Canisius College thinks it found a coach for the long haul in Reggie Witherspoon, and Witherspoon is taking a long view of his new challenge as Golden Griffins basketball coach.
“There’s two ways of going on these things,” said Canisius President John J. Hurley Tuesday, referring to the choice of hiring a first-time coach vs. an experienced coach. “You might get the next great guy. But sometimes when you get the next great guy, he’s going to be onto the next thing. I think I see in Reggie not only the head coaching experience and success that we want, but also a guy who can be here for the long haul to build a program.”
Witherspoon, 55, was introduced as new Canisius coach at a news conference at the Koessler Athletic Center.
“It’s an awesome privilege,” said Witherspoon. “I thank God for the opportunity to do that. Any time you can come back to a place you’re familiar with, where you grew up, it really is a blessing, and I’m excited about it.”
Witherspoon spent 14 years as head coach at the University at Buffalo. He comes to Canisius after a one-year stint as an assistant at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He was at the University at Alabama for a year before that.
Witherspoon takes over a team that went 14-19 last season and placed seventh in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. The Griffs lose their leading scorer, Malcolm McMillan, to graduation.
“This is not a quick fix,” Witherspoon said. “This is get in and roll your sleeves up and get to work.”
Canisius has at least two and maybe four scholarship openings. Two players who saw little time last season, Raven Owen and Isaiah Gurley, have been reported to be transferring. Witherspoon said their status has not yet been finalized. He said he expect to know in a few days. If they leave, there are four spots available.
Canisius has two well-regarded incoming freshman recruits. Spencer Foley is a 6-foot-7 forward from Chicago, and Malik Johnson is a point guard from Virginia. Foley
Said Witherspoon: “I spoke to both of them on the phone and I’m encouraged by our conversations. Spencer is in summer school here. I talked to Malik and he’s excited about coming here. So I’m expecting they’ll be here.”
Witherspoon said he will take his time on hiring his assistant coaches. He said he will consider Baron’s aides.
“I’m going to talk to them,” he said. “I have some people I’ve worked with and I’m talking to them. I won’t rush into that. We have to try to assemble a roster first.”
Canisius athletic director Bill Maher worked with Witherspoon for six years at UB.
Said Maher: “What I’m most impressed with is I have a very clear understanding of the very difficult situation Reggie entered at UB and the state of the program at that point in time and what he had to do in the beginning years to try to set it on the right path. Then I watched him grow and build and develop the program. After I left UB I watched him become a more well-rounded coach. He’s always had the interpersonal skills. He’s always got along well with people and connected with people. Then what validated that was how many other people in the industry – basketball coaches and athletic directors – said he’s an outstanding coach.”
Witherspoon said Maher’s presence made it even easier to feel great about coming home.
“Huge,” the coach said. “From a standpoint of stability on the college’s end. It’s an AD who’s been here, who loves it here. It’s a president who loves it here, who knows the school. They understand the challenges. They’re appreciative of everything Jim Baron brought but they understand this is a challenge. It’s not a quick fix. There’s a lot of things that need to be worked on.”