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Fredonia lures ex-Griff Seymore back to WNY

Shortly after Phil Seymore was named the men’s basketball coach at Fredonia, he phoned longtime friend and Buffalo State coach Fajri Ansari, an uptempo coach of some renown.

Then Seymore made a prediction about the next Fredonia-Buff State contest.

“It’s going to be a 200-point game,” Seymore said. “Maybe even 220.”

The two men, whose bond is deeper than basketball, shared a laugh, and talked about how good it is that Seymour is returning to Western New York.

“Phil gave me my start in coaching,” Ansari said. “He saw how I worked with kids and gave me an assistant job at Turner-Carroll and we’ve been close ever since. I’m so happy for him.”

It’s been 33 years since Seymore first came to the area, 16 since he left with stops at Richmond, Providence and the College of New Rochelle while coaching men’s and women’s basketball in between. So for Seymore, a Brooklyn native, becoming the coach at Fredonia is in many ways a homecoming.

“The ties that I’ve had with Canisius and the years that I’ve spent there, it’s like my second home,” Seymore said. “It’s never been displaced out of my life. There’s always been contact there; I’ve always gone back to Canisius and talked with my friends there. It’s new, but it’s not new.”

He played two seasons at point guard for Canisius College in the early ’80s and is a member of the school’s Hall of Fame. After one season as a graduate assistant at Canisius under Nick Macarchuk, he spent four seasons coaching at Turner-Carroll, including two as the head coach, before returning to the Golden Griffins as an assistant for seven seasons, five under John Beilein.

Seymore’s wife, Alicia, is a Buffalo native and his daughter, Amani, will attend Buffalo State in the fall. He hopes he won’t have to shovel the snow off the roof of his home like he did as a Golden Griffins assistant.

“I’m tall so I had to bend down so I wouldn’t fall,” said Seymore, laughing. “I didn’t miss that about Buffalo.”

Seymore was the College of New Rochelle’s associate director of athletics and the wellness center for the last 10 months, the first time since his playing career ended that he hasn’t coached. He resigned as the women’s coach at Providence following the 2012 season.

“It was an adjustment for me and I missed it a lot,” he said. “I consider coaching my work and not my job. Your work is your gift and what you do and what you feel comfortable doing and what you love doing, basically what you could almost do for free.”

There were pros and cons to Seymore’s hiatus from the bench.

“The good part of it was I wasn’t losing any games; I didn’t have to go home and feel bad when I lost,” he said. “The bad part is you don’t have the same kind of interaction you have with the student-athletes. That part of it was tough and obviously I missed being on the floor. I missed having my own program and running it.”

Six months into his new position, Seymore realized he wanted to return to coaching. He said he’s fortunate to return to men’s basketball after coaching the women’s game for seven seasons.

“Sometimes when you try and make the transition back, you’re not allowed to for whatever reason,” he said.

Asked by Providence Athletic Director Bob Driscoll, whom Seymore considers a friend, to revive a Friars program that fell to 1-27 in 2005, Seymore left Tim Welsh’s staff on the men’s side to coach the women.

“It was basically everything I wanted to do except I was coaching women,” Seymore said. “At that time, there was basically no ego in it for me in terms of what I was doing or playing in front of a lesser crowd or the hype that comes with playing in the Big East at that level.”

By 2010, Seymore led the program to its first postseason appearance since 1992 by advancing to the quarterfinals of the WNIT and posting a 19-15 record. Providence and Seymore parted ways in 2012 as Seymore left with an 88-120 record over seven seasons, including 13-17 in his final year.

“For me, it came to a decision with me and my athletic director that I had did what I could do,” he said. “I decided to resign and it wasn’t anything where there were hard feelings or anything of that nature. Bob Driscoll is my friend and he helped me to get this job where I’m at now. I’ve been back to PC and it wasn’t one of those things where, ‘You’re fired, get the hell out of here.’ ”

Fredonia is excited about landing a coach of Seymore’s caliber. Of the four candidates interviewed, Seymore’s name carried the most cachet.

“We are pleased,” Fredonia Director of Athletics Greg Prechtl said on the school’s website, “to have attracted someone with Phil Seymore’s extensive experience and expertise to lead our program. With nearly three decades of basketball experience, Phil has a proven record of success as both a player and a coach as well as a solid understanding of what it takes to win at the collegiate level.”

Seymore takes over for longtime coach Kevin Moore, who finished 7-17 in his final season. It’s Division III basketball, far removed from his days in the Big East or Canisius for that matter, but Seymore is excited about the opportunity.

“Kevin Moore did a real good, solid job there and it was unfortunately that they had a few bad seasons in a row,” Seymore said. “I’m taking over a program trying to get to the next step and the way I see it I’m taking the foundation that Kevin had and I’m trying to build on it. I’m always good for challenges. Call me a dummy for doing it, but I like challenges.”

email: rmckissic