Niagara Gazette


May 13, 2013

Base Paths: Behind the scenes of a coaching change

Niagara Gazette — Just getting to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference softball tournament should have been triumph enough for Niagara University. A few weeks ago there was serious doubt Purple Eagle softball could even finish the regular season, let alone go to the “post.”

While most of the Niagara Frontier focused on basketball’s Joe Mihalich, the softball team was in revolt against its first-ever full-time coach. University officials acted swiftly, putting the coach “on suspension,” leaving three assistants to coach by committee. “A personal matter,” was the explanation. Many campus buildings aren’t stonewalled as well as this.

That’s not fair to Elly Hanover Chan. The total blackout suggests offense bordering on the criminal. It’s not. Here’s what Base Paths has learned through several interviews from different perspectives.

Last May, Al Dirschberger stepped down as head coach. For 22 years he had brought credit to the University. He recruited strongly near and far, especially from northeast New England. There are prize lobsters that didn’t spend as much time in Maine as Al did. He didn’t always win and he wasn’t always right but he had the affection and respect of his players. He and NU fit perfectly.

Trouble was, Al had another job, outside academia. Division I now trends toward full-time coaches, even in non-revenue sports such as softball. Al was offered the post. Financially, it fell short of what he was making elsewhere. So he took an honorable discharge. Within weeks he was assisting at arch-rival Canisius.

Niagara hired Elly Chan of Division II Belmont Abbey. As Elly Hanover, she’d hit .451 for Canisius in the ‘90s, then coached a D’Youville team to its first conference title with barely nine players. Base Paths hailed her return; website postings in late June exploded with enthusiasm.

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