When new Marist head coach Mike Maker was asked what the most difficult question he’d heard during his interview on campus, it sounded like he knew his answer before I even finished asking.
“How are you going to make the jump from Division III to Division I,” Maker quickly responded. While he said he was not tired of answering that particular question, this question had to be exasperating. This isn’t just a stigma that Maker will have to overcome in his first season.
“If he came straight from West Virginia’s staff no one would even say a word,” Marist assistant coach Paul Lee said. “That’s the way it works, though.”
Maker is one of six new Division I head coaches whose previous job was as a head coach at a non-Division I school. Maine head coach Bob Walsh will be looking to do the same thing with the Black Bears in the America East. The worst thing we have done for all of them is to apply the label of non-Division I coaches jumping into a big pond.
Maker and Walsh both built their experience throughout Division I before finding their first NCAA head coaching experience at a non-Division I school. So when they say that they ran Williams and Rhode Island College, respectively, as Division I programs, they mean it.
“He’s more than put in his dues and even then with that he had to go to Williams and prove himself,” Lee said. “I think he still feels like, even though he’s been to three final fours that he still has to prove himself as a coach.”
Both coaches forged their own way in teaching the game. Two seasons ago Walsh’s team ranked third in the country in scoring defense, allowing 56.1 points per game. The result was Rhode Island College reaching eight NCAA tournaments in Walsh’s nine seasons.
“Certainly there’s going to be an emphasis on the defensive end, without question,” Walsh said. “I think if you’re consistently the best defensive team in the league you have a chance to win every night and that’s going to be our goal.”
In six seasons, Maker led Williams to four Elite Eights and had his team playing for the national championship twice. His team in 2014 ranked in the top 10 in seven offensive categories and coaches have branded him as an offensive genius.
Neither could have found a better situation for their skills. Maker, who has faced bringing players into Williams, has embraced the idea of higher standards to recruit to Marist. Walsh, who coached at a public school at Rhode Island College, has embraced the same mentality at Maine.
While other schools have passed on both Maker and Walsh to be their head coach in the past, plenty of those schools will regret it in the future. These are Division I coaches.
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the America East conference, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.