Pat Duquette’s Unique Opportunity

UMass Lowell welcomed Pat Duquette, the son of two high school teachers and native of western Massachusetts, as their first Division I men’s basketball head coach on May 16. After a career in basketball, wondering if he would ever break through and get a head coaching job, Pat became the third member of his immediate family to work his way up in the ranks of sports.

His cousin Dan is the general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, and his tenure in baseball also includes stints as an executive with the Montreal Expos and Boston Red Sox. His older brother Jim was general manager of the New York Mets as well as, most recently, the former vice president of baseball operations with the Orioles. Jim’s career spanned 17 years in the baseball industry before becoming a broadcaster for MLB.com and Sirius XM among other places. Watching his older brother and his cousin work their way up in the baseball industry, Pat saw an avenue for his own career path.

“I knew I wanted to do something like my cousin Dan and my brother Jim, I was watching them the whole time,” Pat said. “I saw what they did. I knew I wanted to do something like that but in basketball instead of baseball.”

Pat_Coaching2

Pat Duquette became the first head coach in UMass Lowell’s Division I history on May 16.

When Pat graduated from Williams in 1994, his cousin Dan was in the midst of one of the greatest seasons in history as the Montreal Expos general manager and his brother Jim was breaking into the New York Mets organization working in their minor league system.

“It gave me confidence because I had so much in common with them,” Pat said. “I didn’t play big time Division I just like they didn’t play in the Major Leagues, but seeing them be able to be successful in their careers at the highest level gave me the confidence to think that I can do the same thing.”

A journey that has had ups and downs only begins now with Pat’s first head coaching job, taking over a program that joins Division I this season. Hired by the school on May 16 to replace Greg Herenda, who took the head coaching job at Fairleigh Dickinson, Pat’s tenure with the RiverHawks exceeds their Division I existence as the school officially joined the America East conference on July 1.

When he got the offer, Pat’s first phone call was to his brother Jim. “He’s been like a father figure to me so I called him right away because I was so proud,” Pat said. “That’s who I wanted to tell.”

Between interviews Pat talked to his older brother and Jim could sense he was very close to landing the job. Both understood the stakes.

“I was hopeful for him. I was confident for him, but there is still a level of uncertainty,” Jim said. “My first reaction was almost relief for him because I knew how much he wanted it and wanted that job. It was more relief than it was happiness; he’s finally going to get his opportunity which he’s been preparing for his whole life.”

In the age before Twitter, texting and e-mail, breaking into the sports industry meant making a thorough contact list, phone calls on landlines and writing letters. Pat landed his first job in the basketball industry, an internship with the New Jersey Nets, out of college working on the business side. Once there he wrote over 50 letters to colleges in the area looking for a chance to coach. The only response he received was from Cardy Gemma at Centenary College, then an NAIA school in Hackettstown, New Jersey. The school was newly co-ed in 1989 and Gemma was charged with being the athletic director, managing five sports and serving as the men’s basketball coach, he took Pat on as a volunteer assistant coach.

“I knew right away,” Pat said upon coaching for the first time. “This is what I want to do, now I just got to find the best way to do it.”

After the season and his internship ended, Pat was not sure what the future held for him in basketball. Jim invited him to come down to Florida and figure out his next step. So Pat, all his stuff in tow, moved to Florida and waited tables for three months to make ends meet, while he looked to get his foot in the door. Jim said that it was a time when Pat needed to get away from his current situation and evaluate if basketball was the path he wanted to pursue.

“I think it might have given him a little bit of a perspective it was like a little pause in his life,” Jim said. “I think I was able to throw some ideas at him that were helpful. Let’s go back through your contact list and start making some phone calls. I think it was more timing. He just needed a little bit more time to get figure that out.”

patandjim

Jim (left) and Pat (right) playing golf in June 2010. Pat said that his first phone call, upon taking the UMass Lowell job, was to his older brother. (credit: Pat Duquette)

“He’s such a bright guy. I think everybody goes through those situations in life, where you’re like is this the right path, you just have to sometimes you have to be around somebody else that has your best interests and you can kind of talk out some of the pros and the cons. That’s something I think I’ve always been good at.”

Jim encouraged Pat, and used his own career experiences to motivate him. At an earlier point in Jim’s career in the baseball industry, he said he began to think he was at a dead end. He ended up going outside the organization he had known, the Mets and moved to the Houston Astros for a season, earning a promotion in title to director of player development. People told him the toughest part would be to get the next step and after that doors would open. “They said you’ll fly through the next couple positions and it turned out to be true,” Jim said. A year later he was the director of player personnel for the Mets, and was promoted to assistant general manager a year after that.

Sorting through the contact list, Pat found a familiar face, Dave Paulsen, who coached at Williams, and had recruited Pat out of high school. Paulsen needed an assistant at St. Lawrence University after taking his first head coaching job at the upstate New York school, 20 miles from the border of Canada. He hired Pat for what would be his first assistant coaching position; a job at the Division III school that paid roughly $3,000 a year.

Paulsen, who met Pat at a summer camp between his junior and senior years of high school, immediately thought of Pat when he needed to hire for the position. “He was the only guy I called because I knew we wanted to get a young, hungry guy,” Paulsen said. “Give them a road map and an apple and tell them to go find some players and that’s what he did.” Paulsen credits Pat with helping to recruit a roster that he eventually used to turn around the program.

Pat only spent one season with Paulsen at St. Lawrence but it reaffirmed that coaching was for him.  “I knew right away that’s what I wanted to do. I loved it from day one,” Pat said. “I didn’t care about the money. I really enjoyed what I was doing and really after that doors just seemed to open for me every step of the way.” Pat joined St. Michaels for two seasons under head coach Tom O’Shea, and it was through a different family connection that he broke into Division I.

Al Skinner’s top assistant at the time was Tom’s brother, Tim O’Shea. Skinner’s staff, moving from the University of Rhode Island to then-Big East school Boston College, had an opening for an administrative position. “My brother had always done a great job of hiring people,” O’Shea said of his brother Tom. Skinner offered Pat a position similar to today’s Director of Basketball Operations positions. Despite the switch from a coaching position to an administrative position, Pat accepted. O’Shea said that when Pat joined Boston College he was deeply involved in everything they were doing. After four seasons, Pat moved up the bench to an assistant coaching position where he would remain for nine seasons.

Pat_Coaching3

Pat Duquette (kneeling) was instrumental in recruiting Reggie Jackson (left) to Boston College. (credit: Pat Duquette)

“Pat was instrumental in that [Boston College] success,” said O’Shea who moved from the Eagles bench to his first head coaching job at Ohio in 2001. Assistant coaches throughout Skinner’s tenure included Bill Coen, who left to take over at Northeastern, and Ed Cooley, who left to take the head coaching job at Fairfield. During Skinner’s tenure as head coach, the Eagles made the NCAA tournament seven times and moved from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference. However, at the end of a disappointing 15-16 record during the 2010 season, Skinner was let go.

Eight days later Steve Donahue was hired to be the next head coach and Pat was out of a job soon after until he caught on with Coen at Northeastern as the associate head coach. “Unfortunately in this business, sometimes bad things happen to good people,” said Coen, who moved his associate head coach Tom Murphy to a coordinator of basketball advancement position to bring Pat on board. “[It] created an opportunity for him to get back into coaching, which sometimes is the most difficult thing for somebody to give you. It’s really hard to get your first chance. Sometimes it’s even harder to get a second chance.”

Pat said he appreciates earning the opportunity to be a head coach for the first time even more given the ups and downs the past few years.

“I got knocked down a couple of times in the last few years and also watching my brother and my cousin Dan,” Pat said. “Not only do I appreciate it more getting it, I appreciate how fragile it is too.”

“Both those guys reached the pinnacle of their careers and that was taken away from them as well. They’ve since rebounded and are doing great, but I think having seen that, gone through that, made me appreciate this opportunity so much more.”

For all of the success Pat had on the recruiting trail and on the bench as an assistant coach, it was a tremendous challenge to break through the ceiling to become a head coach. It was not for lack of trying, Pat had been through interviews for five other head coaching jobs over his career and began to doubt that he would ever get his chance.

“I had those thoughts,” said Pat about whether he began to doubt he would get the chance. “I was beginning to think that maybe I needed to do something differently myself. I felt just as confident and as qualified, but I wasn’t getting the opportunity it seemed.”

His brother Jim had interviewed for multiple general manager positions before earning his shot with the Mets. While Pat had not advanced past the interview yet, Jim could sense that he was closing in on a chance to become a head coach.

Northeastern vs Alabama - 2013 NIT Opening Round

Pat Duquette coaching in Northeastern’s NIT first round game at Alabama. “He was more than ready to be a head coach,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen on Pat. (credit: Northeastern University Athletics)

“I sensed when I was talking to Pat I would ask him a few questions,” Jim said. “Tell me how it went, to my own experiences I could tell.”

“I could see it from afar that he was making a lot of progress within the industry and he was becoming more and more of a finalist. It takes a little time when you’re interviewing for those jobs to fine tune your approach, your answers and your presentation. I spent a couple of times having a conversation with him, ‘hey listen, you may not be able to see it, but you’re going in the right direction. You just need one break.’”

As Pat increasingly found himself a finalist for jobs, Coen knew that there was a good chance his associate head coach could be leaving soon. “He was more than ready to be a head coach,” Coen said. “He was just looking for the right opportunity.”

A baseball team has never committed to the type of rebuilding that Pat will have to do. UMass Lowell’s season will tip off on November 8 at the University of Michigan. The RiverHawks are not eligible for the postseason until the 2017-18 season, as they wait out a four year period that every school must do when moving to Division I from Division II.

Tim O’Shea, who took over at Bryant after seven seasons at Ohio, knew he was going to have a tough transition bringing the Rhode Island school into Division I. Pat said he has talked to O’Shea on how his program has made the transition, which appeared in the College Basketball Invitational postseason tournament last year in their first season of postseason eligibility.

“I had a certain amount of confidence in what I was doing and I said at the time that I don’t know if I could have done this job if it was my first coaching job because of all the losing you have to mentally deal with,” O’Shea said. “That’s going to be a challenge. I think that’s going to be Pat’s biggest challenge.”

Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen said his advice to Pat on the transition was to make sure that he is building the foundation of the program he wants, even if the wins aren’t there in the first year. “It’s always when you move one seat over that’s the transition for anyone and I’m sure Pat will make mistakes as all of us do every single year, but the thing I know about Pat is whatever mistakes he’s going to make are going to be mistakes made out of the proper intentions of leading his program,” Paulsen said. “He’s going to learn and grow from whatever mistakes he might make.”

Pat Duquette finally has the opportunity to make those mistakes. It will be a difficult effort, but Pat’s time has finally arrived.

Ryan Restivo covers the America East for Big Apple Buckets, read his America East preview on ESPN.com as part of the ESPN Insider College Hoops 2013-14 Preview. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.