Ex-Harvard coach lauds Donahue hire

April 06, 2010 - 7:33 pm
Steve Donahue, set to be introduced as Boston College's new basketball coach Wednesday, may be an unrecognizable face to those at BC, but there are some in the Boston area who are quite familiar with the man who guided Cornell to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 last month. Frank Sullivan, who coached at Harvard from 1991-2007, has known Donahue for two-plus decades, as the two regularly crossed paths in the Ivy League. Donahue made a name for himself as an assistant coach at Penn from 1990-2000, which included the Quakers' run of five league titles (plus one tie) in eight years from 1993-2000. Donahue took over at Cornell in 2000 and, after six losing seasons, turned things around the last four, including three straight league titles. As Donahue prepares to make the leap to the ACC, Sullivan said he understands why BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo decided to go with the 47-year-old over two former BC assistants -- Fairfield coach Ed Cooley and Northeastern mentor Bill Coen. "I think it's a marvelous choice," said Sullivan, now the associate commissioner of the America East Conference. "He'll be honest, straightforward, candid -- he'll represent all the good values that have percolated in the recent success of [national finalist] Butler -- and Cornell. "He's an excellent technical coach and he puts a high premium on the quality of the relationships with his players." That was evident in the comments from Donahue's former players at Cornell, after he told the team Tuesday that he was leaving for BC. "Anytime somebody leaves like that, it's hard to swallow," Cornell guard Louis Dale told The Associated Press. "But you, at the same time, were such a fan of Coach Donahue that we're BC fans now. We want to see him do well." Cornell athletic director Andy Noel also said he's now rooting for the Eagles. "I told the folks at BC that they made a great hire," Noel told the AP. "Our university really wanted to keep Steve. I'm a little heartbroken, but we turn the page and become a BC fan forever. ... We're appreciative that we had a decade with Steve Donahue." While critics of former BC coach Al Skinner point to Skinner's work habits and his lack of a presence on the recruiting trail, Sullivan said that won't be the case with Donahue. "He'll be a very visible head coach, engaged very much in the process of recruiting," Sullivan said. "As much as the assistants do much of the legwork, Steve did a lot of the legwork himself, did a lot of the travel himself. He's not necessarily be the lead recruiter, but he had a strong presence in the recruiting process. "When you'd see him at AAU events, he would be the first guy there and the last guy to leave. And those events run from 9 in the morning until 11 at night." That said, Sullivan noted that Division 1 coaches are limited in how much interaction they can have with recruits, so don't put too much emphasis on that part of the job. "You can't outwork anybody in the business because there's restrictions," Sullivan said. "So, it becomes how you develop relationships." Donahue will need to be able to delegate responsibilities and manage his staff well. That should be a strong point for the Philadelphia-area native, who reportedly has confirmed one hire so far: Nat Graham, a former Penn player who was Donahue's top assistant at Cornell. "He'll have as strong an infrastructure as anyone would expect, in terms of people and resources," Sullivan said. "If you're in a league like the Ivy, you're still mom and pop in a lot of ways. You don't have the degree of sophistication you'll see in the ACC. But he's a smart guy, and he's the type of guy people will like. He's likable, but he's also assertive." The list of coaches who have gone from the Ivies to bigger conference and had success is a short one, partly due to the fact that Penn and Princeton have dominated league play for many years and did not have much turnover at the top. Two of the success stories are John Thompson III, who left Princeton for Georgetown and has guided the Hoyas to the postseason six straight seasons, and Donahue's former boss at Penn, Fran Dunphy, who has taken Temple to the NCAAs in three of his four seasons there (Donahue's Cornell team knocked off Temple in the first round last month). Sullivan said he believes Donahue can join that list with his combination of effort and integrity. "He's a basketball lifer with tremendous values," Sullivan said. "I think he'll be great for BC."