Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Quotebook: Joe Mihalich

Photo courtesy Hofstra athletics

Joe Mihalich sat down with a handful of ink- and pixel-stained wretches for an informal Q&A this afternoon at Hofstra’s University Clun. Here’s an edited transcript of his chat.

On leaving Niagara:

We were gonna be good next year up there. Great bunch of guys. Believe me, I spoke to the team last night. It was one of the toughest things I ever did in my life. There’s no way to keep it together during that. So I wasn’t looking. As I said [at the podium] and I said it many times, when people asked me up there ‘You gonna leave? You gonna leave?’ I would only leave if it was a great opportunity—great school, all that stuff. Here’s a chance to do something else. Is the timing perfect? That’s life. That’s life. You can’t choose opportunity the opportunity comes and then you have to make a choice. Do I wish everybody had graduated and nobody was there? I wish, but that’s not the way it was. It was too good an opportunity to pass up.

I sat down with Jeff, we met down in Atlanta, and the more he talked, the more excited I became. Came down yesterday and with each person I met I got more and more excited. Been on campus [before] but never saw it the way I saw it yesterday. I didn’t need the plane last night, I just could have flown home myself.

On meeting with the remaining Hofstra players:

What a great bunch of guys. I’m not going to lie to you, I didn’t know them, this was my first chance to be with them. So Jeff just put us in a room downstairs, we took the coats off and just hung out for about half an hour. We could still be there now talking. It was just great—and again, not because of me, because of them. Just a great bunch of guys. They want to be good. They want to be good, and that’s the first thing you pick up as a coach—they want to be good. So I can’t wait to coach people like that.

On Hofstra’s facilities:

Just terrific. Everything’s in place. And I said up there before, this time of year, [people ask] is that a good job? Is that a good job? Is that a good job? And that’s my answer: Who’s the president, who’s the athletic director? We have a president that wants to win, we have an athletic director that wants to win the right way. But you look at the facilities, that speaks to the commitment that you need to be successful.

On his staff and if he’ll bring anyone with him from Niagara:

I’m not trying to be a wise guy, but we’re going to have a great staff. We’re going to have a great staff. I’m still working through that, I’m going about 20 steps at a time right now never mind one day at a time. But we’re going to have a great staff.

On his style of ball:

We like to play fast. You’ve got to dance with the girl you brung, so we’ll see what kind of guards we can bring in here. We bring in guys that still keep that 10-second rule in effect to get the ball over half-court, we won’t be running much. But we do like to play fast. I played for Paul Westhead in college, coached with Morgan Wooten and Speedy Morris I think the up-tempo style is fun. Fun to play that way, fun to coach that way, it’s fun to watch. We’re hoping to have an up-tempo type of team, hope it’ll be high-scoring, but again, we’re an incomplete picture right now. We’ve got some pieces to put in the puzzle.

On what attracted him to the job despite the short-term struggles Hofstra may have:

Just everything. The arena, the people, we talked about resources. It’s not just facilities, it’s people. I’m learning the people here are the greatest resources we have. We have a beautiful arena? Yes. A great weight room? Yes. Locker room? Yes. All the offices? The whole campus? Gorgeous. But it’s the people. It’s the people that are the greatest resource we have.

On recruiting:

We’ve got to get some players. I was on the phone this morning and I think we’re close to a guy already, actually. So trying to close the deal with a couple guys. There were some verbal commitments, I’m reaching out to those guys. And my message to them is maybe the most important part of the reason for your commitment was to the university itself, and that hasn’t changed. This is still a fantastic university. I know the coaches changed, and that’s [why] we’ve got to get to know each other to hopefully complete that.

On the challenge ahead:

That’s what excites you. If you didn’t—maybe it’s the wrong word—but if you didn’t like that it was a bad situation—and again, that’s a poor choice of words—but that’s a challenge. It’s a tough situation, it’s going to be more gratifying, it’ll just be more gratifying when you surprise everybody. One of my idols is a Niagara guy, Frank Layden. He always says ‘It’s better to surprise ‘em than disappoint ‘em.’ And so our goal is going to be to surprise everybody and be better than what they thought we were going to be.

Jeff explained the situation, whether it was the number of scholarships remaining, verbal commitments, APR situation—he explained everything. So it’s not the perfect situation, but again, we’re not going to talk about our problems. I mean, I love that Lou Holtz saying, it’s the truth. It really is. ‘Half the people don’t care, the other half are glad you have [problems].’ So we’re not going to do that.

On building his type of team:

Continuity is important, it really is, and Jeff Hathaway convinced me that he wants to do this the right way. He knows it’s going to be brick by brick. Sometimes, when you go for a quick fix, you take chances, they don’t work out. We’re going to be very careful about doing things the right away.

I like to play fast, so you look to speed, you look for quickness, as opposed to big, bulky guys, IF they have both, they’re [going] to the ACC, right? So probably speed and quickness more than anything else. I’ve got no problem with a guy who can make a lot of shots, It’s easier to count by 3s than by 2s.

On his hectic travel schedule leading into Wednesday:

I was going to leave [the Final Four] Sunday, Jeff asked me to stay down the day to visit. So I changed my flight to Monday morning. Monday morning flew from Atlanta to Buffalo. Tuesday back and forth, Buffalo to JFK. This morning, [got up at] 5:45, I was with my staff all last night, went to bed about 3, got up at 4. Sleep’s overrated. And then I don’t know when I’m getting home. I’m going to stay down here until I get three guys that can play.

More on his final meeting with his Niagara players:

I went back to speak to the team. I think that’s the right thing to do, is go do it in person. And believe me, it was as emotional a tine as I’ve ever been through in my life. I love those guys, I love that team. It was a hard thing to do. And as I’ve said a couple times before, that speaks to how excited I am about this opportunity, because it would have been easy to say you know what, I’m just going to stay here.

On his timetable to compete in the CAA:

I think it’s hard to put a timetable on it. I’m not trying to avoid the question. I keep coming back to the same thing: It depends on the players we can get. If we can get a couple good ones late, a couple good kids late, we can be a little better a little quicker than everybody thinks, But the important thing is to get the right kids. We want to get the right kids. And if it means a little more patience, might take a year or two to get the right kids, then I think that’s what we’re going to do. We will leave no stone unturned.

On the CAA:

I love the CAA. I thin it’s a great conference. The landscape of all the conferences right now—it just doesn’t change every day, it changes every five minutes. But I love the conference. That’s part of what excited me, that level, the conference is a terrific conference. Great leadership in the conference, great coaches in the conference, great schools in the conference. It’s going to be a real challenge, but it’s something you want to be a part of.

On if, after having just two jobs in the last 32 years, he sees Hofstra as a place at which he can retire:

When you’re a basketball coach you just think about one season, one year—not that you don’t build for the future—but one season, at a time, one year at a time. I don’t think you really plan too far ahead.

On how much he enjoys coaching:

I love what I do. I’m so lucky to do what I do. I say it everyday: I’m living the dream. I pinch myself everyday that I get to be a basketball coach. And I want everybody that I’m with to be having fun and enjoying it. Its not that it’s not hard work, not that you don’t feel like punching the wall once in a while, But I want my coaches to be that way, I want my players to be that way. I think it’s a culture that you want to build. It’s a lot better to be good and having dun doing what we’re doing. I have fun. People look at me after a game…you’ve got to understand something I am having the time of my life. Maybe we lost by one on a last-second shot and I’m not going to sleep that night. But to be coaching—just so lucky, just so lucky.

More on meeting with Hofstra’s players for the first time:

My goal wasn’t to earn their trust. My goal was just to let them know who I was and what I stood for and what I was all about. And I wanted to know what they were about, And if the trust comes with it, that’s great. But I didn’t go in there and say ‘I’ve got to earn their trust.’ I just went in there and I wanted them to feel comfortable with me. [That’s] the first thing I want to do with the players, because those poor kids have been without a coach for three weeks and they don’t know what’s going on. They don’t know who’s coming, what to expect. I’ve got three sons. If they were going through that, I’d feel horrible for them. So they needed some reassurance that they were going to be OK. And I tell you what, I was so impressed. What a great bunch of guys.

On what he’d say to a fan base reeling after the last few years:

I would say ‘Com on out.’ You’re going to have ago do time. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure you enjoy Hofstra basketball. We’re going to do everything we can. We want you to walk out of the building saying ‘that’s the hardest-working team out there.’ We want you to walk out of the building saying ‘Those guys play hard. It’s fun to watch them play.’ We want to be exciting and enjoyable.

On his memories of playing Hofstra at La Salle from 1975-78:

Richie Laurel getting about 50 on us one time. Roger Gaeckler was the coach, I think it was 1976[-77] they came to the Palestra and beat us. That wasn’t supposed to happen. [Grins] Richie was from Philly, so he was extra juiced. He was great. They had a good team.

More on recruiting:

We’re going to recruit anywhere and everywhere. When you are where I was for 15 years, you have no restrictions. You answer every email and you make every phone call. You look at every tape that comes in. And if there’s a genuine mutual interest, you pursue it. We’ve had kids from Texas, Florida and California.

There’s not a player in New York City that can’t think that this isn’t a great place to go to school. It might not be the school, they might go to another one, but there can’t be a player in New York City that doesn’t think ‘Boy that would be a good option.’

On knowing Jay Wright:

I remember him when he was in high school and college. Played at Bucknell. I remember one time, he was working at Drexel, I was working at La Salle [and] we had to drive to Pittsburgh, Drexel had a station wagon that they let the coaches use called the “Dragon Wagon.” He drove and it was just one of those things you remember, the trip out to Five Star. We just talked the whole way He’s just a first-class guy. Obviously a fantastic coach, but he’s a better person than coach.

Really, I think [Wright is] probably why I was familiar with [Hofstra]. Always liked him and always knew it could be a great place.

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Press Conference Q&A: Stephen Nwaukoni

What have the last three weeks been like for you?

Just with the team and the coaches, everybody just patiently waiting. After coach Mo got fired, everybody’s been [wondering] ‘So who’s gonna be our next coach? Which assistants will we have? What’s going to happen to the recruits?’ I was just hoping and I was waiting myself, but I was hoping it would be a guy right for the job, and it definitely seems to be.

What was the first meeting with Mihalich like?

They say you can read a person from your first impression. My first impression is I think he’s a phenomenal guy, I think he’s a fabulous guy. I think he’s going to be perfect for the job. Just the way he was talking to us, he seems like a very passionate person—not just there for the checks, not just there for anything else Just there to be there for us. Everybody knows that he’s a good coach, everybody knows that he’s here to win. So this is what we’re all hoping for.

You were one of Mo’s first recruits and the last one remaining from his first year. How bittersweet have these few weeks been for you?

I know it’s a business, I know that’s how it is. But at the end of the day, I can’t control that. People always tell me—especially my guy [video coordinator] Jay Posner over there [pointing across the room]—worry about everything you can control. That was something I couldn’t control. So I was just waiting like everybody else and I was hoping it was a good guy. And like I said before, he’s a great guy. I can tell he’s a great guy.

As one of just four scholarship players left, what kind of role do you think you’ll take on over the next few months and next season?

Me being here for three years already, going into my fourth year, like Mr. Hathaway said, the president said, they expect me to steer the ship this year. They expect me to be that leader. They expect me to be that person to guide all the younger guys, guide all the older guys, just lead everybody. And that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.

Like I told a whole bunch of people and the former coaches, I’ve told them what we had to work on as a team is just bringing everybody together as a team, as one unit [interlocks hands]. Not just having different cliques, but forming a whole sum, more like a team and a unit. Because I feel like whatever we do off the court—whether it’s being in the weight room, in class, anything—the way we act and the way we conduct ourselves, that’s all going to translate to the court. And if we’re always moving together, doing things together, that unity, it’s going to build. So I just feel like me being a [senior] and taking on a new role, I feel like that’s got to happen. I’m going to do the best job to the best of my abilities to make that happen.

Did you feel that, for whatever reason, with all the moving parts and transfers who were sitting out and freshmen that didn’t work out, that there were different factions the last couple years?

I’ll just give you an example: My first year here at Hofstra, I played with Charles Jenkins, Greg Washington, Brad Kelleher, Nathaniel Lester. We were a team. We were more of a team. I feel like the more we got all these players—like transfers and freshmen—the more we started to disintegrate, you know what I’m saying? I don’t know [why], but whatever the case was, I felt like we weren’t a unit anymore. I felt like every year it got worse, you know?

But now I feel like just this group we have here today will be more of a team. I feel we’re going to be more of a unit. I can feel it. And the coach feels it. Coach Mihalich feels it. He feels a great vibe in all of us.

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Hofstra hires Mihalich

Nineteen days later, the Flying Dutchmen have a new basketball coach. As first reported by Defiantly Dutch #JournalisticDingalingSwinging, Hofstra spent yesterday closing the deal with former Niagara coach Joe Mihalich and will introduce him as the 12th coach in school history (unless you count Tim Welsh, which you shouldn’t) at the University Club at noon today.

According to Newsday, Mihalich, 56, has agreed to a six-year deal. Steven Marcus Tweeted that Mihalich will be paid in excess of $400,000 per year.

As is often the case with mid-major hires, Mihalich was not Hofstra’s first choice—Kansas assistant Joe Dooley turned the job down last week and Hofstra could not agree to terms with Iona’s Tim Cluess, whose contract at the New Rochelle school carried with it an onerous buyout—but he arrives in Hempstead with impressive credentials.

Mihalich spent 15 years at Niagara, where he won two MAAC titles and a MAAC-record 265 games. He has won accolades for his coaching acumen in turning a small upstate New York school into a perennial contender in the MAAC and is recognized as one of the good guys in the industry by both his peers and those who have covered him.

Prior to taking over at Niagara, Mihalich spent 17 years as an assistant at his alma mater, La Salle, where he helped recruit five future NBA players, including Lionel Simmons.

Mihalich played four seasons at La Salle – which played in the ECC, the same conference as Hofstra, and went 3-2 against the Flying Dutchmen during Mihalich’s career – and helped the Explorers to NCAA Tournament bids as a freshman and as a senior. His junior year ended with a 92-81 loss to Hofstra in the ECC title game.

More than 35 years later, Mihalich is tasked with trying to return Hofstra to the NCAA Tournament. And in choosing to embark upon a lucrative yet massive rebuilding job at Hofstra—which has just four scholarship players remaining after a 7-25 season, the worst in the program’s Division I history—Mihalich leaves behind a loaded Niagara squad that graduates just one player from the team that won the MAAC’s regular season title this season.

Niagara became the first team in MAAC history to place two sophomores (Juan’ya Green and Antoine Mason, the son of former Knicks star Anthony Mason) on the all-league team.

Sound familiar? Three years ago last month, Tom Pecora left behind a stocked cupboard at Hofstra—including reigning CAA player of the year Charles Jenkins and two members of the league’s all-freshmen team—for Fordham, which doubled his salary to lure him to rebuild a program that had just bottomed out with a 2-26 record.

The good news for Mihalich is the CAA is not the Atlantic 10—not after the A10 picked apart the CAA like a Thanksgiving turkey—and that Hofstra has actually proven it has the budget and the facilities to compete in its current conference.

But make no mistake, there’s a tightrope-walking, failure-is-not-an-option sense of urgency to Mihalich’s hiring. This is the most important athletic department hire Hofstra has made since 19 years ago this week, when the late Jim Garvey hired Jay Wright to navigate the Flying Dutchmen out of the depths of Division I.

There was nowhere to go but up back then, and no alternative now—especially after the 2009 decision to euthanize football turned basketball into the spotlight sport at Hofstra—but to resume the climb back to where Hofstra men’s basketball once resided under Wright and Pecora, who turned the Flying Dutchmen into the most successful program in the metro area. That becomes Mihalich’s goal today, the moment he steps off the podium and into day one at Hofstra.

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Friday, April 5, 2013

In the end, Cassara done in by the good others did not do

Mo Cassara with the winners of a cake decorating contest he judged at Hofstra's Student Center in November 2011.

Days like two Fridays ago, when there’s so much news to filter and the head is filled with pinballing thoughts, lend themselves to paying particularly close attention to the random vagaries of life, such as songs on the radio or street signs, in hopes that something will provide some clarity and, in particular, a column-worthy hook that will tie everything together.

Two Fridays ago, clarity and the hook were found on a bumper sticker. As I walked into the University Club for the press conference officially announcing the dismissal of Mo Cassara, I saw a car adorned with a sticker that contained the Voltaire quote “Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.”

(I would like to tell you that I minored in philosophy at Hofstra, which is true, and that I didn’t need to go to Google to find the author of the quote, which is false. Transparency, and all that.)

And while we’re on the subject of transparency, I suppose I should get this out of the way: If you’re looking for a coolly unemotional, middle-of-the-road take on Cassara’s firing, a.) I don’t do that here and b.) I REALLY won’t be doing that here today.

Mo Cassara is a friend of mine, and it is both fortunate and unfortunate that he’ll be a friend of mine for a far longer period of time than he was coach at Hofstra. I imagine that some people, particularly Cassara critics, will think I am simply the house organ for all things Cassara—remember, my wife and I may or may not have named our daughter after him!—or that I like him simply because he talks to me.

And while I suppose my fondness for Cassara is a byproduct of his open access policies, I am certain, after knowing him for the last three years, that it would have been my loss if I didn’t have such an avenue by which to meet and get to know him.

So with all that said: Cassara is the former coach of the Flying Dutchmen because he is a good man done in by the guiltiness of others.

I get why Hofstra athletic director Jeff Hathaway and/or president Stuart Rabinowitz made the decision he/they made. I get how bad the events of this season and the six arrests of ex-players look for the university, and that the pride the administration takes in Hofstra is far different than the pride we take as alums.

I respect that it wasn’t an easy choice—if it was, Cassara would have been fired on March 10, or Dec. 1—and that running an athletic department or a university often means telling very nice people that their services are no longer needed.

But just because I get and respect the decision in the black-and-white sense doesn’t mean I agree with it in a world awash with sepia and tones.

Basketball-wise, I think Cassara deserved a chance to try and turn this around. There’s no sugarcoating this: His first attempt to rebuild the Dutchmen was a disaster. He’d be the first to tell you that the process failed. After his successful first season, he tried to patch holes in a decaying foundation, instead of stripping it down and starting from scratch.

But he was getting ready to do that, and going in a completely opposite direction recruiting-wise after getting burned this year by true freshmen and troubled transfers. By focusing on prep schoolers (six of the seven recruits he signed for next year are in the midst of a post-grad year right now), Cassara was bringing people to campus who were used to living away from home and surely more mature than most of the knuckleheads who ended up costing him his job.

He said numerous times over the last few months that he was looking forward to moving the troublemakers out of the program, via graduation or outright dismissal, so that he could start anew. Looking back, he spoke with a certain sense of desperation and worry, as if he feared some of these guys would manage to get into more trouble before he could get them off campus. If that was the case, he was right to worry.

In addition, recent history suggests that schools set themselves back by firing a head coach after three years or less. Between 1993 and 2009, 56 schools that played in conferences possessing an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament dismissed a coach before his fourth season. Eight more have done so since 2010, but I’m not judging their post-firing performance yet because their current coaches haven’t had four recruiting classes.

In addition, I didn’t count schools that fired coaches following NCAA investigations, a la Binghamton and Kevin Broadus, or because of poisonous personalities, a la Rutgers and Mike Rice.

Of the 56 schools to make a change in three years or less from 1993 through 2009, just 21 made the NCAA Tournament under their next coach. Maybe Cassara never would have taken the Dutchmen dancing, but Hathaway will have his hands full finding the guy who can do so—especially with a program that has a grand total of four scholarship players heading into next year.

He’ll also have quite a challenge finding someone who can match Cassara’s intangibles. I’ve followed Hofstra basketball for 20 years, and in that time nobody has tried to do more good for Hofstra basketball—or worked harder or cared more—than Cassara. And believe me, Butch van Breda Kolff, Jay Wright and Tom Pecora weren’t exactly mailing it in during their time on Hempstead Turnpike.

If anything, Cassara worked and cared too much. An avid Seinfeld fan, Cassara probably could have benefited from pulling a Costanza, and doing the exact opposite of everything, if only he had it in him to half-ass something.

Cassara got the job after a whirlwind five-day period in late April and early May 2010 where he thought he’d be out of a job, and right up until his late afternoon meeting with Hathaway March 21, he worked every day as if he’d be fired the next day.

I remember exchanging texts with him after the loss to Drexel in January 2011, when Charles Jenkins broke the school scoring record in front of a sellout crowd. It was one of just 10 losses in an often-magical season, but Cassara was despondent—quite literally to the point where he couldn’t move off his office couch, several hours after the final buzzer—over the missed opportunity to win and turn some of the first-timers into the crowd into repeat visitors.

Perhaps the most indelible image of the Cassara era is of him running parallel to a loose ball during a game against James Madison in December 2011, looking as if he might actually dive on it himself so that the Dutchmen could retain possession.

Cassara’s teams embodied their coach. As beaten up as the Dutchmen were this year, they impressed impartial writers and opposing fans alike with their effort and hustle. He should have gotten an extended chance to coach kids whose character matched their effort.

And he should have gotten an extended chance to find kids whose pride in Hofstra matched his. In the last 20 years, nobody connected with Hofstra basketball loved Hofstra more than Cassara—even if Hofstra can be a tough place to love.

It’s so easy to obsess over what Hofstra isn’t. It isn’t a giant sprawling campus far away from home with a party life that draws the attention of US News and World Report (presuming they still rank party schools). It is close to Manhattan, but it’s not in Manhattan. We play Division I sports, but not the Division I sports you see on TV. With so many commuters, added on to the plethora of students who are just going to college because it’s the thing you do from 18 to 22, it isn’t a place that easily engenders the unity we associate with college life.

But it can still be great, if you love and embrace Hofstra for what it is—instead of obsessing over what it isn’t—and realize how rewarding the place can be if you immerse yourself in it, all the while working to make the school as great as we want it to be.

Cassara GOT that. He attended club functions throughout campus and went to athletic events and was on a first-name basis with the staff at the Student Center cafeteria because he was one of us, and one of them. He supported those who loved Hofstra and were working to turn it into something even greater because he was doing exactly that.

Instead of griping that Hofstra didn’t have a practice facility, like so many of its mid-major rivals, he began planning one. Instead of complaining about the meager crowds, he reinforced relationships with those who did show up to the Arena and daydreamed of the upcoming seasons in which the Dutchmen would regularly play in front of 4,000 fans or more.

He also got that the people who truly love Hofstra are fundamentally decent people who treat one another well and have no patience for those oozing arrogance or phoniness.

I heard an amazing story this season about how Cassara lugged his own luggage—and that of his girlfriend—through the airport on the way to or from a game. A member of the traveling party, watching Cassara struggle to balance everything, said, half-kiddingly, that he should have the student managers carry his luggage. Cassara said he’d been a student manager, and that carrying luggage was a demeaning part of the job and that he always swore he’d carry his own luggage if he ever became a head coach.

I don’t know a single Hofstra staffer who has anything bad to say about Cassara. Employees wept the morning of his dismissal. One athletic department staffer whom I trust implicitly said Cassara was the nicest head coach he’s ever encountered at the school.

For every single of the 811 days he was head coach of the Flying Dutchmen, Cassara unconditionally loved Hofstra and all those connected to it. And that’s the cruelest, saddest irony here: Few people did more to generate and spread Hofstra pride than Cassara, and he was undermined by those unappreciative of the university and the opportunities (often of the second chance variety) it provided.

Hell, Cassara was undermined almost from day one. If Welsh was smart enough to call a cab the night of April 29, 2010—less than 48 hours after sermonizing about the responsibilities of a head coach—I’m not writing these words right now.

More recently, I have gone out of my way to not mention the four thieves who ruined a season and so much more. They are unworthy of the keystrokes needed to type their names and I don’t want the traffic that would come from those Googling them.

But I hope Shaq Stokes, Jimmy Hall, Kentrell Washington and Dallas Anglin have it in them to feel remorse for what they did to Cassara, and the repercussions it will have for their former school in the years to come.

I get that Taran Buie and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel are complex people trying to emerge from exceedingly difficult upbringings, and that neither one, despite their recent arrests, is necessarily a bad guy.

Athletic staffers marveled at Buie’s politeness—he always addressed staffers by“ Mr.” and “Mrs.” even when they said it was fine for him to call them by their first names.

Personally, I’ll always remember running into Buie on the Arena concourse after a game and being moved by the gentleness he displayed upon being introduced to my daughter, who returned Buie’s broad smile as he touched her hand.

And I get that so much about this season would have been different if Coombs-McDaniel didn’t have the knees of a 40-year-old. If he’s playing this season, he’s engaged. He’s kicking Buie and everyone else in the ass—Cassara always said leadership was Coombs-McDaniel’s strongest trait—and maybe he’s able to steer four foolish newcomers away from doing something they—and we—would regret forever in October and November.

Instead, he was just one of many men, young and old, guilty of the good they did not do, and guilty of getting a good man fired.

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Who will it be now?

Day 13 of Hofstra’s coaching search is complete and I suppose I should get in on the speculative bandwagon. So here goes:

I guarantee Mike Rice will not be the next coach of the Flying Dutchmen.

(Early tangential sidebar: Thank you Rutgers for making the rest of us feel better about ourselves. Three coaching changes in 36 months? Six players arrested in less than four months? Yeah well at least nobody here participated in homophobic basketball dodgeball and then thought the videotapes that were in the possession of a vindictive ex-employee wouldn’t see the light of day!)

Anyway, Rice is safely eliminated from contention, but he’s about the only candidate who won’t get consideration in what I imagine is, and will continue to be, a wide-ranging search for Jeff Hathaway.

He has been on the job less than a year but it is not too early, nor hyperbolic, to say this is the hire that will determine Hathaway’s legacy here. Hathaway took a pretty big chance firing Mo Cassara (more on that in today’s second post), a move that obviously imperiled Cassara’s incoming recruiting class and made a Towson-in-2012 season a very realistic possibility for next year’s Flying Dutchmen.

As a school now defined and anchored by a basketball program that is in its most precarious position since Jay Wright arrived in 1994, Hofstra and Hathaway cannot afford to miss with this hire.

Hofstra was already at the bottom of Division I in men’s basketball, and building a I-AA football powerhouse, when Wright got here, so there was little to be lost if he flamed out in the mid-to-late ‘90s.

But now that football is dead, the entire operation rests on men’s basketball. So Towson-in-2012 will be OK next year, as long as it is followed a year or two later by Towson-in-2013. Following it with Towson-in-1996-through-2011 will leave a ruinous, disastrous mess.

Whomever succeeds Cassara will have a monster of a rebuilding job ahead of him, and my guess is that the eventual winner of this derby will come as a surprise to many of us. As affable and accessible as Hathaway is in public, this isn’t his first rodeo, and he’s going to complete this search on the double down low.

Of course, that won’t stop me from pontificating about the possibilities, just in case one of my darts gets part of the board and allows me to brag about it to everyone. And if none of these guesses are accurate, I will disavow any knowledge of this post and delete it. #Sportswriting

--The hire will be part of the Hathaway tree, which has a whole lot of branches. He went to high school in Baltimore at DeMatha, home of one of the country’s great prep dynasties, and graduated from the University of Maryland before working for Maryland, Colorado State and UConn in the ACC, the WAC and the Big East (back when the WAC and the Big East were good). How many hundreds of coaches has he encountered? If I were a betting man, I’d wager the next Hofstra coach has shared office space or a conference with Hathaway.

--That said, the new coach almost certainly won’t be the most obvious branches of Hathaway’s tree. Why would Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell or Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore, both of whom were assistants under Jim Calhoun when Hathaway was at UConn, leave their current prime gigs, with teams that are positioned to compete for NCAA Tournament berths over the next few years, for the bleakness and barrenness of Hofstra?

--The buzz is Tim Cluess is very interested in the job, because of the better facilities and salary Hofstra can offer as well as the chance to return to his alma mater. But is Hofstra interested in him? Cluess is a helluva coach who could win in Antarctica, but he didn’t get a sniff when Hofstra had an opening three years ago and he’s gone to two NCAA Tournaments with Iona with the kind of questionable high major transfers that got Cassara fired. Now, Cluess shouldn’t be punished because his players didn’t get in trouble at their second collegiate stop. But my guess is Hathaway will want to go in a different direction.

--Ryan Restivo, who writes for the outstanding Big Apple Buckets and was all over the Jimmy Patsos-to-Siena hire, Tweeted Tuesday that three different MAAC coaches told him Niagara’s Joe Mihalich would be the new Hofstra coach. I’ve heard from multiple sources that he’s not in the running. One of us will obviously be right and it may be by accident, since purposeful misinformation is the name of the game this time of year. It is worth noting, though, that both Mihalich and Hathaway are DeMatha grads.

--I expect Hathaway will leave no stone unturned #cliche in his search. Three years ago, Jack Hayes consulted with Wright before hiring Tim Welsh (don’t worry, Jay, we don’t blame you). Hathaway would have nothing to lose by asking Wright if he wanted to finish his career where he started it. Maybe he wants to coach again at a place where nobody spreads vicious rumors about why the men’s basketball coach will be resigning any day now (I’m not going to dignify that chatter here, but as long as you can access the Googletron, you can figure out what I’m talking about). Probably not, but doesn’t hurt to ask, and bringing Wright back would be a giant hit with alumni.

--The new coach probably won’t be Speedy Claxton, which is a shame, because when it comes to beloved players coming home to coach/manage, I think he’d be more Robin Ventura than Clyde Drexler. Claxton has no ties to the current athletic administration, and while I don’t think he meant any harm by going to Newsday with his desires, I bet that didn’t win him any points with Hathaway.

--Claxton would be a perfect coach-in-waiting, though, under Wright or….no I’m not even going to say it, because Stuart Rabinowitz would just as soon bring back football as do THAT. But wouldn’t THAT be juicy?

--Don’t be surprised if interim coach Patrick Sellers gets serious consideration. He and Hathaway go way back and are good friends, and you can be sure Hathaway hasn’t forgotten how Sellers took the fall for Sgt. Schultz, err, Calhoun at UConn back in 2010. In addition, promoting Sellers on a permanent basis would not give Hofstra half a chance at keeping much or all of Cassara’s recruiting class and perhaps easing some of the pain of next season.

--Complete wild card here and nothing more than pure speculation on my part, but what if Cassara’s firing was part of a plan by Hathaway to help usher Hofstra into a new conference? New league, new coach, new era? Hey, it happened in 1994.

Let me say that I don’t think Hofstra is actively looking to leave the CAA, where it is now a core member surpassed in seniority by only James Madison, UNCW and William & Mary, and that the CAA will survive realignment Armageddon. But the league is certainly in a vulnerable position, and all the remaining members would be foolish not to examine every possible option to ensure they’ve got a seat whenever the music stops. And there is one local league with an uneven number of teams. Just saying.

--With the Final Four starting tomorrow, I’d imagine Hathaway will conclude his due diligence over the next 72 hours. Whomever the new coach is, I bet we know his identity next Wednesday so that Hofstra can introduce him Thursday. That’s the day Wright, Tom Pecora and Welsh all got introduced. Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

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