It looks like Canisius is going to try to make a big splash when it replaces Mike MacDonald. The day after MacDonald's firing, Athletics Director Bill Maher said the college was planning to pump more resources into its moribund program, specifically for coaches' salaries. Maher is a Canisius grad in his first year on the job and his words were genuine but there was still plenty of skepticism surrounding the claim.
After all, this is Canisius. In the last 15 years, no administration in the Big 4 has been less committed to its athletics program than the folks on Main Street. They can talk all they want about mission statements but other than the makeover of the Koessler Center, there have been few tangible signs anything is different.
That clearly changed this week. Maher revealed that Canisius has procured the services of Carr Sports Associates of Gainesville, Fla., to help the search for its new coach. Word in hoop circles is that the new coach will get in the $125,000-$130,000 range for a base salary (MacDonald made around $90,000 and only exceeded $100,000 with his summer camp revenue). In addition, it's believed around $125,000 is being set aside for the three assistant coaches, putting the staff total around $250,000; MacDonald's last staff was only in the $175,000 range.
Getting outside help is the kind of visionary move Canisius needed to make but Maher really had little choice.
More than 20 jobs have opened this month. Many mid-major jobs (such as Delaware, Fairfield and Hartford) are more lucrative and more attractive to many candidates than Canisius. And Fairfield, a Metro Atlantic rival of Canisius, is going to pay more than $200,000 for its new coach, with the leading candidates including Fairfield alum Pete Gillen, ESPN analyst and ex-Manhattan coach Fran Fraschilla and former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins.
"[Hiring Carr] is a way for us to identify quality candidates and to help us see who has interest in us," Maher said. "I'm familiar with them [Carr helped the University at Buffalo in its AD and football coach search] and I'm confident they will help the college find a coach that fits our goals."
One thing it means is that Canisius will entertain the notion of hiring a former head coach. One such name with local ties is West Virginia assistant Jerry Dunn, who led Penn State to the Sweet 16 in 2001. Dunn's wife, Gwen, is from Buffalo and they were married here. His mother-in-law used to work at Canisius and at Rich Products.
Ex-Griffs coach John Beilein certainly gives Dunn a gold seal of approval. Dunn deflected questions about jobs at this week's Atlanta Regional, preferring to focus on West Virginia's games.
Multiple sources at the Washington Regional say outgoing Rutgers coach Gary Waters, who built Kent State into a Mid-American power, is also interested. Waters wants to get closer to his Ohio roots and most people had him penciled in to the job at Wright State but it's likely he'll talk to Canisius. Other possibilities include Albany coach Will Brown, who could be in the market if he doesn't work out a new deal at his school next week; Virginia assistant Steve Seymour, who was the head man for two years at Drexel; and Connecticut associate head coach Tom Moore. Waters-to-Buffalo becomes a long shot, if current Kent coach Jim Christian leaves for Duquesne because Waters would almost certainly accept his old job back.
Maher reaffirmed he's going to be interviewing candidates at the Final Four in Indianapolis, then will bring finalists back to campus the following week. An announcement may not be made until the week of April 17.
>'Sugar Ray' sounds off
All-time scoring leader Ray Hall said this week he's contacted Maher and Rev. Vincent M. Cooke, the college's president, and told them he wants Canisius to take the big-splash approach.
"There's been a total disconnect between Canisius and the community in terms of the basketball program," said Hall, who scored 2,226 points from 1981-1985. "You still have that connection on the academic side. It will always be a thriving school. But the next coach has to be someone who comes in with instant impact and ability to bring the community together. I told Father Cooke and Bill Maher, 'I want you guys to think out of the box.'
"Gonzaga did not become Gonzaga overnight but they're attracting more attention and winning and crushing their league. They're getting their return on their investment. That's what I hope Canisius will do."
Hall, now 43, is a top salesman at Ingram Micro in Amherst. A 1985 draft choice of the Utah Jazz, he played professionally overseas for nearly 10 years. Before Maher's revelation about the search firm, Hall said he hoped the school would inquire with bigger names than the litany of assistant coaches with Buffalo or Canisius connections that have been connected to the search.
"What makes you think you can't call someone like (outgoing Indiana coach) Mike Davis? Give me his number and I'll talk to him if you won't," Hall said. "No one should be afraid to talk to anyone. Ask them. Imagine a Mike Davis or someone like that here. You know there will instantly be players here. My vision is a traffic jam on Main Street with people rushing out of work to get to Canisius rather than staying home to watch games on TV."
Hall said he got positive feedback from both Maher and Cooke. The school president took over in 1993, eight years after Hall's career ended.
"It seems like he has a commitment to making this program fly," Hall said. "I want to just dominate and destroy this league and that's what they want but you can't build a Rolls Royce program on a Volkswagen budget.
"Canisius will always be up there in academics but where's the 'wow factor' when it comes to athletics? It's been tough for me watching your family when they're hurting. They chose me years ago when I was at McKinley High School and I still choose them. I just want to know: Can we get to where we need to be?' "
>Beilein on the market?
West Virginia built a $3 million buyout into Beilein's contract but it will be interesting to see if that's any deterrent for him if big names call. Missouri is hot on his trail and Indiana is likely to be as well. Another interesting possibility would be Kentucky, where Tubby Smith is rumored to be flirting with the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats.