Thursday, April 4, 2013

Jimmy Patsos: A Man For All Seasons

Jimmy Patsos wasted little time introducing his personality when hired at Siena yesterday, and will certainly appeal to his vast fan base soon enough.  (Photo courtesy of the Albany Times-Union)

He is an experience one needs to witness in person to truly believe.  His style, albeit unorthodox and controversial to some, has endeared him to most in the industry.  Not afraid to speak his mind, his press conferences take on the tone of both standup comedy act and State of the Union address simultaneously, poking fun at himself while referencing numerous historical figures.  It is what makes Jimmy Patsos who he is, a character who just happens to be a pretty good basketball coach too, at least good enough for Siena athletic director John D'Argenio to tab him as the successor to Mitch Buonaguro, a hire that was consummated yesterday in upstate New York when the 46-year-old Patsos became the sixteenth head coach in Saints history.

Over the three weeks between Buonaguro's dismissal and Patsos' arrival, numerous candidates were thrown into the ring for the Siena job, ranging from the two other finalists in Robert Morris coach Andy Toole and VCU assistant Mike Rhoades, to the brand name of Richard Pitino, who yesterday left Florida International to replace Tubby Smith at Minnesota.  As the search intensified, the popular choices in college basketball circles and Siena message boards were Toole and Patsos, with a slight edge going to the former, who at 32 years old is regarded as perhaps the next Brad Stevens, a perception that became enhanced after his Colonials picked up arguably their biggest win in program history with their upset of reigning national champion Kentucky in the NIT.  However, for several reasons that I will detail, Toole's credentials; although very impressive in such a short period of time, do not necessarily fit what a school like Siena needs at the moment.  Patsos' resume comes closer to meeting those needs.

First, Patsos knows the MAAC by virtue of his nine-year tenure at Loyola.  In fact, it was Loyola's impending defection to the Patriot League; a move that the coach, although remaining politically correct about it in press conferences throughout the season, deeply disavowed, that enabled D'Argenio to land Patsos as his new head basketball coach.  Toole has no connection to the conference, having played at Penn before starting his coaching career as an assistant at Lafayette and Robert Morris before ultimately replacing Mike Rice at the helm in Moon Township in 2010 after the now-disgraced Rice accepted the Rutgers job that turned out to be his career Waterloo.

Second, Patsos is tailor-made for the media, whereas Toole still needs some refinement in that area.  It's not a knock on him by any means, it's just that he will become more media-savvy as his career goes on.  Having covered both coaches personally for several years, I have come to notice that Patsos is much more engaging, and will go out of his way to make the media that covers him feel important and worthwhile, whereas Toole is more cerebral in terms of his interactions with broadcasters and writers.

Patsos' personality will obviously appeal to his new fan base.  Brutally honest almost to a fault, he envisioned Siena being a place he would like to stay for a "long time" if the fans were willing to have him.  Had D'Argenio hired Toole instead, and those who backed him admitted this, the coach would more than likely leave for a better job after several years.  The rumored move to the Atlantic 10 also aids Patsos from a recruiting standpoint, as his connections to the Washington D.C. area will help get players capable of contributing at either level (A-10 or MAAC) for Siena, whereas Toole's Northeast Conference success has not required the ability to find recruits at a national level.

Patsos also brings the proven track record of having turned a program around.  When he left Gary Williams' Maryland staff for the Loyola job in 2004, he inherited a team coming off a 1-27 season with only one NCAA Tournament appearance in program history.  When he left Baltimore for Loudonville yesterday, he did so six winning seasons later, capped off by back-to-back postseason appearances and a 2012 MAAC championship.  Toole may have the much more attractive record at 68-36 through three years compared to Patsos' 145-135 ledger through nine seasons, but in all fairness, Toole walked into a made-to-order situation at Robert Morris, inheriting a young team stacked with blue-chip recruits that his predecessor Rice played a large part in signing.  The Colonials' four straight NEC championship game appearances from 2009-2012 were accomplished primarily with Rice's players, such as Velton Jones, Coron Williams, Karon Abraham and Jeremy Chappell.  Patsos built Loyola from the ground up, taking the Greyhounds from the laughingstock of Baltimore and turning them into a formidable and perennial powerhouse, attracting sellout crowds to the Reitz Arena to the point where Manhattan coach Steve Masiello compared it to Madison Square Garden with the local celebrities that Patsos, a one-time bartender in the nation's capital while also an assistant at Maryland, was able to lure on game night.

Finally, Patsos believes he can succeed, and will get the most out of his players.  His love of history and educational field trips for his teams while on the road make his players better men on and off the court, enabling them to get a life education that is largely unseen in society these days.  By coaching against Siena for nine years, he was able to observe firsthand the commitment of the fan base, as well as what is needed to turn the Saints back into the dynasty they were under Fran McCaffery in the late 2000s with Ronald Moore, Alex Franklin and Edwin Ubiles leading a charge that brought future stars the likes of Ryan Rossiter and O.D. Anosike off the bench before they were qualified enough to change the program themselves.  Patsos' player development is second to none, and while Andy Toole has certainly done his share of that at Robert Morris with a team that Mike Rice basically built for him before he took over, it takes a backseat to the job that Siena's new coach has done throughout his career.

The old adage always urges one to "trust the devil you know" as compared to the one you don't.  Jimmy Patsos fits this billing, and John D'Argenio was well aware of that when making this hire, and it was a huge reason why he was the first choice for the position.

Siena fans can trust in Patsos too, and as the coach himself said, if he lets them down, they can yell the same things at him that they did when he was on the Loyola bench.

Something just tells me it won't have to come to that though.


  1. Nice piece, Jaden.

    Many Siena fans seemed to be lukewarm on the Patsos hiring, but it took a mere 24 hours after the hiring, hearing Jimmy in pressers, and most of those fans did a complete 180.

    Looking forward to what the new regime will bring.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. Being based in New York City, I don't know the inner workings of the Siena fan base as well as I'd like to, but just like anything in life, they needed to see Jimmy in action firsthand to get a better idea of what life will be like for the program. In other words, "try'll like it."

      Knowing Jimmy somewhat well through two years of MAAC coverage and seeing his off-court persona in full swing last month in Springfield, I can tell you that you're going to enjoy what you see starting in October. Jimmy will win, and hopefully get a couple of conference titles soon enough too. Give him a year and you'll be a lot closer to the height of Fran's tenure than you were after the first MAAC title in 2008.