Hardly a hotbed for college basketball or a springboard for coaches seeking bigger and better things thus far, Rutgers University didn’t figure to draw interest from the cream of the candidate crop before making its call this past weekend. But Steve Pikiell?
The choice, who was officially introduced Tuesday, doesn’t exactly scream “Big Ten” or even “much-needed change.”
With apologies to Stony Brook and the America East, Pikiell’s trek to Piscataway from Long Island seems to be a script tossed onto the Quantum Leap cutting-room floor long ago by a scarlet-faced Scott Bakula. Not that RU administrators don’t keep pitching a similar one every few years.
Fred Hill Jr., Mike Rice Jr. and Eddie Jordan … if only we hardly knew ye.
Frankly, the last coach who seemed to have the credentials and chops worthy of running the hoops program at the State University of New Jersey was Gary Waters, who racked up 70 wins, two NCAA appearances and an NIT bid in his final three seasons at Mid-American member Kent State before putting in five years of hard labor that led to largely mediocre results along the banks of the Raritan River.
Make no mistake, this is no primo gig … although it still comes with the “potential” tag rubber-stamped in neon-bright colors for all to see. The Scarlet Knights haven’t been good since the mid- to late-1970s and they haven’t been relevant in two decades, and that’s even with being affiliated with first the Big East and now the Big Ten.
Since Tom Young stepped down in 1985 after a pretty successful run that included a 1976 trip to the Final Four, only Waters has emerged from his RU tenure with a winning record, and that was 10 years ago. Craig Littlepage, Bob Wenzel and Kevin Bannon all failed before him, and Hill, Rice and Jordan all failed miserably after him.
Still … Pikiell?
He may be the biggest reach yet, lacking the usual RU requirements of connection to the school/program or a nominally well-known father. Rice had the latter, Jordan, as the point man for Young’s greatest team, the former, and Hill, a lifetime assistant if ever there were one, both courtesy of his father being the Knights’ longtime baseball coach.
A two-year captain and four-year letter-winner for Jim Calhoun’s blossoming Big East monster at Connecticut back in the day, from 1987 through 1991, Pikiell brings some legitimacy to the position. Aside from his playing background, he assisted, among others, at UConn and George Washington before getting the gig at Stony Brook in 2005.
While there, he turned the previously bottom-feeder Seawolves into consistent winners. In the last seven seasons, they’ve posted 20 or more wins six times, and just made their initial NCAA cup-of-coffee appearance last week. Still … Pikiell was, at best, AD Pat Hobbs’ third choice, once Danny Hurley and Mike Longergan opted to remain with their mid-major, Atlantic 10 outfits at Rhode Island and George Washington, respectively, and you almost have to wonder if Hobbs got confused in the process.
He trumpeted Pikiell’s “long track record of taking struggling programs and turning them into winning programs” – a narrative that would be more apropos in describing Lonergan, who has resurrected Catholic University, Vermont and GW in his coaching career, instead of Pikiell, considering his only other head-coaching stint prior to Stony Brook came in an ill-fated, one-year interim deal with Division III Wesleyan 20 years ago.
But, who knows, maybe the hire is a good one.
If nothing else, it certainly can’t be any worse than the last three.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
NOT EXACTLY AN ELITE 8
Rutgers coaches since 1973
*-Tom Young, 1973-85 168-99 Craig Littlepage, '85-88 23-63 Bob Wentzel, '88-97 128-135 Kevin Bannon, '97-01 59-60 Gary Waters, '01-06 79-75 Fred Hill Jr., '06-10 57-77 Mike Rice Jr., '10-13 44-51 Eddie Jordan, '13-16 29-67 *- Led the 1975-76 Scarlet Knights to the Final Four in Philadelphia.