Jimmy Patsos got to know Siena for the first time as an assistant at Maryland under Gary Williams scouting the Rob Lanier led 16-seeded Saints for a first round matchup. The Terps run to the national championship began by dispatching Siena 85-70 in the Verizon Center behind Juan Dixon’s 29 points. Dixon would be named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, bringing home Maryland’s first national championship.
Soon after Patsos sought out his own opportunity to be a head coach in the MAAC at Loyola (MD), he began to learn more about the Siena program in New York’s capital region. After coaching nine years in the MAAC against them at Loyola (MD), losing to eventual champion East Carolina in the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, within one week Patsos was called, interviewed and hired as the 16th head coach in Siena history.
Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said he never ranked the candidates for the job one through five, but that Patsos was someone they were interested in for the opening from the beginning.
“He was somebody who we were really, really interested in and we knew that he had a lot of the tools and intangibles that we needed,” D’Argenio said.
D’Argenio contacted Paquette to ask to speak to Patsos, with Loyola giving permission after the season was over. After traveling home from a 70-58 loss at East Carolina on Wednesday, Patsos received word from his athletic director Jim Paquette that Siena would like to speak with him about the open position. Thursday Patsos gets a call from Siena athletic director John D’Argenio who asked him if he would like to come up and interview.
After a weekend trip to see family in Boston, Patsos drove across the state of Massachusetts to Albany for a tour of Siena’s campus. Patsos said he went in a little blind, wanting to see if he could be sold on going to Siena.
“I let them show me the campus as if I was a recruit,” Patsos said. “I just wanted to know if I was a recruit would I go there. John D’Argenio is a tremendous person and they have a great President in Father Kevin [Mullen]. I just wanted to take a look so what I did was instead of doing all this research I went in a little blind. They picked me up at the hotel got a little breakfast, showed me the campus, met the right people and by 1:30 I was pretty much gone.”
Patsos knew the arena, the Times Union Center, so he didn’t see that on his tour as he focused on the campus which he knew little about.
“I just got a good feeling,” Patsos said. “My wife and I just chatted it through and if I was to get an offer, I would take it because of the campus, the people, the arena, the league.”
After a phone interview Tuesday, Patsos learned he was the man for the job later that day and closed in on a five-year deal with the school.
Patsos was born in Boston, but his roots for the last 25 years have been tied to the Washington D.C.-Baltimore area as a player and coach. He played at Catholic University in D.C., graduating in 1989 and played with two future Division I head coaches. His roommate was Mike Lonergan, head coach at George Washington University and they played with John Becker, now the head coach at Vermont.
Lonergan said he remembered meeting Patsos for the first time at Catholic. Patsos was transferring in looking to play coming from St. Anselm College in New Hampshire.
“Truthfully Jimmy wasn’t really that good a basketball player when he first got in,” Lonergan said. “By the time he left he was a starter, one of the better, really good rebounder, really good player.”
Lonergan said he remembered, after he graduated, watching Patsos play and being impressed as he made strides and made the all-tournament team in the event he watched.
His coach at Catholic was Jack Bruen. Patsos said Bruen is one of his main influences in life coaching. Bruen coached at Catholic for seven seasons and was hired at Colgate after a successful run at Catholic in 1989. In 1997, Bruen passed away from pancreatic cancer at 48 years-old.
“Jack Bruen is the most influential guy in my life in coaching,” Patsos said. “You do it for the players. You do it to see them graduate and be successful people and go to weddings and all that. That’s why we do it.”
“That’s why I like Siena because they share those values. It’s not win at all costs. It’s win, but it’s not win at all costs.”
Lonergan said that he would live with Patsos in DC after coaching at American International College and Colgate. He said he’d crash on Patsos’ couch when he was a bartender and the two would work basketball camps that were run mostly by Bruen.
“He was definitely a mentor for us,” Lonergan said. “We always felt like Jack Bruen was probably the best basketball coach that people never heard of.”
Patsos met with his team at Loyola (MD) early in the day on Tuesday to go over the schedule for the next five weeks. During that same time, he was told by people at Siena that things were looking good for him to take over. After receiving Siena’s offer, he let AD Paquette know and Patsos said they went to lunch to talk it over.
“We went to lunch and we talked about it,” Patsos said. “We talked about journey and fresh starts.”
“I think if you’re going to take a journey now’s the time. Anthony Bourdain, don’t be afraid to take a risk all these, I look to different inspirational people to read what their stories are. This is the time and this is a risk, but it isn’t a bad risk because it’s a great job, it’s a great school, I know the area.”
“I told my AD I think I’m going to take the plunge and he said I think it’s a good move for you, congratulations.”
After accepting the offer and becoming Siena’s next head coach Tuesday as rumors swirled of an agreement, Patsos met with the players with Paquette at his side and was upfront about everything to his players.
“We’re all men. I told them one day they might understand even if you don’t understand now. Later on in life you will understand, but we’re all about the journey,” Patsos said. “I want Loyola to be great. I want the continuity to continue. In my mind G.G. Smith should get the job to continue that work.”
“We built something and we want to keep it going, G.G. had a lot to do with it. He had my back. He was involved in the whole building process and I hope he takes over. That’s not my decision. I’m not involved in the decision, I work for Siena but I will always have love for Loyola (MD). I used to have red blood for Maryland in me, now I got a little green blood from Loyola (MD), now I got a little green and yellow blood from Siena.”
Lonergan said that the move to Siena is a good move for Patsos and the two might need each other at this point.
“I think the job is very good job for him,” Lonergan said. “I think Siena needs a guy like Jimmy right now and Jimmy might need Siena right now. He probably needs another challenge.”
After building a program up from a one-loss team to back-to-back 20-win seasons, it appeared that Patsos would be saying farewell to the MAAC after a 55-52 quarterfinal loss in the MAAC tournament to Manhattan.
“The MAAC is a great league,” Patsos said. “They were great to Loyola and it was a fun year. A lot of bad things could’ve happened when you leave a league, which does happen to people. None of that happened to us.”
Loyola (MD) will join Boston University, who was banned from playing their postseason tournament this season, in the Patriot League on July 1.
“That’s a great league for Loyola that makes sense for Loyola,” Patsos said. “For the next 30 years Loyola in the Patriot League is a great league. It’s a good lacrosse league because we’re a lacrosse school. It fits us basketball wise Boston and Baltimore with Boston U being added it’s a good league.”
“So is the MAAC, but the MAAC’s a little better basketball league, I’m a basketball coach. The first thing I am is a basketball coach, Gary Williams reminded me of that constantly.”
Some of the D.C. roots Patsos might look to bring to Siena include Patsos’ great relationship with founder and CEO Kevin Plank at Under Armour. As part of the staff at Maryland and as head coach at Loyola (MD), Patsos has had a shoe deal with Under Armour. Patsos’ teams at Loyola (MD) were one of the first schools to wear Under Armour shoes and it will be interesting to see whether or not Siena may change their shoe deal with a new head coach. The University at Albany and Siena are currently both Nike schools. Patsos said that is is up to D’Argenio and Father Kevin to decide as well as the athletic department’s business side to figure out what works best for the school.
“It’s well known that Kevin Plank loves the horses and is in the horse business,” Patsos said. “It happens that we’re right next to Saratoga.”
On Wednesday Patsos logged more air miles to get back to Siena for the introductory press conference and interviews, but as soon as he was there he was back out Thursday flying to Baltimore with D’Argenio. After stopping at home briefly, Patsos flew out to Atlanta for the Final Four. It is likely the constant air travel will continue even more for the coach with recruiting, but also because he will gradually move into the capital region.
Patsos said that he will not make the full move up to Siena until July. His wife Michelle is in her season, as he said, right now in politics as a lobbyist in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Once budget hearings end around the beginning of July, the Patsos’ will make the move to the Albany area.
“The transition will be a little slower than we need to be, but it’s okay because we’re all involved, we live here and the recruits are here,” Patsos said. “I’ll be up there for lots of stuff too. I’ve been talking to Rob Poole. Rob Poole and I have been talking and I’ve already met up with the team at Siena. We’re going to go and meet with some of the guys and do some work outs and see what we got.”
Until then, Patsos will likely log time in both the Albany and Baltimore area for the next few months, though he will get three weeks starting this week to work out players in individual workouts and see how they play in an up tempo style.
“I told them this the biggest difference is that we’re a running, pressing program at Loyola (MD) just like we were at Maryland when I worked for Gary Williams and I will be at Siena,” Patsos said. “That’s how I’m going to play. We’re going to run and press. These guys walked it up and played 2-3 zone. There’s nothing wrong with that, Jim Boeheim’s been doing it very successfully, I’m not going to do that.”
“I want to see these kids in the next three weeks playing fast, doing drills fast, going up and down running the two play which is our flex. I want to see how they look in that situation because when I took over at Loyola they told me these are your two best players and you have to get rid of these two kids. Well, the two kids they told me to get rid of ended up starting for me and the two players they told me were so great weren’t so great because we played fast.”
“Loyola played slow, Scott Hicks is a really nice man I know him, but they played zone and had a big team. I wanted quick guards and length. Everybody at Siena has a chance to prove what they can do, but I know Poole can really play, I know Burdine can really play, I know Imoh can really play, and I know Brookins when healthy is a great player. I know those four guys are really good guys because we watched them play and scouted them.”
Patsos flew back from his visit to Siena on Monday, found out Tuesday that things were looking good and got the job later that day. After Wednesday’s press conference, Patsos flew with D’Argenio to Baltimore and then to the Final Four in Atlanta with a lot of work to do.
Many things could be considered Patsos’ first priority since taking the Siena job. He needs to hire a staff, recruit and work out the current team to see what he has while also considering the future of the school in conference realignment.
Patsos said that he has received 450 texts and more come in every 10 minutes as well as some phone calls since being announced Siena’s head coach.
“I got a lot of new friends that want jobs,” Patsos said. “I’ll give you the best was, ‘Dear coach Patsos congratulations when I stood behind you at a funeral three years ago and I thought I’d be a great assistant coach for you give me a call back.’”
Patsos was with Gary Williams at Dave Gavitt’s funeral in 2011. Gavitt was the coach who would become first commissioner to take the idea of a large east coast conference and make it come to life in creating Big East Conference with founding members Providence, Boston College, Connecticut, Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Syracuse.
“I’ve saved the good ones, that’s one of the good ones and I’m appreciative. I got a lot of people that want jobs and I’m going to bring people, I ‘ve got people coming. There are a lot of people that think I can help them with Loyola, but I’m not involved with Loyola process. I hope G.G. Smith gets it. He deserves it and I want to see them continue to do well, but I’m not involved at picking the next coach at Loyola.”
Greg Manning is expected to be coming from Loyola (MD) to Siena as an assistant coach and Luke D’Alessio is likely next to be added to Patsos’ staff. After that he plans on meeting with assistant coach Craig Carter and seeing if he wants to retain Carter on the staff.
On his campus tour Monday, Patsos said he asked whether or not Siena had been approached by the Atlantic 10.
“The one question I ask is what’s going on with the A-10?” Patsos said. “They said we don’t know yet, but we’re keeping everybody up front. We love the MAAC, I said I love the MAAC, if we get an offer from the A-10 we’ll let you know and I said thanks so much.”
“They said are you scared of the Atlantic 10? and I said nope. I think the A-10′s a good fit, I think the MAAC’s a good fit, they’re both good leagues. Whatever you want me to do I’ll coach.”
D’Argenio said that every coaching candidate asked about the potential uncertainty with potential conference realignment in the Atlantic 10.
“It’s not something that’s there, it’s something that if they call us we’ll listen to them and hear what they have to say and then make the best decision for Siena,” D’Argenio said. “Our president is adamant, if we do ever have any discussions that it’s done the right way, with respect for the league we’re in.”
Last year, Patsos took a glance at the job at the College of Charleston, but before he even went through an interview process Loyola (MD) handed him a five-year extension to which Patsos said he “signed it immediately.” The move to the Patriot League Patsos said “wasn’t really the determining factor” in leaving Loyola (MD) this year, but he said he would not have considered taking the job if Loyola (MD) was remaining in the MAAC after this season.
Patsos said this job offers more of an opportunity to coach at a school fit his basketball ties in the region.
“It fits me a little more,” Patsos said referring to the northeast region. “I believe in like Boston to Pittsburgh down to D.C.-Richmond that triangle area, the northeast that’s where I’m from. That’s where I live, that’s where I coach, that’s where my recruiting ties are.”
“Siena is a really good job in the northeast. Siena is known as a basketball school. I’m still going to recruit around Baltimore, it’s a 40 minute flight that goes every two hours. There’s been great players from this area for 20 years who have gone from the Washington-Baltimore to Albany to play at Siena so that connection I like it.”
Siena signed two players during the early signing period that Patsos hopes keep their commitments to the school. Patsos said he already talked to the mother of Troy High School senior Javion Ogunyemi and his coach Rich Hurley. Siena’s other commit Stephan Jiggetts played with Marquis Wright, who Patsos signed at Loyola (MD) during the early signing period, at Bishop McNamara in Maryland.
“I’ve seen Jiggetts play a lot because he played with kids that I recruited,” Patsos said. “He’s from McNamara, he’s a Maryland kid so I know him and he’s a good player. He’s a shooter.”
“Those two kids signed with Siena, if they want to come they should come. I think they’re both going to come.”
It will be interesting to see if any of Loyola’s signed commits will look to get out of their letters of intent and potentially follow Patsos, Manning and others to Siena. Lavon Long has been let out of his Letter of Intent without restrictions according to Loyola (MD) athletic communications and could potentially follow Patsos and his staff to Loudonville.
Gatorade Maryland Player of the Year Marquis Wright, who signed a National Letter of Intent with Loyola during the early signing period, remains committed to his Letter of Intent, which was confirmed by Loyola on Monday.
When asked if it was a relief to have the hiring process over, D’Argenio said the task now is moving forward with a new staff.
“It’s good because now we move forward,” D’Argenio said. “We have a chance now to put the program in a positive position and move it forward. You need leadership to do that and your head coach and now we have it and we can move forward.”
“We have a couple scholarships to fill, a staff to hire. So it will be a fun few months.”
Patsos might be known for his antics on the court, antics that have since been calmer in recent years, but Lonergan said that beneath that exterior is a very smart basketball coach.
“He’s a really smart guy, a lot smarter than people think,” Lonergan said. “Everything he does, there’s a method to his madness as Jack Bruen would always say.”
Ryan Restivo covers Stony Brook, Hofstra and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo.