Despite back-to-back losing seasons, Quinnipiac moving on from Tom Moore would be counterproductive to upswing that Bobcats are in position to experience. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)
Two years ago, the first signs of Tom Moore potentially being on the hot seat at Quinnipiac emerged when the Bobcats exited the 2015 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament as a one-and-done team, falling to Marist in the opening round.
A 9-21 campaign in 2015-16, one that the perennially consistent former Jim Calhoun assistant admittedly considered uncharted territory after an inefficient offense surfaced far more than he and his staff would have liked, did little to quell the rising speculation of whether his days in Hamden were numbered.
This season concluded Thursday in a third straight early exit from the conference tournament, as the Bobcats ended the year with the same number of losses as the previous season and only one more win to show for it, leaving many wondering if Moore's decade-long run was indeed over.
The 51-year-old coach defended his program, and by extension, his job, in his postgame press conference Thursday, highlighting the positives that revealed themselves and laid the groundwork for what he hopes will be a resurgence.
"It's interesting," Moore began. "In my mind, I've been trying to frame this team a little bit as we've gone through this. I just talked to these guys about this and for 14 games, we're picked tenth and we're sitting there at 7-7 (in MAAC play), and we were clearly overachieving."
"This was a pivotal year for the program," he added. "We are in a reboot, and I wanted it to be a one-year reboot. As I look at the group, I think it is a one-year reboot, but our record won't reflect that it's a one-year reboot."
Freshmen Mikey Dixon and Peter Kiss, the former of whom was named the MAAC's Rookie of the Year this past Friday, were major pieces in spearheading Moore's vision of a rejuvenated Quinnipiac team; as was junior forward Chaise Daniels, of whom Moore is effusively complimentary, proclaiming on multiple occasions that the Connecticut native will be the best frontcourt player in the conference as a senior in 2017-18.
"In my first year (in the MAAC), we had three of the top 15 guys," said Moore, using an axiom he learned from Calhoun during his time at UConn and correlating it to end-of-season results. "We came in third, and I still; to this day, think that if we hadn't lost Umar, (Shannon) we would have been in the championship game. The second year, we had Z(aid Hearst) and Ous(mane Drame), in my opinion, two of the top 15 guys in the league. We came in sixth that year, and I think we underachieved. The last two years, we haven't had a top 15 guy."
"Next year, he'll be the best big man in the league," Moore said of Daniels. "And those two (Dixon and Kiss) will be two of the best guards in the league. We'll have three of the top 15 players next year."
Quinnipiac also returns solid rotation pieces in Abdulai Bundu, Reggie Oliver and Phil Winston, among others; not to mention role players such as twins Andrew and Aaron Robinson, and also Ja'Kwan Jones, who can make a greater impact in Moore's system next year. There is also the possibility of Alain Chigha remaining in the program for a fifth year, which would expedite the growth of Daniels and Bundu into potential game-changing forwards in the Bobcats' interior-centric rebounding game. By dismissing Moore just for two outlier seasons and joining this year's coaching carousel, athletic director Greg Amodio and president John Lahey would essentially be admitting they are content with rebuilding a program that would ultimately be set back for a full four-year recruiting cycle at the very least, maybe longer should talents like Dixon and Kiss; and maybe even Daniels or Bundu, decide to transfer and ply their wares at an institution that would welcome their abilities with open arms. Why start from scratch when the program has proven that a clear and prosperous outlook is squarely on the horizon, and even visible from other schools within the MAAC?
"I don't know what's going on with Coach Moore, but Tommy's a terrific basketball coach," Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello said extemporaneously following his Jaspers' narrow defeat to Rider several hours after Quinnipiac saw their season come to an end. "I want everyone to remember that if Umar Shannon doesn't get hurt, they were the team that swept us. He's a terrific coach, terrific man, and he has a heck of a team coming back."
"I think they're on to something special there," he elaborated, words that should not be taken lightly from a coach who recognizes intangibles when he sees them, having won two MAAC championships with the same magic he sees brewing in the Bobcats. "I think next year will be their year, and I think he's done a phenomenal job of keeping that program in a relevant place."
Considering that Manhattan is expected to be, on paper, among the MAAC favorites next season with all but one player currently slated to return, such praise takes on an even greater value. With that said, Moore concurred, sharing the heights he feels Quinnipiac will reach in the near future.
"I believe in my heart we'll be a top three, top four program for the next three years," Moore stated, steadfast in his conviction.
No one ever wants to mortgage their future, and Quinnipiac as a program would be doing just that should their administration decide divorcing themselves from Moore just off two rocky years in what has been a largely amicable marriage is the proper course of action.
The program is ticketed for a level of success that looks to be more than fleeting. It is only fitting that Tom Moore, who has built the foundation and poured his soul into its construction, be the man to shepherd it into a finished product.