Skinner needs to get another chance

It is still way too early in the college basketball season to be talking about jobs that will open for next season. But here’s a name that should be on almost every list.

Al Skinner.

One of the more mind-boggling non-moves of the past few years has been the decision by people at Rutgers, Brown, Rhode Island, SMU, Clemson and St. John’s NOT TO hire Skinner after he was fired by former Boston College Director of Athletics Gene DeFilippo in the spring of 2010.

I’ve heard the criticism of a coach who didn’t work hard enough, didn’t communicate with the campus community enough, played a dull grade of basketball and was a bad recruiter.

Please.

Well, let’s look at all of those places and look at BC as well and ask this simple question. Are they better off now than they were 1 and 2 years ago when they could have hired Skinner?

The answer, in my opinion, is no.

Let’s look at what Skinner, who is still a young and competitive 60 years old, has done. Won in the Atlantic 10, won  in the  Big East, won in the ACC. He was the National Coach of the Year in 2001 when, in the fourth season of a massive programming rebuilding effort at BC, the Eagles won their first regular season title in 18 years and also won the Big East tournament.

In 2004-2005, BC started out with a 20-0 record and climbed to No. 4 in the national rankings.

A year later, in the ACC, BC finished with a 28-8 record and became the winningest coach in BC history in terms of victories. During his run at BC, Skinner’s teams made 7 NCAA tournaments and made it into the NIT one other time. Before coming to BC in 1997, Skinner won 138 games in 9 seasons at Rhode Island and took the Rams to two NCAA tournaments and to the NIT twice.

BC tumbled a bit in Skinner’s final three years, finishing under .500 twice around a season in which  the Eagles finished with a 22-12 record.

After the 2009-2010 season, in which the Eagles were 15-16, Skinner told DeFilippo that BC would have a good competitive ACC quality team the following season. He had a recruited  players such as Brady Heslip, Evan Ravenal and Kevin Noreen.

DeFilippo still fired him and all three players chose to play elsewhere–contributing at Baylor, Ohio State and West Virginia.

Two other Skinner recruits–Rakim Sanders and Papa Nado had significant roles at Fairfield and Saint Joseph’s.

Skinner didn’t understand then and doesn’t understand now why the move was made and why it has been so difficult for someone to hire him.

“I ran a good program. I graduated my kids,” said Skinner in a 2011 interview with me when I was at the Boston Globe. “Everybody has problems, but we addressed them and handled them in a matter that satisfied every one. I know the potential we had.”

Since being replaced by Steve Donahue, BC has posted a 21-13 record (with a roster filled with Skinner’s players) and a 9-22 record last season. After Saturday’s 70-60 win over Holy Cross, BC moved above the .500 mark for this season with a 7-6 record, but with the ACC season starting in a week, almost no one is expecting much of a marked improvement with a roster that is loaded with inexperienced players.

Skinner still bristles at the criticism he received at BC in terms of his work ethic and his involvement with the college community. “I did everything they asked me to do,” said Skinner on Sunday. “I never said No, to anything.”

As for not recruiting–which Skinner’s critics said was done primarily by former BC assistants such as Ed Cooley (now the coach at Providence), Billy Coen (now the coach at Northeastern), Tim O’Shea (now the coach at Bryant) and Mo Cassera (now the coach at Hofstra)–almost everyone in the business of college basketball recruiting concedes that while assistants can do the leg work, the head coach still has to be the closer on each deal.

Skinner closed deals and then he made them better and he won games at every level.

While Skinner has received criticism for his supposedly lack of passion and work ethic, few people have seen how competitive a person Skinner is in almost everything he does,  dating back to his playing days at the University of Massachusetts.

And the bottom line in terms of work is that Skinner’s teams won. In 13 seasons at BC, Skinner’s teams won an AVERAGE of 19 games a year. If you discount the first three seasons when he was rebuilding a program, he averaged almost 22 victories a year.

Skinner says he still has the fire in his belly to coach and to win at the highest level.

In an era, when the majority of the current crop of athletic directors seem to be more interested in hiring coaches who win press conferences when they are hired,  someone needs to do both–win the press conference and the games that follow.

And they should start their search with Al  Skinner.

© Copyright 2012 Mark, All rights Reserved. Written For: A Jersey Guy
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28 comments for “Skinner needs to get another chance

  1. Kevin Kelly
    December 30, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    Mark: I agree completely that Coach Skinner would be an excellent hire for any program smart enough to get him. I was very disappointed when BC let him go in 2010.The program wrecking AD’s quote about “kids we can be proud of” at the new coach’s press conference was enough to make me vomit. Even more disappointing was the hatchet job that the media gave him. Bob Ryan’s column questioning Skinner’s work ethic was classless and ironic, given that more than a few of his columns were written in little time and with less thought. Steve Buckley referred to 7 tourneys in 10 years as “occasional success” while touting the pubic outreach work of UMass coaches. Those efforts really filled the Garden when UMass played there, if 25 percent full is full. I wonder if those obsequious sycophants lost their personalized parking spots when GDF got the gate. But I digress. I do want to point out that your column in the week after he was fired was excellent and fair and a complete rebuke of those articles planted at the behest of GDF. As a BC fan since Henry Hill was shaving points, I believe that Al Skinner, in light of where the program was when he entered, was the best BC coach of my time. Yes, Dr. Tom and Jim O’B had higher peaks, but one had the night school and the other took awhile to get cooking.
    My view of Al Skinner’s coaching is that his approach was perfect for a program like BC. He took what he had to work with and his teams played hard, backed down from no one(Kenny Harley @ Duke 2001, Jared Dudley against anyone, Troy Bell against whole teams), played their hearts out, made no excuses and represented BC and its alleged ideals extremely well. I’ll take that type of program anytime, especially now. And Al Skinner can be my head coach. I haven’t given up on the current situation, but SD has a tough act to follow.

  2. Don Cannon
    December 30, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    It was a mistake to fire Skinner and it’s a darn shame no other school in the country hasn’t hired Skinner as it’s head basketball coach. This guy can win and recruit, what’s the hold up?

  3. Ben Dover
    December 30, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    “He had a recruiting class which included Brady Heslip, Evan Ravenal and Kevin Noreen.” Once again, never let the facts get in the way. Ravenel was on the team. Granted, he couldn’t get better than a 0.0 at BC so he wasn’t going to last.

  4. Pedman
    December 30, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    I bumped into a top tier league coach who told me that he never saw Skinner on the road in over 15 years. When he lost his assistants recruiting regressed quickly. Don’t get me started on his inbounding schemes. I think it was a good time to part ways.

  5. Phil_Elmassian_Score-a-thon
    December 30, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    Al didn’t play the aau game…not alone there (see:Williams, Gary ).but it certainly makes the assistant’s job’s tougher.

    He should have let Mo loose on the trail, and Gene should have let him work the kinks out with new staff. Then again, gene was a d-bag with the baseball and football programs, so why discriminate.

    Mark, it’s always tough to talk about a job that’s currently filled, out of respect for the current coach, but if ( when! ) Siena drops the axe on Mitch Buonogura ( Ex-BC’er, too ), Al might be a nice fit in Albany. It’d be a great place to re-establish his name, and Pat Duquette ( who would be a great #2 guy to possibly take that gig over ) has plenty of aau ties in the Northeast. Thoughts?

    • Pedman
      December 31, 2012 at 3:07 am

      You are absolutely right about the AAU. Skinner didn’t play while guys like Calhoun paid off programs. Very dirty and the unseemly underbelly of college basketball.

  6. Dennis
    December 30, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    Everyone has a shelf life and Al had one as well. He may have closed deals but he never went out and busted his ass on the recruitng trail. He never pierced the New England/New York recruiting market and although he did get some good kids, with his former assistants doing the leg work, most were from time zones far away from Chestnut Hill. Al served a need at BC at a particular time for the program. It was a good fit then. But time marches on and Al grew fat, happy and lazy at the end. He had to go.

    Whe asked to do things for the BC community I am sure he did it. When did he ever head up an effort or volunteer to do it?? When was he ever proactive in that area?? In the beginning I am sure he was. In the end, I would guess very few. He got lazy at the end and it showed on the court. The fact that he can’t land a head coaching job at any D1 school in the country, given his career stats shouid tell you that he has a reputation for not putting in the time a modern HC needs or is expected to do. The coaching fraternity is very small and if Al is still on the outside looking in at 60, I think there is more to it than bad luck. He was at one time a solid coach. In the end, he just collected a very healthy paycheck. I believe Bob Ryan who has more contacts in basketball and is more in tune with the sport than anyone else I can think of when he questioned his work ethic in the last few years of Al’s tenure. Where there’s smoke, usually there is fire.

    Jimmy O’Brien, despite all his problems, took over a D3 program at Emerosn in part becasue he still loves the game and has a desire to be teacher/coach. I doubt Skinner would ever do something like that. It is beneath him. At 60, beggars can’t be choosers but I think Al has coached his last game as a D1 HC. He is a millionaire. LIke the guy who fired him, he shoud just ride off into the sunset and if he really wants to coach, I am sure there are a lot of D2 and D3 programs in New England and elsewhere that would love to have someone with his resume running their program. Something tells me Al wouldn’t love them back. I love your stuff Mark but don’t schill for Al. He made a ton of dough, won his share of games but his day is done. Time to move on.

  7. Fage
    December 31, 2012 at 1:25 am

    Skinner’s recruiting process and result (i.e. means and end) seem to contradict. Everyone says he was a lazy recruiter, didn’t do the AAU circuit, etc. That being said, Troy Bell, Craig Smith, and Jared Dudley are 3 of the top 10 players in BC history….all recruited by Skinner and none highly rated coming out of high school. Add in Jackson, Rice, Williams, Sidney, Agbai, and others and it clearly shows Al brought in a lot of talent. Was it his assistants who should get all the credit? I don’t know. I do know that from ’00-’07 BC was a consistent top-20 program. I long for those days.

  8. Tim
    December 31, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    The program that hires Skinner will end up like BC football under Spaz. Fairly rapid decline due to large part by poor recruiting. Both men were solid coaches in their younger days, but the market for a quiet, unexciting, old coach is not very big.

    You can downplay the role Cooley and Coen played, but everyone knows that they were the talent finders. After they left, there was a year that Skinner brought in 0 players. And if you look at the players who decommited after Skinner left, only Haslip has had any success, and how much of that was due to Baylors 3 NBA players is TBD.

    Al Skinner had a very good career at BC, but any major conference team would be stupid to hire him. Maybe a mid major, where expectations are low

  9. MaroonNGold
    December 31, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    Once again, some of the above posters prove that BC has the most fickle fans in the nation.
    They refuse to believe that Leahy or BC can do anything wrong – and boy, there is ample evidence to prove the contrary.
    Al Skinner is not only a fine coach; he is an exemplary person.
    And, not to be missed, is the fact that he was the only black head coach at BC at the time, and was fired despite stellar results.
    DeFilippo and Leahy are stains upon BC.
    One has gone; the other must also.
    Bring back Al Skinner!
    Otherwise, we’ll be watching an out-of-his-depth coach continue to lead this team to oblivion before “crowds” of friends and relatives.

    • Tim
      December 31, 2012 at 6:09 pm

      Spaz was also a fine defensive coach an great guy. Doesn’t mean he should still be coaching. Skinner had a long tenure at BC. Won a lot of games and overall, did a very good job. But recruiting was subpar after Cooley and Coen left, so it’s time for new blood. This is nothing to do with him being black.

  10. MaroonNGold
    December 31, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    Hey, Tim,

    How’s that “new blood” at Conte working out for you?

    We have players leaving constantly, virtually no one at the games, the worst loss record in school history, a bunch of scholarship players who hardly see action, no prime time recruit, and a constant line of bull about the future of this “young team?”

    With Al still here, no doubt our program would be solid – not on the shoals, as Leahy and Stevie Wonder have wrought.

    Doubt me? Well. then, just pluck on down your dollars for tickets to see the “team” that this change has brought us.
    If you have claustrophobia, not to worry: no one will be near you at Conte.

    • Tim
      December 31, 2012 at 7:21 pm

      Attendance was bad skinners last couple years too. That is a BC problem, not a coach problem. You’re completely changing the subject as to whether or not al skinner should be coaching at BC or elsewhere.

      I’m not sold on Donahue, but if you went to conte during skinners first couple of years, when we were also terrible, you would see the same attendance issues. If Donahue can win, attendance will improve, just like under Al

      • MaroonNGold
        January 1, 2013 at 1:19 pm

        Wrong.

        I was there then.

        Interest in BC hoops is now at an all time low.

        Skinner continually brought in excellent players.

        And how won – far more than Stevie Wonder will exer win.

        But, gee, I forgot – Stevie is not black.

        And we know that BC won’t stand for one of those!

        • Tim
          January 1, 2013 at 2:12 pm

          I like how you are just making things up. Attendance during skinners early years was terrible. There were under 200 students behind the baskets at non uconn and Syracuse games

          • MaryAnns HOF
            January 2, 2013 at 5:43 pm

            I graduated in ’01 and can promise you NO ONE was at those games from 97-00, sans my friends and I…wasn’t until we beat UConn in 2000, over Christmas break, that people stated showing up. Al was a good coach, built confidence within kids that they had no right garnering, and we were better because of it.
            Having said that, I’m willing to give the captain this year and next, that’s it. If it doesn’t work out, As my buddy noted, bring us Pearl !!

  11. MaroonNGold
    January 1, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    Tim,

    Sorry to show you are wrong, but BC has NEVER had worse attendance at Conte since Stevie Wonder arrived.

    And how about commenting on the vast improvement the hoops program has seen since BC canned its only black head coach. (God forbid we have such a person, huh?)

    How could I forget? There has been no improvement, has there?

    But don’t let me stop you. Rush on down to Conte and fork over the $1000 PSL for the right to buy tickets to see a high school JV quality team play.

  12. Rick B
    January 2, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    Mark – excellent article and thanks for writing it. I felt Skinner got a raw deal by GDF at the end. He should have had one more season with a bunch of juniors and seniors to see where that team could have ended. Unfortunately Little Man Gene wanted a change and didn’t want to give the winningest coach in BC history one last year that he clearly deserved. The lazy comments are rude and inappropriate. Andy Katz responded to those comments very professionally after Skinner’s dismissal as did Mark.

  13. Joe H
    January 2, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    I don’t really have a particularly strong feeling towards the firing of Al Skinner. I thought for the most part he was a good coach and probably got shown the door one year too early. However, I am not sure that we can always have such a positive outlook on the good ole days of BC attendance. In my fairly cursory research online, last year’s home average attendance was 5,324. In 1999-2000, a similarly bad year for the team at 11-19 (3-13 in conference), average attendance was 4,398. I get embarrassed as much as the next guy looking at the empty seats in Conte, but I think we need to be a bit more realistic about BC basketball. When they are good, people show up. When they stink, people find better ways to spend winter evenings.

  14. MaroonNGold
    January 3, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Here’s the difference between 1999-2000 and now.

    There was no Duke or North Carolina games at Conte in 1999-2000.

    They are the games (usually the only games) that sell out at Conte. They also swell the average attendance for the season.

    Without those games, our average would drop markedly.

    It is an embarrassment to watch televised games from Conte.
    The stands are empty. The team is poor, and we seem destined to dominate the ACC cellar for the long term.

    Face it: GDF and Leahy have decimated BC sports – except at the cash register, which is ALL Leahy cares about.

    Restore BC’s good name: give us a new President!

    • Tim
      January 3, 2013 at 5:06 pm

      In those years, there was Syracuse and UConn, which also had sell outs. Sucks when the numbers prove you wrong maroonngold

  15. MaroonNGold
    January 3, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    Tim,

    Sorry but you are wrong again.

    Without doubt, the Stevie Wonder Era is the nadir of Conte hoops attendance.

    And nothing looks to be changing there, does it?

    • Tim
      January 3, 2013 at 9:46 pm

      Read Joe H’s research above. Unfortunately for you, numbers show that Al Skinners early years were the “nadir of conte hoops attendance”.

  16. MaroonNGold
    January 4, 2013 at 9:48 am

    Tim,

    Are you aware of the “crowds” that are now flocking to Conte?

    It is embarrassing as an alum to have a TV audience see the vast spans of empty seats that mark almost all games under this guy.

    I suspect that you are one of those who never admit any fault by BC.

    But even people like you must admit the freefall that the hoops program is in.

    And it ain’t getting better for as long as the eye can see.

    • Tim
      January 4, 2013 at 12:21 pm

      You’re an idiot. I never said BC does no wrong. All I’m saying is that attendance was just as bad when skinner first started, which you argued and argued, even though you are wrong. Actually, based on some basic research, skinners early teams had worse attendance than donahues.

      Then you argued that unc and duke were the reason the attendance was higher, thus admitting you were originally wrong. However, Uconn and Syracuse were always sell outs in skinners days, so it’s even in that regard. Making you 0-2.

      Now I predict you went go on some rant about how skinner is black and BC is racist, or something to change the subject again.

  17. MaroonNGold
    January 5, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    Tim.

    What a temperate post.

    Let’s step back here:

    1. Conte attendance IS tanking rapidly and alarmingly in Stevie Wonder’s THIRD year. And there is no sign of improvement, is there? Why would anyone pay good money to see the Washington Generals of college basketball?

    2. As for the race is, the FACTS are that BC jettisoned the only two black head coaches it ever had: both were in basketball, Coaches Skinner and Cawley. Draw whatever conclusion flows from those facts.

    3. Does saying “You’re an idiot” make you feel more confidence of your positions? Why the reflexive need to insult, rather than debate civilly?

    And by the bye, just how IS this new hoops coach working out for you, my man?

    • Tim
      January 5, 2013 at 6:57 pm

      I’m not sold on Donahue either way, but again, that’s just you changing the subject.

      Fact. Donahues teams had better attandence than skinners first couple years. Will that improve? Who knows. If the team starts winning, people will show up. I called you an idiot because your responses are constantly changing the subject, because you realized your original point was incorrect. End of story. And it’s funny that you did exactly what I predicted, which was change the subject and play the race card.

  18. MaroonNGold
    January 6, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    How is listing fact “playing the race card”?

    In Stevie Wonder’s first year, he had Al’s players, who won and thus got attendance.

    Last year he set a school record with 22 losses. Attendance tanked and still is in free fall..

    Face it: thanks to Leahy’s greed and temper tantrum, and DeFilippo’s ego, BC is now a marginal player in college football and hoops, even in New England.

    As an alum, I’d rather it were otherwise.

    But it’s not.

    Period.

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