Flanked by Marist president Dr. Dennis Murray and athletic director Tim Murray, (no relation) Jeff Bower makes his return to Red Foxes as head coach after a nine-year tenure as an assistant from 1986-95. (Photo courtesy of Marist College)
Marist College reached into their past to build toward their future, hiring Jeff Bower as the Red Foxes' tenth head coach in program history at a press conference yesterday on the school's campus in Poughkeepsie. Bower replaces Chuck Martin, who was dismissed after five years at the helm despite his team winning five of its last eight games and competing with the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's elite.
A former assistant coach under Dave Magarity during the program's greatest successes in the 1980s and 1990s, Bower is perhaps best known for his tenure as the general manager and head coach of the New Orleans Hornets, with whom he spent the majority of a 15-year NBA career. The 51-year-old was also an assistant coach at Penn State before his initial stay at Marist, and will be one of four new coaches in the MAAC next season; as Tom Moore and King Rice enter the league from the Northeast Conference with Quinnipiac and Monmouth, respectively, while Niagara is still in need of a new coach after Joe Mihalich replaced Mo Cassara at Hofstra. Although Siena made a coaching change as well, Jimmy Patsos was in the MAAC for each of the previous nine seasons as well at Loyola.
After a very well-attended press conference, I had the opportunity to speak to Bower exclusively, and was blown away by his confidence in restoring the winning culture at a program that gets lost in the shuffle in regard to most of the locals, and Marist's new leader had this to say:
Jaden Daly: Coming back after almost twenty years, what is the difference between Marist when you left it and Marist today?
Jeff Bower: Well, physically, the differences jump out at you; the campus growth, the buildings and the advances in technology, the exposure the students have to things is fascinating to see. As much as the buildings have changed, the values and the atmosphere are just like I remembered, which was part of the reason for wanting to come back and be a part of it.
JD: What are your goals, and how optimistic are you?
JB: Our goals are simple: We're looking to maximize the individual potential of all of our players. I think if we do that, we'll be able to be successful on many, many nights from a team standpoint, but we're still getting our feet wet. We're still studying who we are, as well as who our opponents are, but we're looking for progress, we're looking for performance, and we're looking to close the gap between expectations and results.
JD: As far as scheduling, taking a look at what you have coming back, how do you go about finding the right games and the right opponents for this team to not just pad the record, but also challenge the players as well?
JB: Well, you know, scheduling is important, it helps you create a type of mentality and atmosphere of a program. We want to play against high-level competition out of conference, we want to play in venues that excite our players and our fan base, and give them opportunities to enjoy. The schedule is something we'll look at very closely moving forward to try to take advantage of ways that we can grow our program.
JD: You've been able to see how wide open the MAAC is, with all the great coaches and players in the area. How well do you feel you can recruit, not just off of your NBA resume, but also selling Marist itself?
JB: Well, I think the most important thing is knowing what you have to offer, and as I look deeper at the offerings that Marist has, to me, I just have to deliver that message, just highlight the strengths of the college, the strengths of the campus, the strengths of a situation that can offer a total experience; academically, athletically and socially, to any young man who is interested in those things. On the way, we can help a basketball player improve, and we can help him develop his game and get better. I think those are all aspects that most young people would have an interest in finding out about.
JD: As a former general manager, do you feel you have more of a leg up on the competition in terms of player development, and what do you bring to the table there that some others around you may not be able to take advantage of?
JB: What I can say in response to that is we've always valued player development, and we've always looked closely for ways to measure it, monitor it, and ways to quantify the need for players to improve. The experiences that we've had that have led us down that road, and many of the techniques and the things that we'll not only teach on the floor, but discuss with our players as far as letting them know where they're at in their improvement plan are things that I think we'll take advantage of a great deal.
JD: Going back to your NBA resume and track record there, how well do you think approaching a recruit and saying "I coached Chris Paul, I coached David West, I coached Peja Stojakovic" resonates with a 17-to-18-year old kid interested in playing at the Division I level?
JB: I think the important thing in that regard is that what I can talk to them about is what those players were like, you know, what made them special, what made them successful. What did they really have to work on the fastest and the earliest in the growth of their game and their development? I think those things could be valuable for a young player to hear and know. Also, I think the experiences that I've had, I've been behind the black curtain. I know how it all works, and I know how it works at the very highest level, and there's a great curiosity among players as to what that is all about. I've experienced it at every level, from the general manager level to the head coach level to the personnel director level, across the board. I can tell people, tell recruits and their families, real world stories as opposed to getting it from other people.
JD: You've already met with the players coming back. Based off your first impressions of them, what do you see in the team you have, and how much room do you think they have to grow?
JB: Well, a lot of room to grow, obviously, but I'm very encouraged and very impressed with the attitudes and the approaches of the young men I've had the chance to meet and talk with a couple of times. I'm looking forward to getting to know them, looking forward to helping them improve, looking forward to helping them kind of define what they want and how they want to go about getting it.
JD: Do you feel Marist is a "sleeping giant," so to speak?
JB: I think Marist has the potential to be able to experience a lot of success. I think it has the potential to grow itself in many ways, the Marist Institute of Public Opinion is a nationwide feature now, and I think basketball can follow a similar path. The exposure has been here before, and we have to give them a reason to shine the spotlight again.
JD: With so much talent and so much tradition in the New York area, do you feel that professional success breeds collegiate success, or vice versa? How can one feed off the other?
JB: Well, I think success is something that's contagious many times, and when you're able to look at success and identify some characteristics or traits that are creating it, then it can be reproduced, and it can be turned into a repeatable process. So, any team that's successful, whether it's collegiately, professionally, they all leave you with a message and a blueprint for you to look at and steal from, borrow from and motivate your people from. Everybody wants to be around success. Everybody wants to be a part of it and are willing to try things they don't understand if it means that they'll be able to join the group.
JD: For those still not sold, still not impressed on the future and what lies ahead at Marist, what is your message to the cynical fan?
JB: My message is sit back, keep an open mind, and the most important thing; as I'll tell my players, is that I can show you a lot better than I can tell you. Our actions will define our efforts, and our actions will define the results. I'm proud to come back to Marist, I'm excited to be a part of it, and I'll do the best job that I'm capable of. I feel that if all those things come together, we're all going to like where we're heading.
Marist women's basketball head coach Brian Giorgis on Bower: "I'm looking forward to picking his brain. He's probably forgotten more basketball than I know. I think what he's going to do is establish his own niche of a winning culture, a winning environment around here, and it's going to spread like a wildfire."
Marist center Adam Kemp on Bower: "Our whole team is really excited. We've all heard great things about him and what he is as a teacher and an overall basketball mind. I could tell from the first time that I met him that he was really intellectual and very organized. Just seeing that he was a GM in the NBA, a head coach in the NBA, it definitely has to open eyes with recruits."