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'A tsunami of impatience' with losing Bona president worried about basketball team

St. Bonaventure's basketball program escaped NCAA probation in July but its misery continues. The losses are piling up. So is the fan unrest and the empty seats in the Reilly Center.

Sister Margaret Carney, the university's president, admitted Wednesday she's concerned about the mounting criticism of fourth-year coach Anthony Solomon. The Bonnies are 3-6 and have lost four straight nonconference games, all at home.

"What is disconcerting to me is what we're witnessing right now is a tsunami of impatience with a losing record," Carney said after the school's news conference in the RC to introduce Franklinville native Steve Watson as its new athletics director.

"That losing record is not new. We've been having problems as long as the NCAA sanction situation was over us . . . But once the sanctions came away, everyone's expectation of success ratcheted up probably by 200 percent."

Solomon is 20-72 in three-plus seasons. As of Wednesday, the Bonnies are No. 335 -- second from the bottom -- in the Ratings Percentage Index of Division I schools despite playing the nation's weakest schedule.

Carney said she expected fans' patience would wane as soon as the probation from the school's 2003 recruiting scandal was lifted.

"We needed to understand the expectations and pressure to win would be tremendously heightened," she said. "Whereas our fan base was not happy but not radicalized the last two years, this year if we don't perform better we're going to see much more negative behavior."

Average announced attendance in the 6,000-seat arena is 3,560 per game, down nearly 800 from last year. As recently as 2002, sellouts were common and the average was in the 5,500 range.

Turmoil in the building and on Internet message boards has grown dramatically during the losing streak, which began with a humiliating, 74-46 loss Dec. 2 to Boston University. Four days later, Solomon criticized students during his postgame news conference for not being in the building for the first half of a five-point loss to Ohio.

He quickly apologized for those remarks in a letter to the student newspaper but the damage had been done. The coach was booed when he took the floor for Saturday's loss to Wright State and there were chants of "Fi-re Sol-o-mon" in the building during the game.

"It hurts to hear the catcalls, the jeers and boos," Carney said. "I get comments from people as I leave my seat at halftime. I get a lot of unsolicited advice about what I should be doing about the program and I just try to smile and say, 'Thank you, we're all concerned.' "

Solomon's contract runs through the 2008-09 season and Carney is known to be one of his biggest backers. Her choice as AD may help the coach survive another year.

Watson played his college ball at Rutgers for two years, then transferred and played his final two years at Bowling Green -- when Solomon was an assistant coach there.

Watson, an associate AD at Eastern Michigan the last four years, was chosen over 1974 Bona grad Tom McElroy, a longtime former Big East administrator who was most recently athletics director at Rhode Island. Several sources said McElroy was the choice of Bona's search committee and most alums but Carney chose Watson.

Carney acknowledged she made the decision and Watson's management style has been cited as a factor; McElroy left URI under contentious circumstances earlier this year that neither side has publicly explained.

"Choosing one candidate is not necessarily blackballing another," Carney said. "Search committees get very invested in their work but they always understand when they turn over their results, they're advisory."

Adding to the intrigue of the decision is the fact Watson is the son of Dr. John Watson, the interim dean of Bona's School of Business and the radio analyst for home basketball games. The elder Watson has taught at the school for 31 years.

Steve Watson said he's going to work with Solomon on an immediate review of the program once he takes over Jan. 15 for the retiring Ron Zwierlein. He will attend practices and travel with the team.

"I need to see it first hand," Watson said. "I understand expectations are high. . . . I'm going to dive right in and get a good look at everything. Anthony and I will spend a lot of time together."


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