Joe Mihalich (background, center) fields questions from (left to right) Sean Brennan of the New York Daily News, Howie Kussoy of the New York Post, yours truly, (using the iPhone to tweet quotes on the fly) Jerry Beach of Defiantly Dutch, Joe Pantorno of the Hofstra Chronicle, and Kieran Darcy of ESPN New York, on this, his first day as head coach at Hofstra. (Photo courtesy of Hofstra University's Stephen Gorchov)
If he has his way, and if his record at his new destination comes anything close to the first fifteen years of his head coaching career, Joe Mihalich will instantly enter the unspoken room of legends at Hofstra University.
Heck, if admission into this hypothetical room was granted on first impressions and press conferences alone, he would have already broken down the door this afternoon.
That's because on this day, Mihalich did more than just win the presser. The longtime Niagara coach, who this writer once thought would remain in Buffalo until he retired, made quite the splash in Hempstead today upon his introduction as the twelfth head coach in Pride history, offering his trademark engaging banter and humorous one-liners to a packed house inside Hofstra's University Club.
"I would never leave unless it was for a special place, a new challenge," the 56-year-old Mihalich remarked, "and that's what we're going to get right here. We don't become you, you become us, and I'd like to become part of Hofstra University. We can't wait to get going and be a part of this."
Reputed as a strong recruiter during his decade and a half at Niagara, where he used his deep Philadelphia ties to help guide the Purple Eagles to five postseason appearances, Mihalich announced his intentions to recruit far beyond the City of Brotherly Love, even if it has provided him some of his greatest success, both as a player and assistant coach at La Salle.
"When you're where I was for 15 years," Mihalich said, "you have no restrictions. You look for two sets of three: Good player, good student, and a good person; and loves the game, hates to lose, and works hard."
Mihalich inherits four scholarship players from the Mo Cassara regime, and made it a point to have athletic director Jeff Hathaway, a high school classmate of his at DeMatha Catholic in Maryland, introduce him to the incumbents on the Pride roster while visiting the Hofstra campus yesterday.
"They want to be good," Mihalich said of his new mentees, a quartet led by forward Stephen Nwaukoni. "That's the first thing I picked up. As a coach, you can't wait to coach kids like that. I just went in there and wanted them to feel comfortable with me."
Mihalich went 265-203 at Niagara, leaving Monteagle Ridge as the winningest coach in MAAC history, but understands that rebuilding the Hofstra program may take most; if not all, of the six-year term of his initial contract on Long Island.
"You want to get the right kids," he said, "and if it means a little more patience, that's what you've got to do. When you're a basketball coach, you think just one season at a time. We're going to do everything we can to make sure you enjoy Hofstra basketball."
First impressions go a long way in this business, and if enjoying his new brand of basketball is Joe Mihalich's goal, it is well on the way to being satisfied.
Other quotes from Joe Mihalich and Hofstra athletic director Jeff Hathaway:
Hathaway's rationale for hiring Mihalich: "I wanted a steady hand on the steering wheel as we chart our vision. Players work hard for him, players respect him, and players want to play for his teams. We're looking for a program built on stability, durability, and sustainability; and with Joe, that all happens."
Mihalich's recruiting philosophy: "You sell the school, the academic status; and most importantly, you sell the people. If you're a kid in New York City, you can't think this isn't a great place to go to school."
On leaving Niagara: "Saying goodbye to the team last night was one of the hardest things I ever did in my life. I love those guys, I love that team. It was one of the more emotional and hardest things I had to do. (Juan'ya) Green and (Antoine) Mason (both of whom were first team all-MAAC selections last year despite being sophomores) were the hardest to say goodbye to."
Why he chose Hofstra: "It was too good an opportunity to pass up. The people here are the greatest resource we have. It's just going to be more gratifying when we surprise everyone."
On his style of play and transition with new players: "I like to play fast, but you've got to dance with the girl you brought, so we'll see what we have with our guards. I've got three sons. If they were going through that, I'd feel terrible for them."
On program continuity and being just the fourth Hofstra coach since 1994: "Continuity's important. We're going to be careful about doing this the right way."