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Canisius' seniors leaving; MacDonald, too? May be last game in WNY for coach

Today is Senior Day in the Koessler Center as Kevin Downey, Jon Popofski and Mike Hanley play the final home game of their careers when Canisius hosts Youngstown State in a BracketBusters clash at 2 p.m (Radio 710 AM).

It also could be the last game in Western New York for ninth-year head coach Mike MacDonald.

With the Griffs (6-18) in the midst of one of the most disappointing seasons in school history, MacDonald's status is a growing question in area basketball circles.

He has two years left on his contract but not the kind of record that keeps coaches employed. MacDonald is 105-151 in his nine seasons -- but just 47-94 the last five years. This could be his fourth 20-loss season.

Grumbling about MacDonald among fans and boosters has been growing, both in the stands during games and on message boards.

"I guess I'm the Tom Donahoe of February a little bit, but let's let everything play out before we jump to conclusions," MacDonald said Friday. "I have tremendous support here. I haven't heard one iota from anyone at Canisius that I have to do this or do that to stay.

"It's not the way Canisius works. And as long as I've coached, it's not about me. It's about the team."

Things have fallen apart for the Canisius program since the Griffs won 20 games and got to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference final in 2001. A slew of serious injuries, the soap opera surrounding former Athletics Director Tim Dillon (who resigned under pressure last February) and the 2004 death of forward Richard Jones during an offseason workout all contributed to a stretch of difficult seasons.

This year was supposed to be different because four returning starters were joined by transfers Corey Herring (Baylor) and Ola Matti (Lamar). The Griffs were picked to finish third by most publications and the MAAC coaches poll, but instead started 1-8 overall for the second straight year. They're ninth in the MAAC at 5-11.

"People want to delve into all this stuff, but all we want to do is worry about right now," said MacDonald, a nine-year assistant at Canisius before he replaced John Beilein in 1997. "Believe me, we're not happy with where we are at all, as I've said over and over again. We're as disappointed as anybody. But the only way to deal with it is by focusing on Youngstown State, St. Peter's, Loyola and whoever we play in the tournament."

First-year Athletics Director Bill Maher, a Canisius grad who is a close friend of MacDonald, said he will have a standard end-of-the-season review with his coach before any decision is made.

"The season we've had has been a disappointment for a lot of folks, none more so than the guys in that locker room and the coaching staff," said Maher. "They live it every day. It's been a hard thing for Mike to deal with.

"A decision about a coach is never made solely on the record. You have to look at the overall impact of that coach on the program, how they handle themselves on campus, recruit athletes, manage staff and manage their season."

Maher said he'll consult with the Rev. Vincent M. Cooke, the college president, and Dr. Ellen Conley, the vice president of student affairs who oversees athletics. Any decision has to include talk of MacDonald's deal, which is in the $100,000 range for each of the next two years.

"We will make the decision that's best for the college," Maher said. "Finances are always an issue in the Division I game. That's just a reality whether you're at a large institution or a small one."

Youngstown State (7-17) comes into today's game on a five-game losing streak. The Penguins lost Dec. 10 at St. Bonaventure, 66-58. MacDonald said Herring is questionable due to an ankle injury he suffered Monday against Marist.

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In today's other Big 4 BracketBusters, the University at Buffalo (16-9) plays MAAC leader Iona (19-5) at noon in New Rochelle (Web cast on ESPN360, Radio 1520 AM), while Niagara (10-14) has an 8 p.m. game at Valparaiso (15-9). It is available on Internet-only radio at www.purpleeagles.com.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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>BracketBusters

Today's games

UB at Iona, noon

Youngstown St. at Canisius, 2 p.m.

Niagara at Valparaiso, 8 p.m.

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