Jimmy Patsos resigned Friday amid suspicion of verbal abuse and other misconduct at Siena, but if Saints had a better record last season, this may not have even been news. (Photo by Richard Restivo/NYC Buckets)
Five years ago, Jimmy Patsos addressed the media for the first time as head coach at Siena College in a wide-ranging press conference filled with his inimitable style of basketball intellect sprinkled with an unmatched sense of history, name-dropping Angela Merkel and Eva Perón in his opening remarks after being introduced as Mitch Buonaguro's successor.
Five years later, Patsos is no longer the prince of the Capital Region, forced to abdicate his throne amid a cloud of allegations of verbal abuse to a student manager and an investigation by Siena into possible misuse of per diem payments. But if one simply reads between the lines, one can uncover that the affable and gregarious Patsos may have been done in first by Siena's desire to win -- and win now -- before any possible inquest into what he may or may not have done.
The Siena fan base, for those unfamiliar, can be a rather eccentric one, passionate about its basketball and expectant of insatiable success at all costs. The back-to-back-to-back Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championships under Fran McCaffery at the back end of the 2000s spoiled Saints fans so much to the point where anything less would be considered failure. This is an admirable quality in fans more often than not, but Buonaguro's three years at the helm in between McCaffery and Patsos; coupled with the rise of Iona in Tim Cluess' first years in New Rochelle, turned the drive of Saints fans into borderline delusion with each early March exit.
Enter Patsos, who immediately quenched the thirst in Albany with a College Basketball Invitational championship in 2014, another appearance in the same tournament two years later, and an improbable run to a MAAC championship game in 2017 that ended just one point short of what would have been an even more improbable NCAA Tournament berth for a team that finished 17-17. Having to replace four 1,000-point scorers who graduated, plus junior guard and face of the program Nico Clareth after his unexpected transfer in January, should have been enough to give Patsos, a proven winner with a track record indicative of more positives than negatives, a longer lease on life. However, going 8-24 in a city with no professional sports franchise to quell the cynics tends to magnify any situation, even one as mundane as going to the corner store for a cup of coffee.
And so it is that Patsos -- who had three years remaining on a contract that was extended in the wake of the aforementioned CBI title -- saw his proverbial hot seat reignited, his every move placed beneath the microscope as fans took to social media to voice their displeasure, some even going so far as to consistently tweet Siena's official athletics account and media who cover the Saints to pull the trigger and make a coaching change.
Yes, Patsos has said and done some unorthodox things over the years, such as his comments about defending Stephen Curry ten years ago, or the unforgettable imaginary handshakes following a game against Rider in which a late-game skirmish took away from the action on the floor. But all coaches are not without their flaws. This is not Mike Rice, whose basketball-turned-dodgeball antics got him deservedly fired at Rutgers. Nor is this Billy Gillispie, who overworked his players and forced them to practice while injured. Patsos may be a little more theatrical than some of his other contemporaries, but behind the histrionics and demonstrative nature lies a man interested in developing his players both on and off the floor, committed to bettering his pupils both in basketball and in life.
Now had Siena done better than 8-24 this past season, the chain of events that transpired over the past several weeks may not have been newsworthy happenings. Winning is almost always a panacea for even the slightest of evils. Look no further than Bob Knight and Rick Majerus, both of whom were also not without their warts -- Majerus' alleged verbal abuse of players during his reign at Utah has been well-chronicled -- yet managed to maintain their jobs because their programs succeeded on the court.
There is also the specter, an unproven one, of Patrick Beilein -- currently the head coach at Le Moyne College and a rumored target to take over at Siena -- looming over the fallout from the Patsos divorce. Just days after his Le Moyne team was eliminated from the NCAA Division II Tournament, Beilein unexpectedly rejected an offer from Marist, who was also in the process of filling its own head coaching vacancy. Conspiracy theories immediately popped up between Marist hiring John Dunne and the Albany Times Union report that Patsos was being investigated, assuming Beilein may have had contact with Siena and that the school was attempting to find a way out of Patsos' contract. Again, any speculation surrounding Beilein and any kind of involvement in the Siena job is untrue; and has not been confirmed or corroborated, but that has not stopped the wheels from turning in both ends of the spectrum, from those arguing a change was necessary and that Patsos had run his course, as well as those who feel the coach was the fall guy.
At the end of the day, Patsos will take away $350,000, his buyout as reported by WNYT in Albany, or approximately one-third of what he was owed for the remainder of his contract, and his reputation tarnished. It is easy to say that this situation could have been handled better, in hindsight, but it does not change the fact that one down year and a cry for a new regime ultimately served as the prime catalyst for costing a coach his job.