A look at candidates for BC's coaching job

March 31, 2010 - 9:22 am
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Al Skinner spent all season looking for consistency from his club. But after Boston College ended the campaign with a disappointing 15-16 record, director of athletics Gene DeFilippo decided that consistency was not the key, ending Skinner's tenure after 13 years. Now the search begins for a replacement. DeFilippo made it clear on Tuesday that he was looking for a certain type of coach, one who will make BC competitive in the ACC and bring some excitement to a program that rarely stands out in a town where college sports lives in the shadow of pro teams. The expectation is that BC will largely look in its own neck of the woods to find a new coach to lead the program, though there are some intriguing candidates outside of New England who could surface in this search as well. With that in mind, here is a look at some of the names that are likely to come up. THE SKINNER DISCIPLES '€œChange is good sometimes,'€ DeFilippo said at Tuesday's press conference. '€œHow many basketball coaches have been at the same job for 13 years? Very, very few." And yet, some of the names being tossed into the ring for this job come off the Skinner coaching branch, having worked at BC as assistants before moving on to other jobs. Let's start with Tim O'Shea, who has helped Bryant University make the transition to Division 1. After leading his team to eight wins in its first season at the top level, O'Shea's Bulldogs regressed in 2009-10, finishing a dismal 1-29. But despite trying times this season, O'Shea still is a viable candidate. Before moving to Bryant, O'Shea was the architect of an Ohio program that made the NCAA tournament in 2004-05 and nearly upset SEC tournament champion Florida in the first round. O'Shea has deep roots at BC, playing on two Big East regular-season championship teams and making the postseason four times in the early 1980s. O'Shea's teams arguably are the most successful in BC history, making the Sweet 16 two times and advancing to the Elite Eight once, and clearly he represents some of the glory days of the program. O'Shea was a member of Skinner's staff at Rhode Island for nine years and at BC for four. One would think he would relish the chance to return to his alma mater and lead the program to the type of success he enjoyed as a player. The question is whether he is enough of a splash for BC. That also would be the case with Ed Cooley. The current head coach at Fairfield, Cooley was on Skinner's staff for 10 seasons, one at Rhode Island and nine at BC. Cooley's results at Fairfield were not exactly staggering in his first three seasons, though Cooley led the Stags to a .500 record or better in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play during each of those seasons. This season, Fairfield broke out with its first 20-win season since 1995-96 and made a run to the conference championship game, where the Stags nearly upset heavy favorite Siena. The Stags also impressed on the postseason stage in the Collegeinsider.com tournament, coming back from a 27-point deficit to stun George Mason in the first round before bowing out to Creighton. If his familiarity with BC and his success in turning around Fairfield isn't enough, Cooley also is known for his enthusiasm, which could invigorate fans who have dealt with the low-key Skinner for 13 years. The most viable candidate amongst the Skinner line likely would have to be Bill Coen. Coen spent 17 years alongside Skinner as an assistant before earning his own shot at developing a program at Northeastern. Coen told WEEI.com earlier this month that he had great respect and admiration for Skinner.

'€œHe gave me a shot at the Division 1 level and I learned so much from him,'€ Coen said of his mentor. '€œProbably the biggest thing I learned from him was patience. Patience in developing a program, patience in recruiting and patience as the season goes along. I think that has always been his trademark and I think I'€™ve tried to develop some of that wisdom here at Northeastern.'€

Coen helped transform Northeastern into a legitimate contender in one of the toughest mid-major conferences in the country, the Colonial Athletic Association. He helped the Huskies finish as the second-best team in the conference's regular season before they bowed out in the semifinals of the conference tournament to William & Mary. Northeastern had to settle for a bid in the NIT, where it was clipped by UConn in the first round, 59-57. Still, Coen's squad won 20 games for the first time in his tenure and beat two NCAA teams in Utah State and conference foe Old Dominion, which upset Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Coen knows how to build a program in this area and has proven that he can build a winner against tough competition. More importantly, Coen is known as a great recruiter, and he had a great impact in that area during his time with the Eagles. In fact, DeFilippo praised all three of these candidates for the work they did in that aspect.

'€œWe'€™ve had some excellent assistant coaches who were here who have all gone off and gotten terrific jobs '€” Timmy O'€™Shea, Bill Coen, Eddie Cooley. They'€™ve brought in some terrific players through the years.'€ Back when BC was known for finding diamonds in the rough such as Troy Bell and Jared Dudley, it was when these assistants were on board and helping with the recruiting process. Coen has continued to bring in talent to Northeastern, in particular two-time All CAA first-team player Matt Janning, who finished as the fourth-highest scorer in program history. THE LOCAL TALENT DeFilippo could do worse than to take a look at a pair of coaches from the New England area in Vermont's Mike Lonergan and Rhode Island's Jim Baron. Lonergan took over for Tom Brennan after the 19-year veteran led the Catamounts to their stunning upset of Syracuse in the 2005 NCAA tourney. In his five years in charge, Lonergan has taken Vermont back to the Big Dance three times, including this year. He was a candidate for the Seton Hall job that went to former Iona coach Kevin Willard after leading Vermont to a 25-10 record and an America East championship. Lonergan also has experience in the ACC, having spent a year as an assistant to Gary Williams at Maryland. Baron also reportedly was a candidate for the Seton Hall job, as well as the gig at St. John's that Skinner interviewed for before the Red Storm hired Steve Lavin. Baron has had success at Rhode Island, winning 19-plus games in each of the last four seasons (yet never making a trip to the NCAA tournament) and reaching the NIT semifinals this season before losing a 68-67 overtime heartbreaker to North Carolina on Tuesday night. Baron's running style and his teams' offensive prowess would be a welcome sight for BC fans who tired of Skinner's methodical flex offense. THE UP-AND-COMERS In his press conference Tuesday, DeFilippo stated, "This is a terrific job." Whether or not you believe that, this is a job in a top conference that should be able to lure a coach from the lower ranks. Enter two of the hottest names on the coaching circuit: Steve Donahue and Chris Mooney. All Donahue has done is turn Cornell from an Ivy League also-ran to a player on the national stage. After 10 years as an assistant at fellow Ivy school Penn, Donahue took the helm at Cornell in 2000. Since then he has steadily improved his team's standing, leading to NCAA berths the last three years after a 20-year hiatus for the Big Red. This season, Cornell reached new heights when it upset Atlantic-10 champion Temple and Big Ten power Wisconsin in the first two rounds of the tournament and became the first Ivy team in the Sweet 16 since Penn in 1979. Donahue's team could not get past Kentucky, however, and now he is losing his top three players: point guard Louis Dale, the all-time leader in assists for the program, 7-footer Jeff Foote, and the all-time leading scorer in Cornell history, Ryan Wittman. BC fans often point to the school's academic integrity as being a detriment to recruiting the type of players that some other schools can. But if Donahue can build a winner at Cornell, that should not be a problem at BC. Donahue is known as a great motivator and has experience recruiting. And with eight seniors leaving the Big Red, the time could be right for Donahue to make a jump to a major program. Mooney also is a hot name despite his Richmond team falling in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Omar Samhan and St. Mary's, 80-71. In a conference with the likes of Xavier and Temple, Richmond has become a force to be reckoned with thanks to the direction of Mooney. This season he led his team to a school-record 24 regular-season wins and had the Spiders in the Top 25 for the first time in 24 years. Richmond is no flash in the pan, either, as it recorded its second straight 20-plus win season. And Mooney's motion offense would be a welcome change from Skinner's flex. Mooney got his first head coaching gig at Air Force when he was 31 and helped turn around that program before heading to Richmond. A former standout for Princeton and the legendary Pete Carril during his playing days, Mooney is just 37 and would bring some energy and a new outlook to the Eagles. However, he has made Richmond a Top 25 team, and with star Kevin Anderson coming back, he has a shot to make even more noise next year. Is the BC job enough to lure him away from that opportunity? THE BIG NAMES If you ask a BC fan who they want their next coach to be, you can bet that Bruce Pearl would be at the top of the list. A BC alum and Massachusetts native, Pearl is a one-time BC student assistant who has gone on to great success, first at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and now with Tennessee. Pearl has proven to be one of the best coaches in the game, leading the Vols to the Elite Eight this year and helping them knock off the likes of Kansas and Kentucky during the season. But Pearl is very well paid for the job he has done, and the Eagles might not want to shell out the funds it would take to lure him back to Boston, even if he was interested. Appearing on Dennis & Callahan Wednesday, DeFilippo said, "We're going to pay what we have to pay to get the right person. We just really are. This is an important hire for us." But he also stressed that he has not made contact with Pearl as of this time, and does not consider him a candidate for the job right now. "At this point, no, he's not," DeFilippo said. "That doesn't mean he couldn't be at another time." One other item of note: Pearl's Tennessee team was penalized by the NCAA last year for the poor academic performance of its players. DeFilippo has made it clear that's not going to be tolerated at BC. The other big name is Tommy Amaker, the current Harvard coach. BC fans are familiar with Amaker after Harvard stunned the Eagles each of the last two seasons. Amaker has an interesting coaching history, first as an assistant at his alma mater, Duke, under Mike Krzyzewski and then at the helm of Seton Hall and Michigan. He led the Pirates to three NIT berths and one NCAA tournament during his tenure, and hauled in what was rated as the second-best recruiting class according to ESPN in 2000, featuring the likes of Eddie Griffin and Andre Barrett. He then moved to Michigan and helped restore a program that had been tarnished by scandal, leading the Wolverines to one NIT title and a runner-up finish in the event in 2006 before he was fired '€” with the most obvious criticism being his inability to get the Wolverines to the NCAAs. Since Amaker took the Harvard job, the Crimson have gone from an 8-22 team in his first season to a 21-7 record this past year and a spot in the CIT. His success has not come without controversy, as he has had to deal with allegations involving questionable recruiting tactics, though he was ultimately cleared by the Ivy League. With his local experience and national pedigree, Amaker is someone who is likely to get a look from the Eagles.
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