Friday, April 30, 2010

Welsh suspended after DWI arrest

Tim Welsh, hired 29 days ago as the 11th head men's basketball coach in Hofstra history, has been suspended without pay after he was arrested for driving while intoxicated this morning in Levittown.

According to media reports, a police officer found Welsh sleeping behind the wheel at a green light on Hempstead Turnpike. "He had bloodshot eyes, slurring of speech and was unsteady on his feet," Nassau County police spokesman Kevin Smith told the New York Post.

Welsh had a blood alcohol level of 0.18, more than twice the legal limit in New York state. Newsday reports Welsh's Rhode Island driver's license was suspended and that bond was set at $2,000.

He was arraigned in Hempstead today and pleaded not guilty.

Should Welsh be convicted of the charges against him, the maximum penalty, according to this document from New York state, is a year in prison and a one-year revocation of his license.

Per multiple media outlets, including Mike Litos at CAA Hoops and Adam Zagoria's Zags Blog, Hofstra released a statement saying, in part: "We have learned through media reports of the charges against Mr. Welsh. Effective immediately, he has been suspended without pay, while the University investigates the charges against him."

Zagoria also points out there is no one officially on staff, since Hofstra has yet to announce the hirings of Steve DeMeo, Allen Griffin and Mo Cassara.

It's a sad, disappointing day for Hofstra basketball, one that will have repercussions in the weeks and months to come. Follow us on Twitter for more information as this develops.

Links to coverage:

Newsday (pay wall)

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Defiantly Dutch Q&A: Tim Welsh (Part Two)

Photo courtesy Hofstra athletics.

In part two of our interview with Tim Welsh, the new Flying Dutchmen basketball coach discusses how Charles Jenkins is similar to Jamel Thomas, a superstar who was entering his senior year at Providence when Welsh took over that program in 1998, as well as Halil Kanacevic’s choice to transfer and how an off-campus fight involving several Providence players in 2000 continues to influence Welsh’s coaching philosophies today.

How does Charles Jenkins compare to Jamel Thomas, who, like Jenkins here, was a high-scoring senior who was on your first team at Providence? (Editor's note: The link is a Providence game notes package from early in the 1998-99 season, scroll down about halfway for information on Thomas)

Very similar. Very similar. Guys that can dominate games single-handedly. I think Charles probably emerged earlier in his career than Jamel did. Jamel came on later as a dominant player. [Both are] powerful scorer[s] that can do a lot of different things, can beat you in a lot of different ways, can go get 30-plus any given night. That’s the way Jamel was. Charles is highly respected among his teammates. That’s a very good comparison, I did think about that a little bit because Jamel, his senior year when we came in, he led the Big East in scoring, He had some unbelievable [games]—he had 38 at Villanova one night—and just kind of put the team on his back in certain situations. But he was also unselfish to the point where he understood some nights, his teammates were going to have to help. And I think we’re going to try to do that with Charles—give him some more help this year. And I think with Brad Kelleher and Mike Moore, that’s a couple guys that we’ll have in the mix that weren’t here last year that will definitely be beneficial to Charles.

As a program’s new coach, do you go about getting to know your seniors any differently than you do the upperclassmen?

I think the way you talk to your seniors [is different]. They have a better feel for where the program is and where the team is. I think you confide in them a little bit more about what has gone on here, if those seniors are credible. And they are here. Very impressed with all four seniors and their caring of the program. It’s not about them, it’s about the team concept. So they’re the first guys you want to lean on, because they can give you a good feel—they’re not trying to judge you about what questions [are asked], they’re sincere in their answers and they can help you not only with the program but also with the younger players as well.

Upon arriving at Providence, did you have any situation with a player wanting to transfer, like Halil Kanacevic here? And how does a coach go about talking to a player when he says he wants to transfer?

No, we didn’t have anybody there leave the program. We did have one guy leave the program, but he was already leaving. He had already announced he was leaving before we got there. It was T.J. McKenzie.

How do you go about it? Well, he didn’t say ‘I’m thinking about it.’ He said ‘I am going somewhere else.’ So when somebody says that, you just wish them good luck.

Obviously, you want to sell the program, and we have a track record as coaches, I think, [of] developing players and winning. So if someone, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to be a part of that, then you try to tell him what you’re going to do for them and what they can do for us. But I don’t know him that well, or any player. I don’t know them well enough. If someone doesn’t want to be a part of your program, then it’s going to be hard for them to be successful. And that’s not a knock, that’s just [a fact].

Transfers happen everyday. You open up the transfer wire, it’s there. Nothing wrong with that. IF someone wants to transfer, that’s a part of life. People switch jobs. Coaches switch jobs. Players can switch schools. Certainly, we want all the players that want to be here to stay. And if Halil comes back, says ‘I changed my mind,’ the door is still open. He hasn’t done anything negatively here at all, to my knowledge. He’s been fine. I think he’s just exploring his options right now, which he has a right to do.

How did the incident at the Prime Time Café in Providence 10 years ago—in which several of your players were involved in an altercation and eventually dismissed from the team—change you and your approach to coaching?

It was an argument on the street between the rugby players and the basketball players. It was very, very unfortunate. It was a learning experience for all involved. It’s something you don’t want to ever face, and it was unfortunate for all the players, the school, the people that were involved, the families. I think, fortunately, there weren’t any long-term injuries. No one was for the worse for it, except for the guys that really got in trouble. And that changed their lives forever. Certainly, we have always reached out to those guys.

Basically, what I told our guys is it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it. Do you learn from it? As a coach, you’re responsible for all parts of your program. Doesn’t mean you’re directly at fault, and that’s what I used to say—we’re responsible, it’s not my fault that it happened. But 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.

Five years later, I showed the videotape of that to a team, I think, of how it was exposed locally on the news. We took all the articles that came out from it and handed them out to our team. 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?

That’s what you are as a coach: You’re a teacher too, and you’re kind of a father to these guys, because you’re with them everyday. So you’ve got to continually try to teach life lessons. You see the police blotter now, it’s worse than ever. Look at BC [Boston College] hockey, what happened to them. [At Providence recently], two guys jumped a guy, kind of a random jumping, and they beat the heck out of him.

Hey, it’s every coach’s worst nightmare in college. Jeff Van Gundy once told me, he said ‘Man, I would never be a college coach, because you guys are responsible for every little bit of their life. In the pros, yeah, those guys do stuff like that, we just put them on waivers the next day. ‘It’s not my fault.’ But in college, that’s part of the responsibility [of a head coach] is their behavior. You’ve got to be constantly talking to them about it, and that’s why we try to build a family environment with our players and try to have them take ownership of the team, where even if one guy is misbehaving [and] I don’t see it—I can’t babysit them 24-7, one of their teammates has to take ownership of the team and say ‘Hey, you’ve got to get in line’ or come in and shut the door and talk to me about it: ‘Hey, one of these guys is getting out of line, they’re going sideways.’

(Part three of our interview with Welsh will appear Monday)

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Defiantly Dutch Q&A: Tim Welsh (Part One)

Photo courtesy Hofstra athletics.

Four weeks after he officially became the 11th head men’s basketball coach in Hofstra history, Tim Welsh’s office looks like it did when Tom Pecora finished packing his belongings. There is nothing hanging on the wall, though a framed picture of Speedy Claxton and Norman Richardson conversing on an NBA court in their 76ers and Pacers uniforms is upright on a table. The desk is almost empty as well, with no knick-knacks. Even the placement of the desktop computer—in a bookcase facing the back wall—is the exact same as it was when Pecora occupied the room.

Of course, Welsh has all summer to decorate. Welsh, hired by Hofstra after two seasons with ESPN, wasted no time diving into his new job. If he’s not traveling to and fro on recruiting trips, Welsh is meeting with returning Flying Dutchmen players, overseeing the two hours of practice allowed in the off-season by the NCAA—and, oh yeah, finding a place to live, though he noted that his office couch is comfortable. He and his wife expect to close on a place on the south shore of Nassau County shortly.

Welsh did find time Wednesday for an in-depth chat about his new job and all the challenges and tasks therein. This is part one of what will likely be a three-part interview. Part two will appear tomorrow, with part three to follow either later tomorrow or Monday. Thanks to Welsh for sitting down with me and to ace men’s basketball SID Jeremy Kniffin for setting up the interview.

How much different was April 5—your first day on the job after the Final Four—than, say, the previous Monday?

Well, it was great. It was great to be back doing what we do. And certainly I enjoyed my time at ESPN and SNY, but we're coaches. I wanted to come back to coaching the minute I left coaching, but I wanted to go back to a place where I knew there was support, they had vision, they had a plan and there had been some sort of success in the past. And it all came about here. So the transition to this job was very easy to me, because everything here is in place to win and be successful. The people, the support system, the infrastructure is all terrific.

So it was a whirlwind week where you go from not really thinking about where you might be—I knew with all the job openings there were that certainly we may have an opportunity, I didn’t know where it was going to happen or what was going to happen, but it’s just kind of keep your eye open and talk to the right people and see where it may fall. When this opportunity came about, I was very, very excited, because I knew the program from afar because o, obviously, my time at Iona, we used to play Hofstra every year. Jay and I are very good friends. And Tommy, I really was a great friend with him. And you saw what he did here. [Welsh] understood what a great program he built, so being able to step into a situation like this was certainly a positive for me and didn’t really think about being back in coaching. It just felt like you never left. It’s like riding a bike.

With so much to do in the first few weeks on the job—hire a staff, build relationships with players, recruit—how do you keep from getting overwhelmed?

I think the experience of having done it before is really the biggest advantage. Being in the profession a long time, you know a lot of people. You know, being a coach from the Northeast slash Big East slash being in New York, you know the players—not personally, but you know the people around them. So that part was easier, because there’s always that kind of semi-wall that’s built up as you get to know people. And that trust factor has to be built up over time and relationships [have to be built]. But I think it was easier here because of the fact that I think these guys knew us. Either we’ve coached their friends or we’ve coached people that they know from high school. Or high school coaches [and] AAU coaches knew us, or they just basically knew us from either being in the northeast or being on TV. So I think that part was pretty easy.

And putting the staff together—it all came together very, very quickly, because of just our experience in the profession and the people we know. And I had an idea right away who we wanted to target and the three guys [Mo Cassara, Steve DeMeo and Allen Griffin] we wanted, we got right away. So that was also a big, big plus.

How different is it getting to know players—and vice versa—now, in the age of instant information, as opposed to 1998, when you took over at Providence, or even 1994 when Jay and Tom took over here?

A lot different. I think it’s easier now just because your network of people that you know is bigger. Mostly it’s because your years of experience, years of coaching, people you’ve met. Also, I’m not from Oklahoma or Nevada—I’m from here, so I know Chaz Williams’ coach. I know Charles’ people. I know Greg Washington’s people. That’s very easy. When I call them up, I don’t have to do a big introductory session with them. I think that part was very advantageous as well.

And also how you approach it. I think you learn over the years. I think [when] we went into Providence, you don’t know what to expect when you’re taking over a new program. Here, I think we learned from those things—what the players expect and what they need. Their immediate needs are a lot of face time with the coaches, and I think that’s what we tried to give these guys, a lot of that. And the other thing that you can do that you couldn’t do 12 years ago is that you can get on the floor with them in the springtime. Then, you couldn’t. That’s where you build your relationships, is on the court. They want to see how you’re going to coach them how you’re going to treat them. And certainly it’s not the same as in October, how you’re going to build a team and work practice, but just hearing your voice out there on the court as the ball bounces helps ease that relationship and quickens that trust factor out there. And we didn’t have that in 1998.

Much like Tom here, Pete Gillen left Providence on good terms prior to your arrival there. How much easier does that make things for you?

I think it’s much easier because I think when a coach gets replaced by the school, there’s a little bit of tension there with the players, because the players usually grow fond of the coach and immediately I think they start having second thoughts about everything because they’re a little bit upset with the school for doing that, with the administration. They don’t think it’s right, the rug has been pulled out from under them. This situation—Tom left the program in a great situation. There were no hard feelings, he did it the right way with the players and the people here on campus, so that part made it very, very easy for me to just step in.

And I think the other easy part is that Tom and I have a good relationships too. We’re friends, I invited him to my wedding last year. That part made it easier. If I have a question about something, I don’t hesitate to call him up and pick up the phone, because he also has a caring for the school and also these players too. And I respect that. Some coaches go in and won’t even mention the previous coach’s name, for some reason. I think basically, they’re not confident [or] they’re afraid, they’re paranoid to mention the old coach. But Tom, that’s not the case here. We’re very confident in what we’re going to do, but also respectful of what he did and understanding that we’re going to try to continue on what he’s done and still keep building.

It’s easy to stay at Hofstra—there have been three coaches here in 20 years and Jay and Tom each stayed longer than their predecessor. How much did that factor into your decision to come here?

Absolutely 100 percent. I think for my background, you’ll see that we stayed at Providence for 10 years and we had numerous opportunities to look at other situations. I’m a person that likes to be settled in a place where they like to be settled. That’s important to me—very, very important. Matter of fact, Jay told me before I took the job that he never wanted to leave here. He flat-out told me that, that’s how much he loved it here. And I know Tom felt the same way, stayed a long time. The way the world is, college coaching, most people say you have a seven-year rule. It’s nice to see that really doesn’t come into play here. The people here trust [you] as long as you do a good job and it seems like a place you can stay a long time.

Hofstra basketball is in much better position now than it was when Jay took over in 1994. How has the recent success of the program made things easier for you these last few weeks?

It’s got a good reputation, not only in New York but nationally. And I think, because of what Jay and Tom have done, and also the people here at the school—you can’t do it by yourself. They’ve got a good infrastructure here, not only the basketball program but with the athletic department I’ve been very, very impressed with the athletic department since I’ve been here. I’ve heard a lot of great things and I knew Jack Hayes, but you don't really know what a place is like until you get your feet settled into the sand at a place. And that part is really [what] made me confident that we can do the right thing here on the court, be successful, because the fact [is] the infrastructure here is tremendous.

And the institution is on great footing, as well, with the start of the medical school. When schools tackle those type of situations—and moving forward, that’s an ambitious thing, to start a med school—that means the school is doing well. And I know we just want to keep the brand name as it is and try to keep advancing it. I think it’s a great opportunity. We have a great opportunity to do so here, even with the current team that we have.

Aside from talent, what is the main thing that grabs your attention when you are recruiting a player?

The main thing we look for is a player that has a good feel on how to play the game. A lot of guys are wowed by athleticism and jumping ability and shooters per se, or whatever. But I like guys that have a good feel, that you don’t have to lock into saying well, he’s a certain position—he’s a two, he’s a three, he’s a four. We like to just recruit good basketball players, and that helps us. I think we can move the pieces around better that way. So when we look at recruiting, we just try to find the best guys that fit into a concept of a good feel for the game—good skill, high skill set and have a real feel of how to play the game of basketball.

(Part two of our interview with Welsh will appear tomorrow)

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Different situation leads Kanacevic elsewhere

With the coach who recruited him to Hofstra no longer patrolling the sidelines, Halil Kanacevic is ready to follow Tom Pecora out the door. Photo from the Daily News.

Halil Kanacevic was in the front row for Tim Welsh’s introductory press conference Apr. 1, symbolically seated next to Charles Jenkins—the Flying Dutchmen’s leading rebounder and their leading scorer listening to their new head coach.

But while Kanacevic looked—and, in interviews conducted that morning and the following week, sounded—like someone who planned to remain a core player at Hofstra in the post-Tom Pecora era, he was already uncertain about his future in Hempstead.

Kanacevic’s doubts grew stronger as the days passed and culminated last week with the freshman requesting and receiving a release from his scholarship and beginning the process of transferring to another school.

“When you sign a letter of intent, you want to play for Hofstra University or a certain university,” Kanacevic told Defiantly Dutch last night. “But anyone that knows the process knows the fact is that you’re really signing to play for a certain team and that you’re expecting to play for that coach. And when coach Pecora left, the fact [is] that I didn’t sign up for this situation, so I no longer felt comfortable.”

Kanacevic, who earned CAA all-rookie honors after averaging 8.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, said he was ready to ask for his release as soon as Pecora informed the team he was leaving for Fordham March 24, but athletic director Jack Hayes told players he wouldn’t grant a release to anyone until a new coach was in place. Once Welsh was hired, those around Kanacevic suggested he take his time making a decision.

Kanacevic expressed optimism, both in his public comments and his discussions with Welsh, because he didn’t want to generate any negative attention nor indicate he wanted to leave until he was positive he was ready to do so.

“I didn’t want to tell them ‘Hey guys, I’m thinking about this’ and at the end of the day it doesn’t happen,” Kanacevic said. “That might cause drama or conflict that you don’t want. When I finally decided that I was going to transfer, I sat down with couple of [people] and said ‘This is the deal.’ As the days went on, I told more [people] and I had my meetings with coach and then with Jack Hayes.”

Kanacevic said his biggest regret was telling Welsh earlier this month that he wasn’t thinking about transferring. “Someone gave me a little advice, talk to the coach, reassure him you’re not leaving,” Kanacevic said. “I was like ‘All right.’ I did that. I probably never should have done that, because I kind of lied to the coach [and gave him] the wrong impression [saying] ‘I’m not going anywhere’ as far as the rumors.

“He brought it up, when I had a meeting with coach Welsh, and I basically told him ‘Man, that was a mistake I made and I shouldn’t have done that to you. I misled you.’ He asked if there was a reason and it was the reason I told you—not the situation I signed up for.”

The most difficult part of the process for Kanacevic, meanwhile, was breaking the news to the teammates with whom he had grown close during his year on campus and leaving behind a squad that would likely be among the pre-season favorites if he remained in the fold.

“I don’t know if I’ll find guys like that ever again—guys like Charles, Nat, Greg, Dave, Yves, guys like that—I don’t think I’ll ever find guys like that to play with, such good people on and off the court,” Kanacevic said. “Some family people asked questions, like if they were so great, then why leave? But some of those guys, they’re only going to be [at Hofstra] for another year and then they’re on to their future.

“[Teammates] said ‘At the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for you.’ [There’s] talk about going to the NCAA Tournament, that is great and all, but at the end of the day, you don’t graduate with your team. You graduate alone. You’ve basically got to look out for yourself at the end of the day.”

Kanacevic’s release is of the “conditional” variety, meaning Hofstra has given him a list of schools—“about 10,” said Kanacevic—to which he cannot transfer. Kanacevic said he couldn’t reveal those schools, but that it includes those that are on Hofstra’s schedule over the next couple years.

“Jack Hayes said he does not want to play me in the future,” Kanacevic said.

A Hofstra spokesman indicated Friday the school would not discuss Kanacevic's possible departure, but prohibiting him from transferring to certain schools would be an arrangement similar to the one Rutgers had with Mike Rosario, who was also told he couldn’t transfer to a school that the Scarlet Knights would play next season.

As for Kanacevic, it is very likely, according to another source close to the situation, that Hofstra has declared Fordham off-limits as well as several other local schools.

Kanacevic hasn’t scheduled any official visits and can still technically return to Hofstra. But he said he expects to leave now that he has asked for his release.

“I’m not one to go back on my decision,” Kanacevic said. “I think that’s just something wrong to do, if you say you’re doing something [and then] ‘Oh I changed my mind.’ You don’t play with people like that. I don’t want to be played like that. It’s pretty evident that this is going to happen.”

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Kanacevic receives release

After Hofstra beat Towson 77-61 on Jan. 5, Tom Pecora walked into the media room and sat in between freshmen Chaz Williams and Halil Kanacevic. "I think this is the first press conference we've had with both of the freshmen here," Pecora said. "I know it won't be the last."

Actually, it was.

Pecora was introduced as Fordham's new head coach 29 days ago and the rumors last night about Kanacevic requesting and receiving his release from his Hofstra scholarship are true. If he transfers to a Division I school--and it is worth pointing out that VCU's Joey Rodriguez requested and received his release last spring but ended up returning to the school and making the CAA's second team this year--he must sit out a season before competing in 2012-13. He would have to sit out two seasons if he transfers to a fellow CAA school.

The departure of the 6-foot-8 Kanacevic, who made the CAA All-Rookie team after averaging 8.6 ppg and a team-high 7.6 rpg and collecting five double-doubles--including one in his collegiate debut against top-ranked Kansas--would leave quite a hole in the middle for the Flying Dutchmen, who also lose 6-foot-9 forward Miklos Szabo to graduation. Rising 6-foot-10 senior Greg Washington broke the school record for blocked shots and made the CAA's all-defensive team last year and displayed a more aggressive inside game near the end of the season, but the only other player on the roster taller than 6-foot-5 is David Imes, who was limited to 21 games during an injury-filled freshman season.

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With Tranghese in the fold, are Big things on the horizon for Hofstra?

All is forgiven Mike! Get us into the Big East!

Talk about a non-starter. During the week-long search for the next Flying Dutchmen basketball coach (UNC Wilmington athletic director Kelly Mehrtens takes a week to decide what kind of pad she will use, legal or steno, to list the people she’ll ask to turn down her offers), I decided to try and generate discussion amongst the CAA Hoops inner circle—your friend and mine Mike Litos as well as two gentlemen who are as smart as they are mysterious, we shall dub them “Mr. X” and “Mr. Y,” think of us as The Stonecutters without any sort of power—by wondering how Hofstra could spin a return to the America East.

It didn’t get anywhere—mostly because as hard as I tried, I couldn’t envision a world in which Hofstra willingly went back to the America East. No offense at all to the America East, but the best spin I could come up with was it would save the athletic department a chunk of money in travel expenses while also giving the school a good shot at dominating the non-revenue sports.

Good thing I didn’t waste a lot of effort on this topic, because the wafer-thin possibility that Hofstra could ever return to the America East was blown apart in spectacular, summer blockbuster-type fashion at the Tim Welsh press conference April 1. In his opening comments, Jack Hayes said Hofstra had discussed “a number of athletic initiatives over the last two months,” including the hunt for a new coach, with former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese.

This wasn’t quite burying the lede, but in terms of impact, it wasn’t far behind the hiring of Welsh. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the relationship with Tranghese will have a far bigger effect on the future of Hofstra sports than Welsh. That’s no knock on Welsh, but rather a reflection of how far Hofstra has come in the last 16 years and how much is at stake with the impending massive realignment of Division I.

Hofstra cozying up with the former commissioner of a BCS conference is incomprehensible for those of us who came of age during the waning days of the East Coast Conference. In the spring of 1994, I thought it’d be fun to call the NCAA and find out why St. John’s was the host school when the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament were held at Nassau Coliseum, which is of course located literally across the street from Hofstra. The spokesman got on the phone and yelled something about how they never considered Hofstra and hung up.

(Parenthetical tangent: Hofstra’s relationship with Tranghese also fills me with some conflicting emotions. Tranghese was the chairman of the Selection Committee in 2001, when the Flying Dutchmen entered the NCAA Tournament on an 18-game winning streak—the longest in the country—yet still only got a 13 seed and drew UCLA in the first round. I blamed Tranghese for screwing us, but in his defense, I now understand an America East team could go 33-0 and still be among the bottom 16 teams in the tournament. And as far as incompetent Selection Committee chairs go, he’s not even close to this guy. So I, for one, welcome our new athletic overlord Mike Tranghese! Lunch at Bits and Bytes is on me!)

Where was I? Oh yes. Anyway, Tranghese’s relationship with Hofstra and his reputation as both a mover and shaker will only grow more important in the coming days and weeks as the Big 10 prepares to poach multiple Big East schools to set off a chain of events that will very likely create four superconferences—the Big 10, the ACC, the SEC and the Pac-10—and forever change the Division I landscape.

Nothing happened at the BCS meetings Wednesday, but don’t kid yourself, massive realignment centered around the BCS is as inevitable as the eventual expansion of the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams. (My advice: Don’t get too used to the seemingly perfect 68-team alignment)

The Big East proved last decade it should not be underestimated when its future is endangered. The conference appeared doomed, or at least unlikely to maintain its usual level of prominence, when Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech bolted for the ACC after the 2004-05 season, but the Big East grabbed Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and South Florida to remain in the BCS in football and become the biggest superconference in basketball.

But I don’t see it surviving a second assault by a rival conference. With only eight football schools, the Big East as we know it is done if two or more teams head to the Big 10. The remaining football schools would have no choice but to head to the ACC or SEC or slip into very expensive irrelevance.

The dismantling of the Big East would be bad news for traditionalists, and as a Connecticut native who remembers when the outbracket game of the Big East Tournament pitted the eighth seed against the ninth seed, I’d be bummed.

But I’d get over it a minute or so later, because the breakup of the Big East would be the first domino to fall in a sequence of events that would eventually get Hofstra where it wants to be—out of the CAA and into a bigger and more established conference.

That could be the Atlantic 10, if the Big East schools that don’t play Division I-A football—St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence, Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette and DePaul—form the core of a new Big East that would also include fellow Catholic schools Dayton, Xavier and Saint Louis. Such an alignment would keep the Big East among the nation’s elite in basketball and would, more importantly, create at least three openings in the Atlantic 10, spots that Hofstra, Northeastern and Drexel would certainly be positioned to fill.

I also think Temple, which made a bowl game last fall for the first time in 30 years, bolts the A-10 for one of the new Big Four conferences, which creates another spot for a school such as Boston University. The addition of Boston U. would give all four new A-10 schools a natural local rival.

But what if the non-football Big East schools that have continued to thrive in basketball—Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette, all of which have made the Final Four since 2003—as well as DePaul decide to cut bait with the lollygagging likes of St. John’s, Seton Hall and Providence and form an entirely new conference with the afore-mentioned Atlantic 10 schools? This would be a real viable option if Notre Dame decides to retain its independence in football and joins the new basketball league.

If this is the case, is it all that incomprehensible to envision Tranghese nudging his successor, John Marinatto, to keep the Big East name alive and forming a new, travel-friendly Big East by adding the CAA Three, Boston University and a school such as LaSalle to the left behind trio of St. John’s, Seton Hall and Providence?

Plan B isn’t without holes or consistency issues. For instance, if the elite non-football schools in the Big East want nothing to do with St. John’s, Seton Hall and Providence, then why would they want DePaul, which has won one regular season conference game in the last two years? But the Blue Demons would be a natural rival for Notre Dame and give this new conference a foothold in the valuable Chicago television market.

And sure, the new Big East would be a glorified mid-major. But if the four superconferences form, then EVERY OTHER conference is a mid-major, as well. And the Big East would still have plenty of name value. The words still make people’s ears perk up. Imagine the—wait for it!!!—pride Hofstra fans would take in declaring their alma mater’s new conference.

Hofstra has assured it is well-positioned for whatever happens next by aligning itself with Tranghese. As Litos pointed out in part three of his excellent series on the future of the CAA, the CAA knows what it doesn’t want to do when it has to adapt to the new landscape.

So, too, does Hofstra, which will not allow itself to be a geographic or philosophical outsider in its new conference. The identity remains a mystery, but with Tranghese in the fold, we at least know where Hofstra isn’t going.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Monday, April 19, 2010

In which I complete the seventh stage of grief by finally explaining the man crush on Tom Pecora

I'm not saying I've spent the last month wailing my own version of Hall & Oates' first big hit. I'm not saying I haven't, either.

Twenty-five days ago, Fordham held a press conference introducing Tom Pecora as the new head men’s basketball coach at Fordham. When he stepped to the podium, he didn’t announce his resignation as the HC of FU.

Eighteen days ago, Hofstra held a press conference introducing Tim Welsh as its new head men’s basketball coach. It was April Fools Day, but Pecora didn’t come busting through the backdrop, a la the Kool-Aid Man.

Pecora’s entire staff from Hofstra has joined him at Fordham. Former Boston College assistant Mo Cassarra has already joined Welsh’s staff, with more announcements expected this week. When Pecora appeared on AOL Fanhouse TV’s online coverage of the Final Four (yes, apparently, EVERYONE is getting jobs in sports journalism except me), he was identified as Fordham’s head coach.

So I guess it’s time to come to grips with reality: Pecora is gone, and he ain’t coming back.

I am asked three questions by people who stumble upon this blog: Why do you hate George Mason so much? Do you ever shut up? And why do you like Tom Pecora so much?

For the Cliffs Notes answer to question no. 1, click here. The answer to no. 2 should be found in there (and here!) as well.

As for my fondness for Pecora—I’m being a little over the top here, like with everything else, but I will authentically miss Pecora. Part of it is he was just about the last link to my college days. Now, if I want to remember what it’s like to be 21, I have to root for Brett Favre, who entering his second full season as the Packers’ starting quarterback when our fantasy football league began in 1994. No thanks.

But becoming re-acquainted with Pecora and covering him have been among the few highlights of the last two eminently crappy years. Writing is in my blood, but my last gig was so dehumanizing, from a management perspective, that it began to feel like a job for the first time ever. I started this blog in the summer of 2008 to stay sharp as I pursued another job (snicker snicker snort snort) and enjoy the purity of writing for myself and not a soulless, faceless corporation that viewed me as an unnecessary evil.

I never expected it to reignite my passion like it has, and much of the credit for that has to go to Pecora. His openness and accessibility made this year’s coverage, in particular, possible, and represented a welcome change from what I’d grown accustomed to in the world of professional athletics. There was no secrecy, no paranoia, no passive-aggressive games in which he spent hours making me jump through hoops for a few minutes of his time.

Nor did he spend a chunk of his time trying to control the message. Last fall, I wanted to do a story on seniors Miklos Szabo and Our Man Corny, but the two were struggling and all-world SID Jeremy Kniffin gently suggested that Pecora might not think it was the best time to interview the two. A few minutes later, he informed me the interview was a go because Pecora said it didn’t make sense to hide the players.

Unlike so many players and coaches who are unwilling to offer anything more than mind-numbing clichés, Pecora’s press conferences were can’t-miss affairs. He was brutally, blissfully honest and didn’t have it in him to BS people. A lot of people got tired of his CAA bashing, but, again: Why should he get over the fact that the screw job that left his best team ever out of the NCAA Tournament was perpetuated by and benefited a team within his own conference?

It was also refreshing to deal with someone who viewed a reporter as a fellow human being, and not a form of life lower than a meter maid. Last spring, we spent some time in his office and discussed the pain of losing a parent.

And after the Bracket Buster game against Rider Feb. 20, Pecora walked out of the media room and asked if I was OK. I’d been diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy almost two weeks earlier and Pecora noticed, even from the front of the room, that my face was swollen and my speech mildly affected. I thought that was really nice of him, especially since I can think of at least one baseball executive who wouldn’t break stride if I dropped dead of a heart attack right in front of him.

Believe it or not, though, my appreciation for Pecora has much less to do with how he treated me than it does with the program he built and the philosophies he espoused. Pecora, as well as Jay Wright before him, made sure the Flying Dutchmen would remain a program a fan could be proud of, regardless of how the team fared on the court. My favorite part of my exchanges with the paste-eaters in Mason Nation was how they had to go back five or seven years to find an example of a Hofstra player with attitude and disciplinary issues.

Pecora is as much about teaching his players about life as basketball, just like Butch van Breda Kolff. I remember conducting an interview with van Breda Kolff after Wright was hired in which van Breda Kolff said he hoped he instilled important lessons in his players such as how to dress for a job interview or the value of arriving a few minutes early for appointments.

Pecora didn’t use the same verbiage, but the message was generally the same. He wanted to prepare his players for the world beyond the suspended animation of college, to remind them that whatever obstacles and adversity they faced on the court would alternately steel them for and pale in comparison to the harsh realities outside a tree- and tulip-adorned campus.

As interesting as it was to listen to Pecora talks Xs and Os, I enjoyed much more listening to him deliver these lessons. Maybe I would have felt differently two years ago, when I would have been nodding out of politeness instead of agreement. But after what I’ve experienced lately, a dose of perspective in a head coach is a wonderful thing.

“I’m not into feeling sorry for myself, I’m not into feeling sorry for them,” Pecora said after the infamous loss to Mason Jan. 19. “They’ve got scholarships here. It’s $50,000 a year to come be a college basketball player. It’s a wonderful life. And you’re asked to play hard when you get on the floor, work hard in the classroom and behave like a gentleman when you’re off the court. It’s not that much to do. There’s guys who would give their left arm to do that.

“So if they think this is tough—what are they going to do when they get into the real world and you lose a job like so many people have done already, or things happen to you in your life that send you for a tailspin? These guys can’t handle losing some close basketball games? When adversity strikes, the true man comes out.”

Pecora also delivered some life lessons in how he handled his departure, particularly how to go about a job even when you may not plan to be there much longer. As I wrote three weeks ago, the rapidity with which Fordham hired Pecora suggests the groundwork had been laid over the preceding weeks and months, but Pecora’s effort remained honest all season. He coached the final few weeks as if his legacy was at stake and presided over the greatest second half turnaround in CAA history. Earlier in the season, he fought for Brad Kelleher as if his job depended on it.

There’s a lot to be learned, too, from Pecora’s exit. The timing is not always right to take a new job, and there will be wounded feelings left behind both inside and outside the program.

Wright got to leave Hofstra after seven seniors led the Flying Dutchmen to a second straight NCAA Tournament and a near-upset of UCLA. Pecora’s last game was in something called a CBI that was played in front of “952” people—more people turned out to Wright’s first game in 1994—and he leaves behind a squad that features the CAA’s reigning player of the year and two members of the all-rookie team.

Not everybody gets the clean and happy ending. But sometimes, the money is too good to turn down, and a coach is too old to wait for another opportunity to jump to a bigger and better league.

Contrary to what you might believe after reading the preceding 1,500 or so words, I’m not declaring Pecora can walk on water. (Though I’ve never seen him NOT walk on water) I’m sure he’s demanding behind the scenes, and I’m sure he has an ego, too. I also know he knew it could only help him to embrace anyone who wanted to give his overlooked program some publicity.

I know 16 years is a long time to be in one place and that it was probably time for a change of scenery for everyone. And as both a fan and a dude with a digital recorder in his hand, Tim Welsh seems to be the perfect successor to Pecora. Still, I think I’ll keep the WELCOME BACK TOM banner in the trunk. You know, just in case.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Friday, April 9, 2010

Defiantly Dutch Q&A: Jay Wright

Jay Wright: "If you remember, our early Midnight Madness [were] at Hofstra USA..." Me: "DO I?!"

If I had any sense at all, I’d retire Defiantly Dutch right now (as my friends six hours south scream in approval) because short of the Flying Dutchmen someday pulling a Butler, it’ll never get any better than this—an interview with the man who saved Hofstra basketball, Jay Wright.

It’ll be 16 years next week since I first spoke with Wright and the guy still fills up a notebook and sells a school—even one he hasn’t worked at in nine years!—like nobody else on the planet. When I hung up the phone Wednesday, I was ready to climb to the top of my roof, plant an old-school Hofstra pride flag there (I couldn't find an old-school Hofstra pride flag, but trust me, that's what it looks like--I think, anyway) and begin calling the Flying Dutchmen by their so-called “official” nickname. OK, I wasn’t that ready. But I was close.

You’ll see some of his quotes in today’s story about his role in the Tim Welsh search and I’m hoping to have a story or two next week to coincide with the anniversary of Wright and Tom Pecora arriving on campus. But if anyone deserves the unedited Q&A treatment, it’s Wright, who was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to discuss the aforementioned topics as well as Pecora’s departure for Fordham, his memories of his first days and weeks on campus in 1994 and his thoughts on Hofstra now vs. Hofstra then.

Thanks so much to Jay for speaking to us and to Villanova spokesman Mike Sheridan for setting up the interview.

How often does another school ask you for input or advice in its coaching search and how did Hofstra come to you in this situation?

We have so many assistant coaches that are out there now that you do wind up talking to a lot of people. And obviously, the Hofstra job, to me, is still very dear to my heart. My family, my kids, grew up with Hofstra basketball. They still watch the games anytime [Hofstra is] on TV. We get the MSG games and the Comcast games and any chance we get, we watch them. So it’s still very important to me.

You also had Van involved, which was important, and you want to support Van because he’s part of the family. And then you also understand that the president and the athletic director have to make the decision for what is best at the time. So I kind of knew they were going to go outside. [They] just asked me more about Tim and I thought if you want to go outside the program, Tim is perfect because I think he’s got great New York ties and I think he’ll respect the great tradition of Hofstra. He’s good friends with Tom and myself, he knows how much we love Hofstra. He also understands the pride that we all took in New York basketball, and I know Tim does also. And I think Tim will understand how much a part of Hofstra basketball New York basketball is.

What was it about Hofstra that led you to recommend the job to Tim?

I think that Tim can recruit the New York area really well. I know his wife Megan, I think they’ll love living on Long Island. Megan and [Wright’s wife] Patty are friends, they know how much we loved living on Long Island. We know all the people at Hofstra and we think Tim will fit in well with everyone down there—not just Jack but everyone in admissions and housing and on campus. He’s a down-to-Earth guy who fits in great with everybody.

Was this process bittersweet for you, since it was in response to Tom leaving, or was it kind of invigorating because it meant Tom was going through what you went thru when you left for Villanova in 2001?

It was exciting. I think Tom did an amazing job at Hofstra and really brought the program to another level. That conference is a much more powerful conference than the conference that we were in. I know Tom worked very hard at Hofstra to try to get Hofstra into the Atlantic 10. I know that was a goal of his so I was excited for him that he got to coach in the Atlantic 10. I know that was important to him. And I was excited for Hofstra that they had the interest that they did from Tim Welsh.

Tom mentioned how the two of you talk all the time, but particularly whenever one of you is faced with a big career decision. In your opinion, what else about Fordham—other than the chance to coach in the Atlantic 10—made it worthwhile for Tom to leave the comfort and safety of Hofstra?

I think the challenge of getting Fordham to the top of the Atlantic 10. I think, also, the challenge of knowing that the Atlantic 10 is more than a one-big conference, that you’ve got the opportunity to go to the NCAA and not leave New York. How many times do you get a chance like that and not have to leave New York? So I think those three factors were important and I agreed with him it was a great opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

How meaningful was it to you to have Hofstra asking for your advice as it searched for Pecora’s replacement?

That means a lot. I think Jack and Stuart Rabinowitz both know that my family still takes great pride in Hofstra and have great love for Hofstra and Hofstra basketball. Hofstra University [is] very important to us and always will be. I would have been just as understanding if they didn’t include me in the process, because I’m [just] a fan and a supporter. But I did take great pride in the fact that they did consider my opinion.

How much pride do you take in the Hofstra job going from a dues-paying gig to a destination that is attractive to a former Big East coach?

I think Tom and I both take great pride—all of us take great pride in how people perceive Hofstra University. Having a medical school now, the way that campus has grown and just how well-known Hofstra University is. And also Hofstra basketball [and how] someone of Tim’s stature would be excited about going there. It just shows it’s growing incredibly. A lot of us feel great about where the university is and where the basketball program is.

What are your memories of the Hofstra job, almost 16 years after you were named head coach?

I’m always grateful to [former athletic director] Jim Garvey and Dr. Shuart for giving me that opportunity and also for their patience, because I wasn’t that good a coach in the first few years. I was making a lot of mistakes and they hung with me and we all kind of grew together, even to the point where we worked together in getting the new Arena. That is why Hofstra is always near to my heart. I’ll always remember that if not for the patience—and I try to tell other people this when they make hires, too, that I got great support there during the early years. We weren’t that good, but we still got tremendous support, especially from Dr. Shuart. And that was really important. We got great patience and support, so I really appreciated that and I thank them for everything they did for me.

What do you remember about trying to get the campus and the community behind you?

[Before] we took the job, we weren’t in a conference. So it was tough for people to identify with the team because there was no conference. The year before we got there, they won the ECC but didn’t have an automatic bid. We had to get some local players that people recognized, get into a conference that people recognized and then we had to win some games. It took a lot of time to create a product that people [wanted to] see and an atmosphere that was fun to be involved in. Our students really helped us. If you remember, our early Midnight Madness [were] at Hofstra USA—our students really helped us with that, it was really so much fun. We all look back on it [with] fondness and memories. In a lot of ways, it was a simpler life. It was a lot of fun. I’d do it all over again in a second.

One of the most interesting things about last week was how everyone—the players as well as the fans—could read up on and learn about Tim Welsh before he even stepped to the podium. What did you do, in the infant days of the Internet, to get not only people on campus to know about you but to get to know your new players?

That’s a good point. It really was different. We had to go out on campus and to every office—the housing and student life and admissions—and introduce ourselves to everybody. The student groups. We’d go out to all the athletic events and introduce ourselves. We’d go into the dorms and introduce ourselves to students. It just wasn’t the same back then. I don’t even know if there was much interest. I think now, everyone at Hofstra is interested in knowing who the coach and [has the] ability to go on the Internet and find out quickly.

[With players], we had to do it all face-to-face. Tim’s going to watch their games on TV and get to know them [that way]. We had to scrounge up tapes and watch game film that was filmed from a camera up in the stands. And we talked to our [previous] coach, VBK, a lot about each individual kid. I called their high school coaches. It was a different time.

What do you remember about the day you were introduced at Hofstra?

I just remember picking up my wife, who was nine months pregnant and flying in from Las Vegas. I remember picking her up—a cloudy, gray day with mist and we’d just left 80 degrees, sunny Las Vegas. And we were in traffic on the LIE and running late for our own press conference. And just being so happy [despite] all that—so happy to be there.

Did you see Tom and Tim in Indianapolis?

We have a Villanova party every year at the Final Four. We have everyone who worked or coached at Villanova that is still in college basketball and it’s a big event. But everyone at Hofstra is included in that because Tom always brought his staff. Tim automatically becomes a part of that family.

Do you ever marvel at what Hofstra is now versus what it was when you got there?

I really do. Every time I go back there, I’m just amazed. I think Dr. Shuart started that vision of just being a grand university and national and I think Stuart is just taking it and running with it. It’s still one of the most beautiful campuses. I love the commitment to athletics. I understand with football that was a blow, but I just see lacrosse and basketball just blowing up. And the passion that the students and the alumni have grows and grows. I just love the place I’m amazed with the medical school how much it’s growing and how much nationally it’s known as a university.

Lastly, Tom always said he hated to play friends. So does his departure mean Hofstra and Villanova will play one another anytime soon?

[Laughs] Tim’s a real good friend of mine and it’s Hofstra. I really don’t like doing that. But you never know.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

In hiring Welsh, Hofstra still makes the Wright connection

You know it's a good day when you have to decide which story gets the Jay Wright schedule card treatment!

When Hofstra hired Tim Welsh as its new head men’s basketball coach last week, it brought an end to a 16-season era in which the Flying Dutchmen were either led by Jay Wright or someone from his coaching tree.

It did not, though, signal the end of Wright’s influence within and on the program.

At the press conference introducing Welsh, Hofstra athletic director Jack Hayes said he consulted with Wright in the search for Tom Pecora’s replacement. And while Wright is the godfather of Hofstra basketball as we know it, his approval of Welsh wasn’t a necessary part of the process.

But it certainly didn’t hurt, either. Wright, who became friendly with Welsh in competing with him for New York-area players while Welsh was the head coach at Iona and Providence and coaching against him in the Big East from 2001 through 2008, told Hayes he thought Welsh’s personality and pedigree made him a good fit for Hofstra.

“He’s got great New York ties and I think he’ll respect the great tradition of Hofstra,” Wright said from his Villanova office Wednesday afternoon. “He’s good friends with Tom and myself, he knows how much we love Hofstra. He also understands the pride that we all took in New York basketball, and I know Tim does also. And I think Tim will understand how much a part of Hofstra basketball New York basketball is.

“I think [the Welshes will] love living on Long Island. His wife Megan and [Wright’s wife] Patty are friends, they know how much we loved living on Long Island. Tim will fit in well with everyone there—not just Jack but everyone in admissions and housing and on campus.”

Hayes’ consultation with Wright is alternately common and unique. Hayes said it’s routine for athletic directors who are seeking a head coach to speak with active coaches. Hayes’ instinct was always to replace Pecora with someone who had head coaching experience, but before he officially began the search process, he sought feedback from not only Wright but also Davidson coach and ex-Hofstra star Bob McKillop as well as Florida coach and Rockville Centre native Billy Donovan.

Yet Wright’s ties to Hofstra make his role in Hayes’ search particularly noteworthy, especially since Pecora’s top assistant, Van Macon, was also a candidate for the job and would have continued the Wright lineage had Hofstra hired him.

“You want to support Van, because he’s part of the family,” Wright said. “And then you also understand that the president and the athletic director have to make the decision for what is best at the time. I kind of knew they were going to go outside [the program] and just asked me more about Tim and I thought if you want to go outside the program, Tim is perfect.”

“I think when you build relationships in this business and you build trust in this business with athletic directors and coaches, then you’re able to have very useful conversations and very helpful conversations that aren’t necessarily slanted towards motives,” Hayes said. “That wasn’t the conversation that I had with any of those individuals. It was strictly about seeking their help on what’s their perception of the job.”

Wright said he was honored Hayes chose to consult him in his search for the new coach even though he didn’t work for either Hayes or president Stuart Rabinowitz and, following Pecora’s departure, had no familial connection to the program, either.

“I think Jack knows and Stuart Rabinowitz both know that my family still takes great pride in Hofstra and have great love for Hofstra and Hofstra basketball,” Wright said. “Hofstra University [is] very important to us and always will be. I would have been just as understanding if they didn’t include me in the process, because I’m [just] a fan and a supporter. But I did take great pride in the fact that they did consider my opinion.”

Consulting Wright in the decision-making process could pay future dividends for Hofstra and those within the athletic department while also solidifying and lengthening Wright’s ties with the school and creating a bond between the new coaching staff and the old ones.

“Maybe somewhere down the road, Jay is interviewing someone for some administrative position and someone from Hofstra has an interest in it,” Hayes said. “And all of a sudden I get a call now from Jay Wright: ‘We interviewed so-and-so, what can you tell [him] about them?’ I want to be able to be that same type of resource that he was for us.”

Said Wright: “We have a Villanova party every year at the Final Four and we have everyone who worked or coached at Villanova that is still in college basketball. But everyone at Hofstra is included in that because Tom always brought his staff. Tim automatically becomes a part of that family.”

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A long-distance dedication from Jerry on Long Island to Jim in Fairfax!

Enjoy your freelance “writing” opportunities while you can, Jim. (Oh and let me beat the paste-eaters and those who like to start fake Twitters to the punch: I suck so much that Jim Larranaga is getting bylines and I’m not) As of this weekend, you’re no longer the last coach to lead a mid-major to the Final Four and America is no longer in search of the next George Mason.

Sure, we know there’s a difference between what you did and what Butler did, but most of America won’t get it (just like it didn’t get the real story four years ago, but that’s neither here nor there). I, for one, look forward to Brad Stevens’ future freelance writing opportunities. Hope you cherished those 15 minutes, Jim! Tick, tock, tick, tock…

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Friday, April 2, 2010

Five thoughts on the Welsh presser

I always wanted to cover a press conference in the days of black-and-white. This will have to suffice!

Lots of material to sift through following the Tim Welsh press conference—45 minutes of Welsh, Stuart Rabinowitz and Jack Hayes at the podium followed by more than half an hour of group and individual interviews—so it’s probably easier to take the bullet point approach to the day rather than trying to absorb it in one giant feature story. Plus, there will be plenty left over to discuss next week. Enjoy your Easter weekend!

1.) Hofstra didn’t just win the press conference, it dominated it. We’re talking historic dominance here: Reagan over Mondale, the 49ers over the Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX, the 1992 Dream Team over the rest of the world. This is no surprise, of course: If there’s anything Hofstra is really good at, and has been really good at since long before I could find Hempstead on a map, it’s winning press conferences. Of course, that should happen when a school is run by people obsessed with the tone of the publicity it receives.

Anyway, as expected, Hofstra did everything right Thursday. Rabinowitz was front and center, delivering the buzzword-filled message that Hofstra remains fully committed to athletics.

“Jack said ‘It’s going to cost more money, probably, to get such a person,’” Rabinowitz said. “I said ‘The University is willing and able to make strategic investments and enhance contributions to those athletic programs in such a manner that we can improve them and reach national acclaim.’”

He dropped a little hoops knowledge on the crowd, correcting himself when he said he hoped the team would make multiple NCAA or NIT appearances. “There won’t be an NIT anymore,” Rabinowitz said.

He even tugged at the heartstrings by noting this press conference was for a much happier occasion than the last one. “The last time we had a press conference here was a very sad day,” Rabinowitz said. “My stomach was turning many different ways.”

Did I imagine Rabinowitz reciting the letters “NIT, NIT, NIT” to himself as he stepped to the podium? Sure. Did he look as if he’d rather be someplace else? Sure. But when doesn’t Rabinowitz look as if he’d rather be someplace else?

Unlike Dec. 3, Rabinowitz hung around and mingled after the press conference. My favorite sight of the day was that of Hofstra staffers rushing to introduce Rabinowitz to Charles Jenkins and Nathaniel Lester and setting up photos between the president and the basketball players. I’ll bet my meager fortune that those photos find their way into multiple media guides and all sorts of Hofstra literature next year. LOOK AT US WE LIKE SPORTS!!!!

2.) Hofstra certainly conducted itself like a vibrant athletic program in searching for and finding Welsh. Hofstra dropped plenty of names Thursday—Hayes and Rabinowitz said the school consulted the likes of ex-coach Jay Wright, ex-Hofstra stars Bob McKillop and Speedy Claxton and Florida coach Billy Donovan during the search while Welsh said he talked with or heard from big-timers such as Jim Calhoun, Geno Auriemma and Mike Brey—and not once did it sound like an extra on Entourage. It never sounded as if the school was trying to angle itself with people with whom it did not belong.

Consulting the elite in finding a head coach who has led multiple schools to the NCAA Tournament: Not bad for a school that, two weeks shy of 16 years ago, was among the bottom 10 programs in the country and entrusting its future to a 32-year-old with a headline-happy last name.

3.) Part of winning the press conference is having a winning personality to introduce. To the surprise of nobody, Welsh—an experienced coach who spent the last two years as an analyst on ESPN—was comfortable, personable, confident and savvy in front of the crowd. He pointed out reporters he recognized and said he was looking forward to getting to know the rest of the media corps (we’ll see what he’s saying after I begin annoying him).

He was funny, declaring that he was impressed so many Flying Dutchmen made it to the press conference even though the school is on spring break. “If somebody called me when I was on spring break back in the ‘80s and said ‘You’ve got to come to a press conference,’ I wouldn’t have answered my phone,” Welsh said. “I would have been in Florida.”

He was smart, lauding and mentioning Charles Jenkins multiple times. As close as he was and is with Tom Pecora, Jenkins is too mature and too much of a professional to make Welsh beg for his approval, but Welsh had nothing to lose and a lot to gain by making Jenkins feel wanted and appreciated.

He sounded hungrier than ever after two years on the sideline, talking about how he missed the “winning and the misery” of coaching that Pat Riley has so often spoke about. He mentioned the joy of Iona fans and faithful when he coached the Gaels to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 13 years in 1998 and how much he wanted to bring that experience to Hofstra.

Most importantly, Welsh paid homage to his predecessors and the tradition Wright and Pecora established while also declaring he was ready to stamp the program with his own identity. “This place has been there, it has been close and the foundation has been set,” Welsh said. “It’s not like we’ve got to come in here and blow up the game plan.”

Welsh noted his New York credentials—“I have an EZ Pass, I didn’t have to get one, I know how to get to the beach, I know how to get to the AAU gyms, I know how to get to the high school gyms, I know how to get on the train”—but also said he was willing to go into the CAA heartland to get players. Pecora’s recruiting philosophy was pretty well-known—metro-area high schoolers, European high schoolers and JUCO players from Florida—and had become the subject of some criticism by Dutchmen fans.

Welsh also dismissed the idea it’s impossible for a northern school to win the CAA. Pecora, of course, made no secret of his disdain for the southern-dominated CAA and how he thought the Virginia-based schools had an unfair advantage.

“I had a good 20-minute fight yesterday with Mad Dog Russo,” Welsh said. “He was trying to tell me Hofstra can’t win in a southern league. I’m like ‘Chris, that’s a ridiculous statement. I don’t know why you’d say that. Just because they haven’t won before means they can’t do it? It’s like saying Louisville and West Virginia can’t win the Big East [tournament] because it’s in New York City. It’s kind of the same, isn’t it? I don’t get it.

“It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard—so stop with that, whoever said that. Games are played between the lines. Ten guys on the court, two coaches and three referees. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Richmond, or next door at the Coliseum—doesn’t matter where it is—or in Italy…[the southern nature of the CAA] can’t be used as a crutch.”

Hmm, think the powers that be were happy to hear Welsh’s words on that topic?

4.) Welsh did pretty well for himself Thursday, financially and professionally, but the biggest winner of all was Jack Hayes, whose power and influence as athletic director were called into question after the football debacle.

Hayes looks pretty secure and authoritative after this. Indeed, the fashion in which Hayes landed Welsh is going to get him his next job.

While most of Hofstra’s neighbors and rivals continued to mess up their coaching searches (I’m pretty sure I was next on the list at St. John’s, and I’m beginning to think UNC Wilmington isn’t going to hire someone before Midnight Madness), Hayes quickly, efficiently and secretly identified Welsh, interviewed him and locked him up, all within a week of Pecora’s official departure. Is it ironic, in that it’s not ironic at all, that the only two local gigs to be filled seamlessly thus far are the jobs that Pecora left and the one he took?

5.) Hofstra declared itself ready to compete for championships by making Welsh the highest-paid coach in the CAA (that’s right, more, apparently, than Jim Larranaga—again, do you REALLY think it was a coincidence George Mason announced Larranaga’s latest extension when it did?).

But did Hofstra also make it more clear than ever that it wants out? I found it very interesting that Hofstra has retained Mike Tranghese to, in the words of yesterday’s press release, “…to assist in the development of a strategic plan for the Hofstra Athletics program.”

Tranghese, of course, is the former commissioner of the Big East. He’s not here to tell Hofstra to go back to the America East. Wouldn’t forcing the rest of the CAA to pay more for its head men’s basketball coaches be quite a present for Hofstra to leave on its way out the door?

I’ll have more on this next week, but with NCAA Tournament expansion all but inevitable and the BCS schools likely to set off a chain of conference realignment and maybe even reformation, wouldn’t it be something if, once the dust settles, Hofstra is in a conference similar to or better than the Atlantic 10? What if Pecora didn’t have to leave Hofstra to eventually get out of the CAA?

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