra to afterthought status?

Every sport here except men’s basketball and perhaps men’s lacrosse is victimized by performing in almost complete anonymity. The games in other sports are not seen on the ESPN flagship, their championships do not receive a great deal of national attention, or any sort of national attention for that matter, or really, any sort of local attention. The softball postseason media guide featured exactly two stories from Long Island’s lone daily newspaper.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking these other sports somehow matter less than those whose news makes the back pages and whose championships land in prime time, especially once you realize talking about Hofstra’s success in softball or lacrosse or wrestling will not keep the attention of the average sports fan.

Don’t do it. Be better than that—and this advice goes for me as much as you. So you’ll never be the center of attention at the water cooler (does anybody actually gather at the water cooler?). Just enjoy it for what it is—which, when it comes to softball, is an outstanding program that, like football in the ‘90s, has overcome a variety of obstacles it could not control (geography in the case of softball, a lack of scholarships and conference affiliation in football) to compete with the top programs in the land.

Realize that, with rare exception (think the 2006 men’s lacrosse team) the m.o.—not the Mo—for a mid-major athletic program is an ultimately unhappy ending, but don’t let that diminish the enjoyment of watching Hofstra pursue and take on the best competition possible.

And don’t let it stop you from being part of the communal involvement you won’t get following sports at a BCS school. When I overslept the morning of May 14 and failed to follow my own advice about taking in a softball-baseball doubleheader, I was most disappointed not about missing Olivia Galati’s no-hitter (though I wasn’t thrilled with that) but with missing the sight of Hofstra athletes supporting the teams at both games.

Next season, don’t wait until mid-to-late May to jump on the softball bandwagon. Give to softball, and the rest of the sports, the type of support we wish we had given football, and would if we only had another chance—and understand, starting now, that our actions must speak louder than our words.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Friday, May 21, 2010

The secret to success is simple for Edwards and Hofstra softball

Bill Edwards might borrow part of his coaching philosophy from Jim Morris, the real-life inspiration for The Rookie as played by Dennis Quaid, but he's plenty experienced when it comes to winning championships.

All it takes is 30 seconds with Flying Dutchwomen softball coach Bill Edwards to realize he’s not kidding when he declares he has tunnel vision.

“We really haven’t talked much about anything from last year to this year,” Edwards said Monday in response to a question about whether or not the Dutchwomen used last season—when Hofstra’s streak of 11 straight conference championships and six consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances was snapped—as motivation this season. “I know they have. It was like the first week, we said ‘Let’s see if we can…’”

Edwards paused. “I forget the word that we used.”

Then he looked towards the bullpen. “Hey what was the word that we used early on?”

“What word?” sophomore catcher Courtney Crews said. “Kick butt? Awesome?”

“No,” Edwards said. “Regroup or reclaim or what was…”

“Re-establish,” piped up another player who was walking out of Hofstra Softball Stadium.

“Re-establish,” Edwards repeated. “We just mentioned it once.”

Once turned out to be more than enough for the Dutchwomen, who returned to the top of the CAA in resounding fashion. Hofstra, which lost six starters from last year’s team—including three-time CAA Pitcher of the Year Kayleigh Lotti—opened the season on an eight-game winning streak and won its first 11 conference games on its way to an 18-2 CAA finish.

The Dutchwomen mounted a dramatic seventh inning comeback—capped by Jess Hirschbuhl’s game-winning grand slam—against Towson in the first game of the CAA Tournament last week and outscored James Madison and Georgia State 11-1 in winning the final two games and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Freshman pitcher Olivia Galati threw a no-hitter in the title game win over Georgia State, the first no-hitter in the history of the CAA Tournament.

The Dutchwomen did all this with four freshmen or sophomores in the everyday lineup as well as a sophomore, Erin Wade, as the no. 2 pitcher behind Galati. “All of our young players bought into what the seniors were selling, bought into what the coaching philosophy is and what Hofstra’s softball philosophy is,” Edwards said. “So when you have everyone buying into the same thing and everybody working toward that common goal of re-establishing ourselves, it was great.”

The Dutchwomen begin play in the NCAA Tournament tonight at the University of Arizona, where they take on Oklahoma State at 7 p.m. in the first game of the double-elimination regional. And while the goal is the program’s first trip to the College World Series, the Dutchwomen know, regardless of how they fare, that the rest of the CAA realizes Hofstra is back where it belongs.

“We brought the tradition back to Hofstra and we’re going to keep that tradition going,” said outfielder Kris Root, who is part of a senior class that never lost a CAA series. “I think we took care of our business by leaving no doubt to anyone that we were the best team in the conference, and I think that by us doing that, we showed them that we deserved to win it and we will keep winning it.”

Winning conference titles is just about all Edwards has done at Hofstra since he arrived in 1990. Sports come (neither women’s soccer nor women’s golf existed when Edwards arrived) and sports go (football was a Division III powerhouse in 1990). Coaches come and coaches go: There have been 45 coaching changes and three athletic directors at Hofstra since Edwards stepped foot on campus and the only coach at Hofstra who predates Edwards is men’s soccer coach Richard Nuttall, who took over in 1989.

Through it all there has been Edwards, who was inducted into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame last December, and a dominant softball team. The Dutchwomen have won their conference’s regular season or tournament title in each of the last 19 seasons, a streak that encompasses four conferences (the ECC, ECAC, NAC/America East and the CAA). The youngest player on this year’s team, Tessa Ziemba, was nine months old when Hofstra’s championship streak started in the spring of 1992.

Hofstra also won 11 straight conference tournaments—a Division I softball record—before the Dutchwomen sputtered last spring and didn’t record a victory in the CAA Tournament.

The success of Edwards and the softball team is particularly noticeable at the end of what has been a trying school year for Hofstra sports. But Edwards doesn’t think about what the softball team means in the context of a nine-month period in which football was extinguished and three different men had the title of head basketball coach.

“I just come to work everyday and do my job—I don’t think about any of that,” Edwards said. “I just worry about my own little team and my 18 young ladies that I’m in charge of and I don’t think about anything other than doing the best that I can do.

“I don’t worry about anything. I’m very tunnel-visioned, very much concerned only about my team and what I have to do to have them have the success that they deserve.”

Edwards has instilled into the Dutchwomen a similar focus and a belief that no game—not even an NCAA Tournament game—is any bigger than the last. “It’s not necessarily about playing the perfect game, it’s not necessarily about getting hyped up,” Root said. “It’s about staying calm and playing it like it’s any other game. Because if you make it more than that, that’s when you mess up.”

“Just another game on just another field,” Edwards said. “Every game we play, it’s just another game. We come to the ballpark to have a good time, to play softball.”

Then, with a grin, he added: “It’s like that great line in The Rookie: ‘You know what we get to do today? We get to play baseball.’ Well, you know what we get to do today? We get to play softball.

“So I don’t care if we’re playing in Arizona or playing here at Hofstra or if we’re playing Iona up there. Wherever we’re playing, it doesn’t make a difference. What we get to do today is we get to play and we get to play at a very high level.”

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

And then there were nine (for now)

Stop wrecking havoc with Hofstra, Agatha!!!

I am beginning to think the athletic director at Hofstra is not Jack Hayes but the ghost of Agatha Christie. The basketball version of Ten Little Indians—Twelve Tall Dutchmen?—continued today, when rising sophomore Chaz Williams told Adam Zagoria he received his release from his scholarship and will transfer.

Assuming Williams exits as planned—Zagoria reported Williams is looking at Rutgers and Providence in the Big East and LaSalle in the Atlantic 10, boy, at this rate, there will be fewer A-10 teams without Hofstra ties than those with—Hofstra will have made two gloriously unwanted bits of history this spring.

As I wrote earlier this month, only one all-rookie player in the first 24 years of the CAA left immediately after his freshman season (William & Mary’s Bill Phillips after the 1997-98 campaign). Hofstra lost two in a matter of a month.

In addition, should Williams follow Halil Kanacevic out the door, Hofstra would also become the first school in CAA history to place at least two players on the all-rookie team and have neither finish his career at the school. We’re number one! We’re number one!

This is not good news for Hofstra, of course, and it’s another crushing blow for seniors Charles Jenkins, Nathaniel Lester, Greg Washington and Brad Kelleher. What looked to be a shot at a storybook senior year is now turning into, well, an Agatha Christie novel, and there’s still almost five months to go before practice starts.

It also really increases the pressure on Mo Cassara to ensure next year is the bridge year (Theo Epstein just took time off from rocking out to Pearl Jam to glance upward) and that the newcomers Cassara lands the next two years are keepers. Williams and Kanacevic were not only the obvious anchors for the 2011-12 team but also the answers to the point guard and big man problems that had plagued the Dutchmen the last few years.

Now those problem areas are problems again and the 2011-12 team will be led by—well, who? Of the five players on the Hofstra roster who will still have collegiate eligibility after next season, two (Paul Bilbo and Mike Moore) have yet to play a minute for the Flying Dutchmen while the other three (Yves Jules, David Imes and Matt Grogan) averaged 6.5 minutes, 1.3 points and 0.7 rebounds per game last season.

Of course, there’s still 17 months to go before the 2011-12 team convenes—plenty of time for Bilbo, Moore, Jules, Imes and Grogan to get picked off this Island in mysterious fashion.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Friday, May 14, 2010

NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Q&A: Patrick Stevens

We believe in transparency around here, and when it comes to lacrosse, I’ve just never gotten it. I blame my upbringing in rural Connecticut, a whole ‘nother world away from the lacrosse hotbed of Fairfield County.

But lacrosse is big among the Dutch Nation (snort) faithful, probably the second-most popular sport behind men’s basketball (kind of like being the second-tallest midget in a room, but I digress). We understand the Loyal Readers here will want some lacrosse coverage, but as I noted yesterday, I’m not going to bluff you with my two-seven off-suit. Better to leave it in the hands of the trained professionals—you know, guys like Patrick Stevens.

I met Patrick—the maven of mid-Atlantic college sports and author of the outstanding D1scourse blog—in the Twitterverse over the winter and then in person in Richmond, where I spent about four of my 36 hours sitting in his seat along press row. He’s done a fantastic job of covering men’s lacrosse in general and has been all over tournament coverage this week.

He took a few minutes yesterday to discuss the NCAA Tournament, including of course an in-depth analysis of the first-round game Saturday between Hofstra and Maryland, as well as to explain how he ended up doing the blog in the first place (spoiler: because the real world, and the “business” of journalism in particular, sucks) and the difference between covering college basketball and college lacrosse. He also sneaks in a reference to Se7en, the creepiest movie ever made. Thanks again to Patrick for his time and make sure to read both his blog and his Twitter (@D1scourse) leading up to and during Saturday’s game.

Let’s shatter the idyllic hopes and dreams of aspiring writers who stumble upon this site and think sports journalism is the ultimate dream-come-true gig with absolutely no downside whatsoever. Explain the series of events that led to you starting this blog, as well as what D1scourse means (I’m stumped on the scourse part).

Long story short, I got a part-time gig with The Washington Times out of college in the summer of 2002. From there, I worked my way up to full-time copy editor, then got moved into the Maryland football and basketball beat early in the Terrapins' 2005 season. So far, so good. Then the Times faced some financial turmoil, and decided the best way to proceed was to slash the entire sports department at the end of last year. So that sort of sucked. I'm still looking for permanent work, and have used the blog as a bit of a sanity saver—maybe more than I should.

Anyway, "D1scourse" is supposed to be pronounced "discourse," but still maintain the play on "D-1." You know, sort of like Se7en, minus the decapitation and a creepy appearance from Kevin Spacey at the end and Numb3rs with just a little bit less math (but not much). That was the blog name I had at the Times, and figured that if they didn't want a sports section they probably didn't care if I took the name of the blog, either. It's supposed to be Google-friendly, but I might have out-thought myself on that one.

In happier news: Hofstra made the NCAA Tournament despite not qualifying for the CAA Tournament. What do you think it was about Hofstra that impressed the Selection Committee?

Without question, it was Hofstra's victory over Johns Hopkins back in March. It's really the best argument Seth Tierney's team can come up with, and it would have been pretty weak had Hopkins lost either of its last two games and not vaulted into the top 10 in the RPI.

Hofstra's strength of schedule was middling, it had just a dreadful loss to Penn State and its second-best win was against a sub-.500 team (Towson). To be fair, a midseason evisceration of Army certainly was impressive. But without that Hopkins win, this team had no chance to be in the tournament.

You’ve seen a lot of Maryland games this year. What makes them a dangerous opponent for Hofstra, and conversely, is there anything Hofstra does that makes the Flying Dutchmen particularly dangerous for Maryland?

The best part about this edition of Maryland is it never gives a whole lot away. Virginia (twice) and North Carolina had to play well to beat the Terps, and they never seem to panic even after a lousy quarter at various junctures.

The Terps' offensive pieces, particularly on attack, are going to be difficult for anyone to deal with. Grant Catalino and Will Yeatman are both big guys who aren't easy to defend, and Ryan Young (a Long Island product) helps orchestrate the offense. One other guy to look out for is Brian Farrell, Maryland's junior long pole. Few players nationally are as lethal in transition.

As for Hofstra, the three guys who really stand out are Jamie Lincoln (the Denver transfer), Jay Card and Kevin Ford. Lincoln and Card are the explosive scorers from Canada, one a lefty and one a righty. Ford came back from injury not too long ago, and adds an extra element for opponents to plan for.

No one I talk to seems to have a good recent comparison for what Hofstra does. They might be a smarter, more poised version of the Denver team Maryland beat up in the 2008 first round. I'm curious to see how an underrated Maryland defense deals with a high-powered attack.

Who on Maryland should Hofstra fans keep an eye on?

Maryland is good all over the place—there are few obvious weaknesses besides the midfield, where the Terps will probably run four lines in the first 10 minutes and use depth to make up for the absence of a single dominant player. In addition to the attackmen listed above (as well as Farrell), I'd probably point out Brian Phipps is one of the most tested goalies in the tournament and could carry Maryland if need be. The Schmidts—Max and Brett, no relation—are fine defensemen. And at the midfield, keep an eye out for Joe Cummings, a guy who has played well down the stretch and is an opportunistic converted attackman.

What are your predictions for the game and the tournament? Who are the favorites, in your opinion? (Warning: We don’t look kindly upon southern or mid-Atlantic bias here, even if you’re speaking a foreign language such as lacrosse!)

You and your bias. Tsk, tsk.

In this particular game, I like Maryland by three or four goals—maybe something in the 13-10 range. Hofstra can score, but it also has yielded double digits in five of its last six games and isn't particularly great between the pipes. Card and Lincoln will have to go nuts to pull the upset, and I'm not sure Maryland will let both of them put up huge days.

In the tournament, even though Virginia is the No. 1 seed, there's no telling how the Cavaliers are going to handle the tumult of having a (now former) teammate accused of murder. That leaves Syracuse—which has won the last two titles—as the most plausible favorite.

Beyond that, there's this opportunistic Maryland team and whoever comes out of the North Carolina/Duke/Hopkins/Delaware quadrant of intrigue. But betting on the 'Cuse is never a bad idea once May rolls around.

Lastly, another industry question: You cover ACC basketball during the winter. What is the difference, access-wise, in covering the sports? I imagine lax programs being more open than the hoops programs.

In general, I think that's a fair assessment. If you want to get a coach on the phone, you either call their direct office line or their cell. People are usually happy to see you come in lacrosse (though I'd say Duke '06 and the current situation at Virginia would be exceptions to that), and players are often less reserved in showing off their personalities than in other sports.

The April/May stretch was always something I looked forward to, simply because access was so tight throughout hoops season that lacrosse was a great change of pace. My editors didn't always seem thrilled with it, but there are enough interesting stories in the game to frequently make the time invested worthwhile—even if it wasn't a pressure cooker in terms of mainstream interest.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Everything’s coming up Milhouse, err, Hofstra!

Not pictured: Milhouse's bone dry cuffs!

Turns out my friend was right, or at least half-right: There will be a chance for Hofstra athletics to end this rotten school year on a high note. Maybe even multiple chances.

The Flying Dutchmen lacrosse team did get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and will visit third-seeded Maryland Saturday at noon. There won’t be much gloating here, because a.) I just learned that the objective of lacrosse is to score more goals than the other team and b.) I’m sure there are fans and teams feeling like we did in 2006 and wondering why a team that didn’t even make its own conference tournament gets an at-large bid at their expense.

All I can say, to any Georgetown fans that stumble across this here blog, is we feel your pain, and it’s not our fault. Our AD wasn’t even on the committee, and as such REALLY wasn’t in the room when Hofstra was discussed.

Along those lines, we also learned Towson lacrosse coach Tony Seaman is the anti-Tom O’Connor. After the Flying Dutchmen took away Towson’s margin for error by edging the Tigers 12-10 at Shuart Stadium May 1, Seaman said “…we certainly hope the NCAA committee takes their body of work for the year [into consideration]. Other than the league, it’s been excellent.”

As a member of the Selection Committee, Seaman could do a lot more than just hope the Dutchmen would be considered, and clearly, he lived up to his words when he was given a chance, behind closed doors, to support the candidacy of a team that knocked his own squad off the bubble. An honest administrator from a conference rival on a Selection Committee. What a concept. (Of course, even O’Connor couldn’t have gotten Towson into the NCAA Tournament, as any team with a sub-.500 record is not eligible for the lacrosse tournament)

So anyway, Tony, if the rumors are true and Towson fires you for not reaching the NCAA Tournament, let me be the first to suggest that Seth Tierney finds a spot for you on his staff.

As I noted, I’m a neophyte at this lacrosse stuff, so there will be no BSing my way around previews or whatnot or declaring anything other than it’d be quite cool if Hofstra finally reached the Final Four in a season in which it wasn’t even among the top four of its own conference.

For actual insight into the Dutchmen’s first round game and the NCAA Tournament in general, I highly suggest you check out my man Patrick Stevens’ blog, where he provides excellent in-depth coverage of college lacrosse and has covered six of Maryland’s last seven games.

The men’s lacrosse team isn’t the only one extending the spring season for Hofstra sports. The Flying Dutchwomen softball team cruised to another first place finish in the CAA—the 19th straight season Hofstra has won either a regular season or tournament championship in its conference—and began the CAA Tournament in rollicking fashion yesterday, when Jess Hirschbuhl hit a (I will not use walk-off, I will not use walk-off) game-winning grand slam in the bottom of the seventh to cap a six-run comeback and give the Dutchwomen a 7-3 victory over Towson.

The Dutchwomen, who play defending champion James Madison this morning at 10 a.m. with a trip to the championship round at stake, can assure themselves a trip to the NCAA Tournament by winning the CAA tourney, but with an RPI in the top 40, an at-large bid is quite possible if they fall short this week.

The most unlikely success story is the most compelling. The baseball team, the unanimous pick to finish last in the CAA, still has a shot at qualifying for the conference tournament as it prepares to end the season with home weekend series against James Madison and Old Dominion. The Dutchmen are 9-9 in the CAA, one game behind our pals at George Mason for the fourth and final spot in the tournament.

The Dutchmen would be in really good shape if the tournament was still a six-team affair, but it was reduced to four prior to this season due to “…the changing economic conditions.” Southern bias strikes again!

Regardless of how the Dutchmen fare, second-year coach Patrick Anderson has overseen a remarkable renaissance for a program that has never finished above .500 in conference play—ever, going all the way back to the good ol’ ECC—and needed to sweep its final series of the season last year against William & Mary just to finish 6-18 in CAA play.

If the Dutchwomen win at least once today (whomever loses the 10 a.m. game plays the winner of the loser’s bracket game in an elimination contest 3 p.m.), then a neat doubleheader will present itself Friday, when the softball championship round begins at noon, two hours before the Dutchmen play James Madison across the street at University Field. Stop by and enjoy a cool coda to an otherwise forgettable year.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Friday, May 7, 2010

And on the fifth day, hope rose again!

Thy wounds are healed!!!

All is well. Step away from the ledge. Head for the mirror and begin singing this! We’re going dancing! Next year and every year thereafter!

Life as a fan of the Flying Dutchmen is a rollercoaster ride, and it’s headed upward again with the news Wednesday that Mo Cassara has completed the wildest ascent to head coach—from being unemployed and staring at the ceiling in a graduate school dorm room to becoming the head honcho, all in less than 24 hours—in the history of sports.

(Note: I interrupt this Dr. Jekyll impersonation with a reminder that it’s Friday morning. The wakeup calls I received the last two Fridays informed me that Halil Kanacevic was officially released from his scholarship and Tim Welsh had been arrested about 10 minutes from my house. So hang tight and hope the worst thing to happen today is the softball team splits a doubleheader with Drexel)

In hiring Cassara, Hofstra athletic director Jack Hayes made the best of a trying situation. He didn’t have the benefit of time in this unprecedented coaching search. Whatever he did, he had to do it now and bring some certainty to a program desperate for it, as well as direct the focus of the story away from Welsh.

We won’t know for two or three years if handing the reins to Cassara, a 36-year-old who has been to the NCAA Tournament three times as an assistant but whose only head coaching experience is at the prep school and Division III level, was the best move for the long-term future of the Flying Dutchmen. But it is by far the best solution for next year, and maybe even the year after.

And honestly, this decision should have been made with the upperclassmen—rising seniors Charles Jenkins, Greg Washington, Nathaniel Lester and Brad Kelleher and rising junior Mike Moore—in mind, since they are basically stuck here no matter what. Of the quintet, the only one who can transfer to a Division I school is Lester, and he’d be almost 24 by the end of his lone season at his new place.

These players—particularly Jenkins, for whom a trip to the NCAA Tournament will cement his status as the best player in program history, and Moore, who transferred from Fordham to play for Tom Pecora only to see Pecora go to Fordham—deserve some stability in their waning days at Hofstra and the best possible shot at a memorable 2010-11. If they are comfortable with Cassara and new NEW assistants Steve DeMeo and Allen Griffin, then Hayes did the right thing in giving their consideration a lot of weight.

Don’t get me wrong, the freshmen deserve some stability too, but at least they have the option of going elsewhere. And hiring Cassara certainly gives Hofstra a better shot at retaining the younger players, including Chaz Williams, whose future plans have been the source of much Internet conjecture the last few days.

If the rising sophomores take to Cassara and Co. and nobody else opts to transfer, then the Dutchmen are more interesting next year and have a much better core for 2011-12 than seemed possible when the Welsh debacle threaten to decimate the program. With a deep backcourt and a frontcourt headed by Washington and David Imes—who was quite impressive in limited time during an injury-plagued freshman season—as well as a JUCO transfer who can help absorb the loss of Halil Kanacevic, the Dutchmen should be OK in a wide-open CAA.

It’s not what we envisioned two months ago today, in the aftermath of the loss to Northeastern in the CAA quarterfinals, but it’s a whole lot better than what seemed possible two days ago.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, and there is a growing sense that anyone whom Pecora was recruiting will not end up at Hofstra in the fall. But at least Cassara was able to pick up yesterday where he left off a week ago Thursday. Can you imagine an entirely new staff coming in—whether this week or next week or in June—and trying to establish relationships with current players and recruit for next year and try to make connections with the rising high school juniors who will comprise the Class of 2015?

It could have been disastrous. We don’t know what this will be, but it feels right, for multiple reasons. All is once again well. Until I wake up to the news that Jenkins is going to play professionally in Greenland, anyway.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Defiantly Dutch Q&A: Jack Hayes

Hofstra athletic director Jack Hayes took a few minutes tonight to discuss the hiring of Mo Cassara and one of the wildest and most unpredictable five-day spans in school history. Thanks to Jack for taking time out of a busy schedule to speak with us.

How did you decide Mo was the right candidate for the job?

Certainly the last five weeks weren’t meant to be an interview process. We never thought we’d be in this situation. But over the last five weeks, we worked closely with Mo Cassara. We both know a lot of the same people in the business, people that over the last two days turned out to be references as we started going in this direction. And we felt very comfortable with it—felt very comfortable with Mo Cassara and his relationship with the members of the team, with the coaching staff that we currently have, how he interacted with a number of people on campus, and felt that he was ready to take on this challenge. Certainly, five weeks ago, we said we were looking for a head coach. Well, the circumstances changed. So while we didn’t eliminate head coaches, the circumstances going about it were certainly much different than the circumstances five weeks ago.

When did you begin to think an internal option was the way to go?

I think that it was always something we wanted to consider. I was concerned that we might be in a position where our basketball team would have been on its third coaching staff in six weeks. That being said, I still wrestled with that versus what ultimately was in the best interests long-term of the basketball program. And in going back and weighing both of those situations, I still felt that Mo Cassara’s background and his coaching experience at a variety of levels was going to be best for us.

Were you surprised you were able to keep the entire staff together?

I think that they worked closely together for four or five weeks and certainly have come together during what’s been a challenging few days. I think that, being the case, we’ve communicated regularly throughout the last few days, talked about different options and I think they’re all excited to be here and to be part of this program moving forward.

I think they were all committed to the same thing, committed to being successful. They’re committed to the fact that they came to a program that has won a lot of games in recent years and they want to be part of it moving forward and continuing what has been over the years. I think they’re really excited.

When did your search zero in on Mo?

In the last couple days. Certainly, conversations that Mo and the president and I have had, those conversations were about what we do going forward in the event that he was the coach, how would we handle those things. The whole coaching staff had an opportunity to meet a lot of people at an event last night and I know our team, I know people in our department and people across campus felt very comfortable with the entire staff.

You mentioned the players. How important was it to give them some stability after a whirlwind few weeks?

It was very important. Like I said, you wrestle with the decision of what’s in the best long-term interests—how do you handle the current team and the feelings of all those individuals? Those things were important. And making the announcement late in the afternoon today, they were thrilled.

Were you ever worried that you would not be able to consider someone from the current staff because the University would want to completely cut ties with those connected to Tim?

Not really. We did not think that. I shouldn’t even say not really—the answer is no. We had, certainly, an unfortunate and a disappointing situation take place. It did not impact looking at any of the individuals on our staff.

There have obviously been rumors of other players departing Hofstra. Do you think this move will keep them in the fold?

Nobody has asked [for a release] of yet. These things are always challenging for student athletes, because it happens in all sports. When those things take place, you try to help them through it. You try to get a coaching staff in place as soon as you can. And this was one of those situations where you just never thought five weeks ago, obviously, that we would be going through it again. But we had the best candidate right here on our staff.

How important was it to hire someone from Welsh’s staff in order to maintain continuity during the recruiting season?

Very important. Very important. Because once the situation arose on Friday, a lot of those things came to a halt. So it is critical that we get right back to the good work that was being done throughout the month of April.

Going back to the start of this process—what did the weekend entail for you?

I did see a couple things that came out in various places [about how] no comment had been made at all. That ‘no comment’ wasn’t a sign of support or lack of support for the coach. ‘No comment’ was we didn’t have a lot of the facts. So as we tried to get the facts not just Friday but over the weekend, I certainly knew that there was a chance that we may not have a coach on Monday. So when Tim Welsh resigned on Monday, I wasn’t surprised. We were ready to move forward at the time.

The truth is we didn’t have all the information. So we tried to gather as much as we could over the weekend. But I knew right from the beginning we had a serious situation and a very disappointing one. ‘No comment’ wasn’t a sign of support for the coach. We weren’t in position at the time to do anything. That’s really want the situation was.

Did this change at all the process by which you conduct background checks for coaching candidates?

We did everything that you would expect to do [with Welsh], from the process of doing the background check. The references were very credible [from] people in the field. And in terms of moving forward, we would have done the same thing, we would have gone through the same process with an external candidate. And with Mo Cassara, he had gone through the whole process as an assistant. Unfortunately, things happen that are not within your control, and it certainly wasn’t the result of not—it wasn’t a result of a lack of taking those proper steps. Nothing ever came up.

These were fairly unchartered waters you were entering. Did you consult with athletic directors who had gone through a coaching change in late spring, such as FDU last year or New Hampshire in 2005?

I did not talk to ADs who had done that. I certainly talked to ADs about the situation that we were in—not necessarily ones that had gone through it, but ones that I knew very well.

At the end of the day, you want to do what’s right. I want to do what’s right for the student-athletes. I want to do what’s right for Hofstra. And we were in a situation that we certainly did not anticipate, a situation that was disappointing. And that’s the cards that we were dealt. And I felt like my responsibility was to try to get us through that and move forward. And that’s what the five days—that’s what has taken place from 9:30 Friday morning until about 4 o’clock this afternoon.

What’s your mindset now, after a whirlwind five days? Are you exhausted? Still running on adrenaline?

A search process is exhausting because it’s extensive, it’s a lot of conversations, it’s a lot of following up. You’ve got to look at every situation you could be in. I think you need to look at every situation from a variety of points of view. And you do that the whole time hoping that what you’re doing is making the right decision and making the right decision that impacts a large number of people. So it’s one of those things that is very concerning. But I understand that’s the responsibility, and while I never anticipated that following the April 1 announcement that we would be doing this again, that was the case, it was where we’ve been over the last five days. And the only option, again, is to go at it in a way that you think is in the best interests of Hofstra and of our team members.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Defiantly Dutch Q&A: Mo Cassara

Mo Cassara woke up today in the graduate dorms at Hofstra, an assistant coach in limbo and not even officially working for the school following the resignation of Tim Welsh on Monday. Cassara will go to bed tonight the head coach of the Flying Dutchmen. Cassara took a few minutes out of the wildest day of his life to answer a few questions from Defiantly Dutch. We profusely thank Cassara for his time.

Could you begin to describe what the last several days have been like for you?

I couldn’t even. It’s crazy.

How did this process begin for you?

Yesterday morning, Jack Hayes and the president approached me about sitting down and talking about the team and the program and where we were and what the current status was with our players and recruiting and how everything was going. And then after our meeting—which I thought was going to be pretty informal and short—it went a lot longer, I had a feeling they may be interested in hiring an internal candidate.

It really went fast from there. I think from there, Jack and his staff and Danny McCabe, they did a really good job of reaching out to people who know me. I think they started to feel comfortable with the situation. One of the unique things here, like Danny McCabe said, sometimes, when you interview somebody, you talk for a couple hours. I’ve been here almost six weeks. They really got a shot to see how I operate. Part of the reasons is they’re comfortable with the staff here, not just me, and the staff we can hire. I think it’s going to be a great marriage.

Did you have a feeling last night that you might be a candidate for the head job?

I really didn’t know. I’ve been staying at the graduate school dorm. I was laying there in the bunk bed last night and not sure what’s going to happen. And obviously here we are today. It’s really crazy.

There was such a level of uncertainty and you know it’s been a tough haul for everybody at a lot of levels. They’ve been great—the administration has been great, the players have been great—we kept working, we kept trying to fight through this and certainly now we’re going to continue to move forward. We’re just going to keep moving forward, we’re going to hit the ground running. We don’t really have to stop what we’re doing.

Presumably, the negotiations were quick?

Really was. It was very quick. It was late this afternoon. And then obviously we went right into meeting with the team.

What was their reaction?

Very excited. I think they wanted to put this all behind them. They felt very comfortable with our staff. Again, they felt very comfortable with our staff—not just me, it was all about this terrific staff that was already in place.

Have you been able to talk to family members and fellow coaches and inform them of the news?

Not a lot. I’m sitting here, my phone’s ringing off the hook and going crazy. But I did manage to call my Dad quickly and he almost drove off the road. So I’ve got to call and make sure he’s OK [laughs].

What can fans expect from a Mo Cassara-coached team?

I think you’re going to have a team that works incredibly hard, plays together and that’s going to have a real sense of teamwork. I think if we can do those things we can be pretty successful because of the people we’ve already got here. And that’s a credit to Tom Pecora and Jay Wright.

There have been rumors that Chaz Williams is thinking of transferring. Do you think your presence will help keep players here?

I think that anytime there’s a lot if instability and a lot of uncertainty, players are uncertain. With what has happened here recently, that’s expected. I think with the stability and keeping of our staff here, I think that hopefully we can move forward with this group already in place.

Have you talked to Tim today?

I haven’t had a chance to talk to him. I’m sure I will reach out to him tonight and have a chance to talk to him.

Lastly, what does it say for Hofstra that it was willing to move forward with you and not start anew with a different staff?

I think when you’re in a situation like this, I think the most important thing is the team and the players grew very comfortable with the staff. I can’t emphasize it enough: We’ve got a great staff in place here and together we’ll have a chance to really do something special.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

That was fast: Cassara the new NEW HC

Mo Cassara, who seemed to be out of a job with the resignation Monday of Tim Welsh, is instead the new NEW head men's basketball coach at Hofstra. Jeff Goodman of first reported, and Hofstra has just issued a press release confirming, that Cassara--who was working as a Welsh assistant even though he had yet to sign a contract--has agreed to a multi-year deal to take over the Flying Dutchmen.

Our man Mike Litos of CAA Hoops reports that Welsh's other assistants, Steve DeMeo and Allen Griffin, will remain on the staff.

I'm surprised by the hire, but only because I thought Hofstra would want to cut ties with the Welsh administration. But hiring Cassara, 36, and retaining the rest of the staff provides some stability to a program desperate for it. It means recruiting can go on as it was a week ago, ensures the eight returning Dutchmen players don't have to get to know another new staff and, perhaps most importantly, also gives Hofstra a good shot at retaining Chaz Williams, who seems to have grown close with Cassara during the latter's brief time at Hofstra.

Also interesting: Hofstra went just 51 hours and 43 minutes between announcing Welsh's resignation and Cassara's hiring. UNC Wilmington takes that much time to decide between Chinese and Italian food for the group think session.

What a week. We'll have more in the coming hours and days.

Thank you sir, may I have another?

Another day, another opportunity to investigate if Hofstra is setting precedence in all the wrong ways. Good news! Unlike Monday, our beloved alma mater may in fact be SETTING THE PRECEDENT RIGHT NOW when it comes to two members of the CAA’s all-rookie team opting to transfer after their freshman season!

On the same day Halil Kanacevic announced his plans to transfer to Saint Joseph’s—guess we’re not going to be in the Atlantic 10 anytime in the next four seasons, sigh—his fellow all-rookie team member, Chaz Williams, reportedly asked Hofstra for a release from HIS scholarship.

(Edit: A source tells DD this morning that Williams did not request his release yesterday. This is me stepping away from the ledge, at least momentarily)

Hofstra was the 18th team in CAA history to place at least two players on the all-rookie team. At least one player on the first 17 duos finished his career with the school for whom he played for his rookie year.

In fact, according to the Googles, only eight all-rookie players didn’t play all four seasons at their original school, and according to my research, only three transferred. And just one did so immediately after his all-rookie season: Bill Phillips of William & Mary, who left the Tribe after the 1997-98 season for—I am not kidding you here—Saint Joseph’s. Phil Martelli: Screwing the CAA for three decades!!!

That’s right: If Williams chooses to transfer, Hofstra would lose more all-rookie players in one off-season—hell, one month—than the entire CAA did in the preceding 25 years. Fan. Freaking. Tastic.

At this point, I expect Charles Jenkins to sign a contract with a professional team in the Vatican City today, for Greg Washington to drop out of school Thursday so that he can star as The Tall Man in a remake of Phantasm (surely to be produced by Michael Bay, because he hasn’t ruined enough of the horror movie franchises of my youth) and for Nathaniel Lester to discover an ancient Tiki doll on Friday, at which point everything will REALLY go haywire.

Sound absurd? Well hell, it’s not much stranger than reality.

This is, as a member of the CAA Stonecutters put it last night, mind-boggling. In less than two months, a program that—groan—prided itself on stability has been enveloped in unprecedented chaos.

We didn’t have much, but we had predictability. Hofstra had two coaches in 16 years, a feat matched by just two other CAA schools (Old Dominion and George Mason).

Tom Pecora was here, as sure as traffic on the LIE and crappy, overpriced food at Hofstra, and he was always going to outhustle the bigger schools in the area and find big-time guards around whom he could build. The bigs would be crapshoots, and there would be more guys who left us scratching our heads than there would be Adrian Uters dominating the paint, but we were OK with that.

The Flying Dutchmen had yet to win the CAA championship or go to the NCAA Tournament, but there was a certain comfort in the reliability of Pecora-coached teams, a certain nobility in the effort and a certain knowledge that this is how it works at the mid-major level. All you can do is lay the foundation, and hope things break your way.

And Pecora had built the foundation—ESPECIALLY now. The makeup of the roster was unbalanced after Pecora loaded up on junior college transfers in the fall of 2008 and didn’t sign a single freshman, but the 2010-11 team was shaping up as one of the deepest and most interesting teams of his tenure.

There would be the three experienced seniors as well as a couple enticing transfers in senior Brad Kelleher and junior Mike Moore. Kanacevic and Williams were going to lead the cavalcade of exciting sophomores and a couple promising freshmen would be added to the mix as well.

If the Flying Dutchmen still had a long way to climb to get to the top of the CAA—as a friend put it yesterday, all this talk about winning it all was a bit much for a team that needed an unprecedented second half run just to finish seventh this year—a top-four finish and the ever-valuable first round bye certainly seemed likely, especially with semifinalists Northeastern and VCU and finalist William & Mary losing a ton of talent and champion Old Dominion graduating its best player.

Now? Now Hofstra is headed for a third coach in as many months as a potentially special season shapes up as one to remember for all the wrong reasons.

Another friend, a fan of Northeastern, points out that this doesn’t have to turn into a disaster for Hofstra. He reminds me that after Ron Everhart left Boston with everything except the Green Monster in his briefcase in the spring of 2006, new coach Bill Coen managed to overcome the late start to recruiting and find one of the best players in school history, Matt Janning, in the summer and eventually steer the Huskies to a 9-9 record in the CAA. Four years later, Coen signed an extension that will keep him at Northeastern for the rest of his career if he so chooses.

I appreciate the reminder that out of chaos can come permanence, but I’m having a hard time looking ahead a couple seasons, or envisioning anything other than the Titanic grinding ashore next fall and winter.

I’d rather not look ahead. Instead, is it too much to wish I could fire up the DeLorean and go back in time to the final Tuesday of February, when the wife and I made fools of ourselves (shaddup) at Applebees as we cheered an unlikely upset win over Northeastern? Or at least to the final minute of regulation in the CAA quarterfinal game against Northeastern the first Saturday of March, when the Dutchmen seemed ready to pull off another shocker and advance to the semifinals?

Things were going great and they were only getting better. Who knew it was all a cruel tease? Who knew the Flying Dutchmen as we knew them were a one-hit wonder?

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

At Hofstra, the fates are always pulling a Lucy Van Pelt

Yeah I'm cranking this one up again.

I spent some time late Monday afternoon with the Googles, trying to figure out if Hofstra was setting a precedent here by having an incoming basketball coach “resign” before he coached a game. I didn’t count the Dana Altman or Bobby Cremins incidents, since those coaches a.) chose to leave and b.) had someplace else to go, unlike Tim Welsh.

It took me a little while and one lightning bolt realization to figure out the answer was right at my feet, in a blue bound book that holds together yellowed copies of the Hofstra student newspaper, The Chronicle. Quaint, right?

Anyway, I suddenly remembered—and may or may not have slapped myself in the head for forgetting this—precedent for a school losing a new coach to a sudden and unpleasant resignation had been set by, I am not kidding here, HOFSTRA.

Honest to freaking God: In 1993, the first year of the Defiantly Dutch Era, new women’s basketball coach Margaret McKeon resigned after three months over a dispute over the lack of a full-time assistant coach.

If TWO basketball coaches leaving before their first game isn’t symbolic of the absurdly awful luck that has dogged Hofstra sports for decades, then what is? Hofstra is the Charlie Brown of Division I, forever getting close to the prize—whether it be an NCAA bid or a national championship or some type of sustained success—only to have it yanked away by the fates at the last possible second.

Take, for example, the most successful men’s basketball team in school history—the 1959-60 squad, which went 23-1. The lone loss was by two points to Wagner. Yet there was no postseason play for the Flying Dutchmen. I couldn’t even blame it on George Mason, since the school was only three years old!

The Dutchmen went Division I in the late ‘60s and had just one winning season until 1975-76, when they won their final six games—including three in the East Coast Conference tournament—to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time. The Dutchmen played UConn in Rhode Island and surged out to a 13-point halftime lead, but the Huskies crawled back and edged Hofstra in overtime. Hofstra went back to the NCAA Tournament the next year, where a furious second half comeback against Notre Dame fell short as the Dutchmen fell by four.

Hofstra seemed primed for a long run atop the ECC, but the budget crisis that ensnared the school made it difficult to recruit and impossible to build on the back-to-back tournament runs. Roger Gaeckler departed after consecutive 8-19 seasons and the Flying Dutchmen would come within one game of the NCAA Tournament just once over the next two decades.

Gaeckler was replaced by one of the hottest young coaches in the land, Joe Harrington, but he left for—again, I am not making this up—George Mason after just one season. Under Dick Berg, the Flying Dutchmen suffered five losses by five points or less in the ECC Tournament over a eight-year span, including a four-point defeat at the hands of Drexel in the 1986 title game.

Butch van Breda Kolff returned in 1988—chosen, supposedly, over Hofstra alum Bob McKillop—but his best/most charmed teams had the misfortune of contending for a title when the ECC no longer had an automatic bid. So the 1991-92 team was fighting for a long-shot NIT bid when it fell to Towson State in the championship game and the 1993-94 team—and its 9-20 record—didn’t get to become the most unlikely NCAA Tournament team in history when it beat Northeastern Illinois to win the final ECC crown.

Jay Wright finally brought some stability and good mojo to the program and directed it to the NCAA Tournament in 2000 and 2001. His departure was as clean and as amicable as possible, with Tom Pecora taking over a day after Wright left for Villanova, and Pecora recovered from a 20-41 start in his first two years to turn the Dutchmen into an NIT team in his fourth year and an NCAA team in his fifth…oh wait. While George Mason went to the Final Four in 2006 (griping seat tightly, hoping the sedatives take effect), Hofstra reached the quarterfinals of the NIT, where it was knocked out by CAA rival Old Dominion.

The 2006-07 team was a top 25 pick in some circles, but was knocked out of the CAA Tournament in the quarterfinals by, yeah, George Mason. The 2007-08 squad had the program’s all-time leading scorer and his likely successor (I say likely, because the way things are going, Charles Jenkins is going to declare any day now that he’s bypassing his senior season to play pro ball in Lichtenstein), and went 12-18. Pecora’s last two teams lost in heartbreaking, last-second fashion in the quarterfinals of the CAA Tournament.

If only the hex was limited to men’s basketball. The football team lost two or fewer games six times in seven years from 1983 through 1989. Its record in the playoffs over that span: 0-6.

Hofstra was the favorite to win the national title in its final season in Division III in 1990, when it overcame the shooting death of assistant coach Joe Healy to win its first 12 games and outscore the opposition 462-70 in the process. But star quarterback Rhory Moss failed a steroid test in the week before the national semifinal and sat out the game, which Hofstra lost 20-10.

The move to I-AA seemed to turn the Flying Dutchmen into destiny’s darlings: It took Joe Gardi just four seasons to get the Dutchmen into the top 25 and five seasons to reach the playoffs with only 15 scholarship players. Turned out heartbreak would be pretty common: The Dutchmen made five trips to the I-AA playoffs from 1995 through 2001 but won just two games and never got farther than the quarterfinals. Of course, getting to the playoffs and losing sure beats not even having a chance to compete, doesn’t it?

Then there’s the men’s lacrosse team, which made the NCAA Tournament eight times under John Danowski but won just four games and also never got beyond the quarterfinals. The 2006 team won a remarkable 17 in a row after a season-opening loss to UMass, yet with a trip to the Final Four on the line, blew a five-goal fourth quarter lead to that same UMass squad and lost in overtime at Stony Brook. The 2002 team finished the season on a nine-game winning streak, during which it beat four ranked opponents, and was ranked as high as sixth in the country yet was left out of the tournament.

You get the point.

The easy thing to do is to declare Hofstra is cursed by its original and rightful nickname. Shortly after Hofstra was founded, a gym teacher ironically bestowed the nickname “Flying Dutchman” on a particularly slow basketball player. And in folklore, a Flying Dutchman is a doomed ghost ship.

But the truth is Hofstra has also hurt itself over the years with questionable decision-making and long-term planning. According to a Newsday article about McKeon’s departure in October 1993, every school in the Patriot League—which was, at the time, one of the two conferences Hofstra was angling to join—had at least one full-time assistant women’s basketball coach. To not have a full-time assistant women’s basketball coach in 1993 sounds an awful lot like dropping football while trying to join the Atlantic 10—which has eight schools that either play football or are planning to do so—in 2009: Not exactly the way to impress a potential suitor.

Hofstra finally turned out the lights on the ECC in 1994 and caught up with former ECC rivals Delaware, Drexel and Towson in the North Atlantic Conference. Seven years later, consumed with finding a home for the football program, Hofstra led the America East/ECC schools into the CAA.

Which would have been fine and dandy, if Hofstra didn’t almost immediately thereafter replace James Shuart with Stuart Rabinowitz, who loathes football as much as Shuart loves it. How could Hofstra invest so much in the football program and the accompanying infrastructure and then hand the reins over to someone who almost immediately set upon killing football and rendering Hofstra a poor fit in its new athletic home?

And dropping football set off the domino effect that leads us to today. Rabinowitz wielded the ax on Dec. 3. Hours later, Fordham fired Dereck Whittenberg, and 112 days after that, Tom Pecora—who had spoken for years about how it would take a unique opportunity for him to leave Hofstra—departed for the Bronx and a program with five wins in its last 56 games. Think that’s a coincidence?

Welsh seemed like a great hire five weeks ago, and he dove into the job with passion and hired what look to be an incredible staff. He could have had a long and successful run here had he given the keys to someone else Thursday night.

But still, now that Welsh is gong before he could even decorate his office, will we someday look back and wonder what might have been if Hofstra had gone with Tim Cluess instead? Cluess, like McKillop two decades earlier, was a former Hofstra player and up-and-coming coaching prospect who had already enjoyed great success on Long Island. Will Cluess become to Iona what McKillop is to Davidson while Hofstra continues to drift aimlessly at sea?

Someone whose opinion I respect a great deal expressed optimism at the men’s lacrosse game Saturday, saying that maybe the Flying Dutchmen—who missed the CAA Tournament yet are ranked among the top 15 in the RPI—can earn an unlikely at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and make a nice run to bury the memories of this nightmarish year and inspire hope that the recovery has begun and that better and less tumultuous days are ahead.

I hope he’s right. But I doubt it. I’ve seen this movie before. I know how it ends.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Monday, May 3, 2010

After 33 days and 34 words, who’s next for Hofstra?

The questions are just beginning for Hofstra.

Whether Tim Welsh resigned of his own accord or with a “nudge” from Hofstra, the right thing happened today, when the 33-day Welsh Era/Error ended with a 34-word news release.

It’s a sad and stunning end to something that seemed so promising as recently as last week, but retaining Welsh would have been a PR nightmare for a school that hates bad publicity (which is the only publicity it seems to be getting lately, but I digress). And with a mere month on the job, Welsh didn’t have nearly the political capital to convince Hofstra he was worth the headache.

Unfortunately, doing the right thing is often painful, and some dark days seem ahead for a Hofstra squad whose future appeared so bright just two months ago, when the Flying Dutchmen finished the regular season on an 8-1 tear, Charles Jenkins won the CAA player of the year and two members of a deep freshman class, Halil Kanacevic and Chaz Williams, made the all-rookie team.

Now the Dutchmen are searching for a new coach for the second time in six weeks, and whomever the new NEW guy is will have a lot more to repair and restore than Welsh did. The new NEW guy will have to make sure Kanacevic is the only departure among the freshman. He’ll also have the task of building trust with Jenkins, Nathaniel Lester, Greg Washington and Brad Kelleher, all of whom are seeing their opportunity at a storybook senior season slip away.

It’s not unsalvageable, but don’t kid yourself, it’s a big ol’ mess. And a mistake in the new NEW coaching search and Hofstra will have a lot more to worry about than just trying to save 2010-11.

Here’s a completely uninformed look at five possible candidates to become the new NEW Hofstra coach, in order of likelihood they’ll stroll the sidelines in Hempstead next season.

Jerry Wainwright: If Hofstra is looking for a caretaker—whether of the one-year variety, a theory floated today by noted Hofstra hoops expert Mike Francesa, or of the Butch van Breda Kolff type—then it could do a lot worse than Wainwright, 63. He got fired by DePaul midway through this season, but he won two CAA titles with UNC Wilmington and took Richmond to the NCAA Tournament in his second year there. But would he be willing to leave North Carolina for what could be a very short gig?

Van Macon: The ex-Hofstra assistant is the best candidate and the only person who could bring anything resembling continuity to the program. But would he be willing to come back to a school that was so quick to overlook him a month ago? And would Tom Pecora be willing to let him go now that Fordham is neck-deep in recruiting season?

Tom Moore: The Quinnipiac coach has ties to Jack Hayes from their days at UConn. But he just signed an extension at Quinnipiac and, like Rice, seems positioned for a BCS gig sooner than later. Almost as importantly: How much influence will Hayes have on this hire?

Mike Rice: The Robert Morris coach is the biggest and hottest name out there, and making this type of splash would be the fastest way to wash away the embarrassment created by Welsh. But this is too close to a lateral move for someone who has made back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and who shouldn’t need to stop at another mid-major in order to position himself for a BCS gig.

Tom Pecora: Hey, you never know.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Long weekend shouldn't save Welsh

Will the hourglass run out this week for Tim Welsh at Hofstra?

The longest weekend in the lives of Tim Welsh and Jack Hayes is over. The day of reckoning is imminent, if not already here. Within the next 48 hours, Welsh’s fate at Hofstra should be sealed, one way or the other.

The question this morning, as Welsh prepares for a meeting with Stuart Rabinowitz, is whether or not the last 48 hours were enough to save his job following his arrest for drunken driving early Friday morning.

The timing of the arrest, at least, benefitted everyone and gives Welsh a better shot at strolling the sidelines this fall. If you’re going to have to deal with bad news, the day to do it is on a Friday. And the weekend gave the powers-that-be at Hofstra two valuable non-workdays (in the traditional sense, anyway) to fully focus on the decision and to allow the rawest of emotions to fade—and, of course, gave Welsh two days to present his case for retention, as he seemed to do when he told Steve Marcus of Newsday that his arrest could be a “teaching moment.”

On Friday, I thought nothing could save Welsh and that any delay of his dismissal was a matter of due process and Hofstra exercising caution to make sure there were no loose ends that could be exploited by Welsh’s legal team once he was fired. But the vibe I’ve been getting this weekend is that Hayes—whether out of a sense of compassion for Welsh, a desire to bring some stability to a program that has endured a tumultuous month, a sense of self-preservation or, likely, some combination thereof—is looking for a reason to keep him.

Of course, just like with the death of football, Hayes may not have a voice in the matter. Nothing will save Welsh if Rabinowitz is standing in front of a mirror this morning, trying on bad blonde toupees and doing his best Donald Trump.

If Welsh is going to be fired, I wonder if an announcement will be delayed until Hayes can find Welsh’s replacement. I wonder how much of these last 48 hours have been spent interviewing/seeking out other candidates. Revealing Welsh’s replacement the same day he’s fired would minimize the news cycle and allow Hofstra to immediately spin Welsh’s exit as a new beginning instead of an embarrassing ending.

My guess is that Welsh has a chance at saving his job this morning, that the new coach can still avoid becoming the ex-coach. But if it were up to me, there’d be two insurmountable hurdles for Welsh:

—The severity of the charges against Welsh. This clearly was not a matter of a couple drinks with dinner, or someone with a sub-0.10 BAC having the misfortune of getting nailed on a five-minute trip back to Hofstra. It’s inconceivable to me that Welsh could be dining at City Cellar and end up in Levittown on his way back to his on-campus apartment.

—The “I didn’t have someone’s phone number” defense Welsh gave to Marcus on Saturday. Welsh has been here a month. I find it hard to believe he didn’t have Hayes’ cell and office numbers stored in his cell phone. Even so, handing over to his lawyers the task of calling Hofstra (516-HOF-STRA) or sending an email to Hayes would have sufficed. This is 2010, the age of instant information and communication. There is no excuse, none, for Hofstra finding out about his arrest from the news media. That made a bad and embarrassing situation even worse.

It’s no fun declaring someone should lose his job, especially for those of us that have been on the wrong end of a boot in the ass. I also get that America is all about second (and third) chances. And it’s easier to give Welsh that second chance since, thank goodness, Welsh was arrested before he could hurt anyone else. No one will wonder why Welsh gets a second chance that eludes the person or people whose lives were forever altered Thursday night.

Welsh deserves that second chance. I just think it’s best for everyone if it happens somewhere else.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Silver lining to Welsh arrest, but the storm clouds are back

The storm clouds hovering over the Flying Dutchmen basketball program aren't going away anytime soon.

One of the bleakest days in the history of Hofstra basketball could have been so much worse. Imagine if more than a career was badly wounded—or worse—in the early morning hours yesterday, when Tim Welsh was arrested for driving while intoxicated after a Nassau County police officer found him asleep at the wheel and stopped at a green light on Hempstead Turnpike.

Thank goodness nobody got hurt. Thank goodness fate intervened before Welsh—who pled not guilty Friday and has another court date scheduled for Tuesday—injured or killed himself and/or someone else. As silver linings go, it’s a pretty good one.

But it doesn’t change the fact that the storm clouds that gathered over Hofstra athletics in the months following the elimination of football and appeared to dissipate with Welsh’s hiring Apr. 1—oh sweet merciful irony—are now back, angrier and more foreboding than ever before. It doesn’t change the feeling of overwhelming sadness on an otherwise perfect spring day.

It’s sad that a man’s reputation is forever tarnished and very likely ruined. It’s sad that a terrible decision almost certainly destroyed what was a golden opportunity for Welsh, who was suspended indefinitely without pay on the 29th day of a five-year, $3 million contract.

The facts of the case are damning: Welsh didn’t take a sobriety test until two hours after he was found at 1 a.m., yet his blood alcohol level was still at 0.18 percent, more than twice the legal limit. All the lawyerly spin in the world isn’t going to spare him in a county known for its rigorous enforcement of drunk driving laws nor, I imagine, save his job at a university obsessed with image 24/7/365.

Any shred of hope Welsh had of keeping his job probably went out the window when Hofstra learned of his arrest from media reports, not Welsh or his attorney. That made a bad story even worse, and it’s not going to get any better anytime soon.

Imagine if Welsh is strolling the sidelines next season and the catcalls he’ll hear from opposing fans or the snarky cracks he’ll hear at home after a poorly run play. Envision the MADD demonstrations that will take place in front of the Arena and all the feature stories that will be written about Welsh’s recovery. All of this is bad publicity Hofstra does not need.

It’s sad that Welsh’s words during our interview Wednesday proved to be so stunningly prophetic and how the coach who preached how careful his players had to be living under the microscope ended up being the one exposed.

"…you want to make sure your players understand, on a daily basis, that they have a bigger job than just a normal student, because they’re representing the college, they’re representing the basketball program, they’re representing their family. The media scrutiny now, with the Internet and everything else out there, is tenfold beyond what it used to be. You just look at the Ben Roethlisberger situation.

"…Basically put it on them that you’ve got a lot to be responsible for, but the main thing is how embarrassing it is to your family. You get your players [to think about] your mother and father—what would they think if they picked up the paper and saw you in handcuffs? How devastating would that be?"

The domino effect is far-reaching and heartbreaking, as well: What about the assistant coaches who hadn’t even officially begun to work for Welsh? What about Jack Hayes, who only a month ago seemed to have made the home run hire of his administration?

Most importantly, what about the players, who will very likely endure a third coaching change in a five-week span? For whom do you feel worse—Charles Jenkins, one of the finest players in Hofstra history, and fellow seniors Nathaniel Lester and Greg Washington, all of whom are staring at a decidedly unpleasant and anticlimactic final season, or last season’s freshmen, whose heads have got to be spinning in a million different directions? Or how about transfers Brad Kelleher and Mike Moore, who may be playing for a third coach before they even play their first second for the Flying Dutchmen?

It wasn’t a good day to be a fan, either. If Welsh loses his job, the effects of his arrest will be felt for years. It’s certainly hard to envision Hofstra generating much of a recruiting class for next fall. And for a program that struggles to draw fans even in the best of times, a nosedive of a season could be catastrophic well into the future. What kind of effect will a faceplant have on Hofstra’s hopes of finding a new conference? And what kind of effect would an empty Arena have on the University’s long-term plans for the program?

The first day of April was one of celebration, of looking ahead and moving on after a tumultuous four months. The last one was the true April Fools Day, a reminder that while there was a silver lining for which to be thankful, the cloudy days for Hofstra athletics and its men’s basketball program in particular are only just beginning.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at