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.
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.
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.
© 2012, Mark. All rights reserved.