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MIHALICH UNINTERESTED IN LA SALLE

BOSTON -- Niagara University basketball fans don't have to worry about losing coach Joe Mihalich to his alma mater.

La Salle University in Philadelphia is in the market for a head coach after accepting the resignation of Billy Hahn Saturday morning. Philadelphia media outlets and ESPN.com, among others, immediately targeted Mihalich as a prime candidate. But Mihalich, the most successful NU coach since school legend Taps Gallagher, isn't going anywhere.

"I've already decided I'm not going to be a candidate. It's very simple," Mihalich said late Saturday night by cell phone from Las Vegas, where he's on a recruiting trip. "I had a very nice conversation (Saturday) with Mike Herrmann (NU's athletic director) and I'm not interested in the job.

"I love Niagara University. I love what they've done for me. My family is happy. We love our program and we still have a job to do, so that's the end of it."

Mihalich is 106-73 in six years at Niagara and is signed through the 2009-10 season. What's the biggest job he has left at Niagara? It's getting the school into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1970.

Hahn and La Salle women's coach John Miller resigned Saturday. They had been on paid administrative leave since July 9 while the school and area police investigated two separate on-campus rape allegations.

A former La Salle women's player recently said she was raped by a La Salle men's player in April 2003 but had been discouraged by university coaches from reporting it to the police. Her allegation became public last month after La Salle men's stars Mike Cleaves and Gary Neal were arrested and charged with the sexual assault of a 19-year-old counselor at Miller's summer basketball camp. Cleaves and Neal are no longer at the school.

As news of Hahn's resignation spread Saturday, Mihalich's name immediately surfaced. La Salle's likely candidates now become Penn coach Fran Dunphy and Lafayette's Fran O'Hanlon.

Mihalich's La Salle roots run deep, so it was easy to see why his name was linked to the job. He is a 1978 graduate of the school, where he was a walk-on guard under coach Paul Westhead. Mihalich and his wife, Mary, had parents who were professors at the school.

And Mihalich served as an assistant coach at La Salle for 17 years, helping head coach Speedy Morris' squad to five NCAA Tournament berths and three trips to the NIT. Dunphy was also an assistant with Mihalich for part of that period. Mihalich was heavily involved at La Salle in the recruitment of five future NBA players, including 1990 national Player of the Year Lionel Simmons.

Mihalich's six years at Niagara have been the most successful since Gallagher began his career there with six straight winning seasons. Mihalich equaled that feat last season by directing the Purple Eagles to a 22-10 record and a second-round berth in the NIT.

Niagara has advanced to the semifinals of the MAAC Tournament in five of his six seasons and to the MAAC title game twice.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com