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Want to see how badly a coaching change can go? Look north to Niagara

Typically when a coach leaves for greener pastures players understand, and when you fire a beloved symbol of the institution there is a lot of turnover. The different directions taken by Buffalo and Niagara prove true crisis management happens after a coach leaves, no matter the circumstances!


If I told you back in May that Buffalo's Reggie Witherspoon would be fired while Joe Mihalich of Niagara would be hired away by Hofstra how would you guess things played out? I would have guessed the story would play out like this:

Buffalo struggle to keep All MAC player Javon McCrea, transfer William Regan, and star freshman Jarryn Skeete. UB starts a long painful rebuilding process with some new coach who is missing most of the weapons which could have made UB a threat in the MAC next year.

Niagara, unhindered by hurt feelings, might loses a player or two but could hold on to the core of their roster. Coming out of the spring it might look like the Purple Eagles have the pieces in place to end a long UB winning streak when the teams face off next season.

That's not what happened.

To be sure there were a lot of hurt feelings in the wake of Coach Witherspoons firing. There was a fair amount of bad press and hard feelings. On top of the UB communities reactions a shocked presser hosted in the Coaches dining room caught national attention when CBS sports ran with the story.

Pretty much everyone loved witherspoon, even his detractors really wished UB had won in the 2005 or 2009 MAC Championship games. That likely would have saved his job. Because of that love a rift in UB fandom emerged, including right here among the editors at Bull Run.

Immediately Buffalo Verbal commitment Shannon Evans decommitted, and it seemed the wheels were close to coming off.

Enter Bobby Hurley!

In the interest of full disclosure I was not at first in favor of the Hurley Hire. My immediate impression that this was a gimmick name hire. That the former Duke star was someone with no head coaching experience and only minimal assistant experience, coaching on his Brothers staff.

But the more tenured College basketball fans I know all talked about how Hurley was a great move for UB. Sure enough Shannon Evans was reaching out to the Athletics department and quickly recommitted to the University within days of the hire.

Then the Bobby Hurley show seemed to be everywhere. During the NCAA tournament he was always being interviewed or talked about. He's been on the air up north in Toronto, all over the Buffalo air waves, and still getting some national play.

So far the fall out for UB has been Andre McPhail and Raphell Thomas-Edwards. Underclassmen who were little used role players this season. Each had potential but neither could be called a core component of next years team, even if Witherspoon had been retained.

Down the road Niagara, straight off of their MAAC regular season title hired Chris Casey. Casey was the head coach at LIU Post for three seasons going 62-25 at the Division II school. Before coaching the Pioneers he was an assistant at St. John's, Central Connecticut State and Saint Peter's.

The Purps were set to return every key contributor the 2012-2013 squad who won their conference in the regular season. That lone would have made them MAAC preseason favorites. But the DII hire did not go well with the players.

So far Niagara has lost TJ Cline, Juan'ya Green, Ameen Tanksley, and Malcolm Lemmons.That's almost 40 points per game lost by players who would have been returning.

Green: 16.5 ppg, 5 apg
Tanksley: 11.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg
Cline: (all freshman team) 7.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg
Lemmons: 3.3 ppg

Of course Niagara faced the challenge of retaining players who could leave to play for the coach that recruited them, something that maybe the university should have prevented by not approving transfers within the conference or to Hofstra. The problem with blaming that is that two big losses have been to other squads.

The lesson that AD's might want to take away from this is that if you are a mid-major who has to replace your coach you would do well to consider how well the new guy will sit with your players. It might be worth taking a risk on a big name with little experience rather than looking for the proven coach few have ever heard of.

Most of the talk about players leaving UB ended the minute Bobby Hurly was announced. Hurley quickly met with the team, fans. and the media. It was a full court press for the hearts and confidence of Buffalo backers. The name recognition helped for sure but the energy he projected seemed to fill a void left by Witherspoon.

With Niagara the lack of a big name, or an energetic coach took a bad situation and made it worse. Casey seems to be a fundamentally sound coach with a very good record at the D2 level, he qualified for the NCAA tournament twice. Still those credentials seemed to matter little to the players.