By JONAH BRONSTEIN
Niagara Gazette — The sun shined bright Wednesday on Long Island, where Joe Mihalich was introduced as the new men's basketball coach at Hofstra University.
Petulant rain poured on Niagara University, where the Purple Eagles are without a coach for the first time in 15 years.
"First (I) want to say to Joe how thankful we are for his many years of service here at Niagara," first-year athletic director Tom Crowley said at a press conference inside the Gallagher Center. "The program is in wonderful shape and Joe was a big, big factor in making Niagara basketball what it is today. The tradition has been wonderful for a long, long time and Joe was a big contributor to that."
The Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, university president, said in a news release, “I have always believed that Joe was a very good coach on the basketball court but, more importantly, he has been a tremendous coach for our players and students off the court, as a leader, role model and mentor, as evidenced by this year’s Skip Prosser Award. We wish him great success. For the Niagara community, he will always be a Purple Eagle."
Crowley said he had been in regular contact with Mihalich since the end of the season, and was not surprised by his decision to accept a more lucrative contract from the Colonial Athletic Association school.
"Probably more surprised that Joe was here as long as he was, considering the success that he's had," Crowley said.
Crowley quoted John Wooden in saying that Niagara would move "quickly, but not in a hurry," to find its next coach.
"We'd like to move as fast as we need to move," he said. "We want to be thorough and be complete. But we won't rush."
The university will not contract with a search firm to identify candidates, Crowley said.
"There is a ton of interest in this job and I am quite confident that we are going to get ourselves a very good basketball coach," he said. "If we're bad and at the bottom of the league and the job is open, there are probably a million applications. We're good and at the top of the league and there will be 10 million applications. That shows what incredible interest there is in being a Division I head basketball coach."
Crowley declined to comment on any specific candidates. A former player at Penn who coached for several years before becoming an administrator at Temple, Vermont and Butler, Crowley is well-connected in the basketball community. He said he did some preliminary work on his coaching search while he was at the Final Four in Atlanta.
Teaching, game coaching and recruiting are the skills Crowley said he will seek out in his search, along with "the personality and background that would fit in the Niagara community. This is a small Catholic school that prides itself on our motto: education, it makes a difference. Making a difference in young people's lives, I think would be important for the next coach."
Mihalich's name first surfaced as a candidate for the Hofstra job two weeks ago when Adam Zagoria of SNY.TV tweeted that he was set to interview. Mihalich denied that specific report, but declined to dismiss what he classified as "rumors."
The job was reportedly offered to Iona coach Tim Cluess over the weekend, but he was unable to buy out of his current contract. Mihalich met with Hofstra officials Monday and accepted the job late in the afternoon.
Crowley said Mihalich kept an open line of communication throughout the process.
"These things were floating around the last several weeks and Joe handled it just like the gentleman that he is," Crowley said.
Crowley also stated "everybody should know that Niagara did everything it could to make this work for Joe here at Niagara."
But the university could not match the facilities, resources, market size and compensation package that Hofstra will provide Mihalich.
The next Niagara coach will inherit a talented roster that won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season championship and advanced to the NIT despite having the youngest rotation in the league. Guards Juan'ya Green and Antoine Mason became the first sophomore teammates to earn all-MAAC honors, and freshman forward T.J. Cline was selected to the all-rookie team.
Crowley said he was not concerned about players transferring out of the program now that the coach who recruited them has departed, and that he expects the next coach to build his system around the players currently in place.
Players were not made available to comment.
Crowley said he expects Mihalich's assistants to join him at Hofstra.Contact Jonah at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @lebronstein