Joe Mihalich had to stop and compose himself a couple of times during the course of the phone call. You don’t spend 15 years at a school and not develop a strong emotional attachment. You don’t win a conference regular-season championship with a group of young players and then tell them you’re leaving without shedding a few tears.
Hofstra’s whirlwind courtship of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s winningest coach reached its conclusion Wednesday when the Pride announced Mihalich as its head coach. He leaves behind a team that went 19-14 and won the MAAC regular-season championship for a team that went 7-25 and finished near the bottom of the Colonial Athletic Conference.
His motivation? An estimated $100,000 bump in salary and the chance to explore new horizons after 15 years with the Purple Eagles.
“It’s not a money grab, that’s for sure,” Mihalich said. “And you’re going to think I’m getting a little corny with you here, but it’s a challenge, it’s an opportunity. It’s a great place. I’m leaving a great place but I’m coming to one, too.
“It was an excruciatingly painful thing to leave but to come here is just exhilarating and exciting,” Mihalich said. “You talk about a range of emotions.”
Niagara exceeded expectations with this year’s regular-season championship and the table appears well set for at least the next two seasons. Sophomore guards Juan’ya Green and Antoine Mason were both first-team all-conference selections. Forward T.J. Cline was named to the all-freshman team. Forward Ameen Tanksley is another sophomore, and Tahjere McCall played extensively as a freshman. It’s a lot for a coach to leave behind.
“Is the timing good? We can’t control the timing,” Mihalich said. “When a great opportunity arises you might have a bunch of sophomores who just finished in first place and could win a couple more championships. But we can’t control that.
“We’re just kind of victims of fate. Do I wish I was graduating five starters with nobody behind them? That would have been perfect. But perfect doesn’t exist.”
His fondest Niagara memory?
“You’d have to point to the 2005 NCAAs,” Mihalich said. “Then, after that, it’s just so many kids. I flew back to tell the team in person and that was one of the hardest things I ever did in my life. I love Niagara and I love those kids.”