LEWISTON — When Niagara named Tom Crowley as its new athletic director over the summer, no one knew the university would soon be in the market for a new basketball coach. But now that it is, Crowley’s extensive basketball background should prove an asset in seeking the successor to Joe Mihalich.
Crowley held a news conference at Niagara on Wednesday afternoon some three hours after Mihalich, Niagara’s coach for 15 years, was introduced as the new head man at Hofstra of the Colonial Athletic Association. Crowley will oversee the search and hiring process and said the aim is to have a new coach in place quickly without making a hasty decision.
Like most ADs, Crowley over the years has compiled a list of people he thinks would make good head coaches. His familiarity with the game as a player, coach and administrator could help Niagara expedite the process. Aware of Hofstra’s interest in Mihalich, Crowley did preliminary work on finding Niagara’s next coach while attending the Final Four.
“There’s a ton of interest in this job and I’m very confident that we’re going to get ourselves a very good basketball coach,” Crowley said. “We’d like to move as fast as we need to move. We want to be thorough and complete but we will not rush. We’ll try to move as quickly as we can to find the right person.
“If we’re bad, at the bottom of the league, and the job’s open, there’d have been a million applications. We’re good and at the top of the league and there will be 10 million applications.”
Niagara won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season championship this season, lost to Iona in the MAAC Tournament semifinals and fell to Maryland in the NIT. Mihalich, voted the MAAC Coach of the Year, noted repeatedly during the season that the Purple Eagles were the 40th youngest team in Division I basketball and therefore performing ahead of expectations.
The new coach will take over an experienced and talented roster – if everyone remains. Some 400 players change schools after each season, typically in search of more playing time or because a coaching change has taken place. Crowley indicated a cast that includes first-team all-conference guards Antoine Mason and Juan’ya Green will return along with forward T.J. Cline, a member of the league’s all-freshman team.
However, given the transience within the sport, a player’s status is subject to change from one season to the next.
In taking the Hofstra job, Mihalich received an estimated $100,000 boost in salary over his reported $190,000 at Niagara. The job also moves him closer to his grown sons and tightens his proximity to the Philadelphia player pipeline he regularly tapped while leading Niagara to two NCAA and two NIT appearances.
“Everybody should know Niagara did everything it could to make this work for Joe here at Niagara,” Crowley said.
Crowley said Niagara’s next coach will be someone who can identify talent, teach and develop that talent and prove himself capable of designing game strategies. He is open to considering assistant coaches who may not have previous head coaching experience.
“We’re just looking for the right person,” Crowley said.
Crowley was a captain on the 1978 Penn team that defeated St. Bonaventure in the East Regional at Palestra to reach the Sweet Sixteen and has been an assistant coach at Penn, Xavier, Rutgers and Stanford. He was the head coach at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont for seven seasons and at Christian Brothers University in Tennessee for two.
He came to Niagara from Butler, where he was athletic director/internal operations and saw first hand the ascent of one of the nation’s most successful mid-major basketball programs.
“I’ve been in the game a long time,” Crowley said. “I think Niagara’s a basketball school, one of the many reasons I was interested in the job. Did I know then that Joe was leaving? I didn’t. But am I surprised that he left? Not really. More surprised that he stayed as long as he did.
“Joe’s the dean of the MAAC and the winningest coach in MAAC history. If you look at the MAAC there’s not many of those guys that are around for very long that have had that kind of success.
“The program’s in wonderful shape and Joe’s a big, big factor in making Niagara basketball what it is today,” Crowley said. “The tradition has been wonderful here for a long, long time and Joe’s been a huge contributor to that. We wish him well at Hofstra.”