Niagara Gazette

Columns

April 15, 2013

WOLCOTT: Quality Joe left NU with pride

Niagara Gazette — Joe Mihalich came to Niagara University 15 years ago from La Salle College in Philadelphia where he was an assistant coach for 17 years. At 41, he was labeled a “career assistant” and his selection was questioned and criticized.

By university standards, it was a transparent process to replace Jack Armstrong and Mihalich was the third of three candidates. The Buffalo media insisted on a fourth candidate and Niagara officials acquiesced. Rob Lanier, who had been an assistant coach at Niagara, St. Bonaventure, Rutgers and Texas, made it a quartet of candidates.

All four had decent credentials, but Mihalich was the dark horse in the race. What impressed me the most in the interviews was his knowledge of the Purple Eagles’ tradition and respect for the “Little Three.” He not only knew about Calvin Murphy, but about Ed Fleming, Larry Costello and Taps Gallagher. Who thought Joe would become the second only to Gallagher with 265 games won?

Mihalich brought a different game to the Gallagher Center. Armstrong was bent on getting the Eagles to play a patterned game and installed an offense that an NBA coach would admire. Niagara didn’t have NBA players however, and, as often as not, Armstrong was 10-feet onto the court directing players. That slowed down the game and eventually calls for Armstrong to sit down.

Mihalich let his recruits play to their strengths and, for the most part, let them do what they did best. It wasn’t defense, but it was fun to watch and NU won almost all of its games at home.

While watching Niagara play basketball, we saw Joe and Mary’s sons grow. Joe, Tony and Matt went from chasing down loose balls during practice to becoming coaches after college. Joe Jr., 24, is an assistant coach at Scranton University. Twins Matt and Tony became assistant coaches in basketball and track, respectively.

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