Boylan is spark behind Loyola renaissance

March 08, 1994|By Bill Tanton

When the Rev. Harold E. "Hap" Ridley, S.J., takes over as president of Loyola College on July 1, there are a few areas that should not be a problem for him.

The college is noted for its Sellinger School of Business. Its departments of education and speech pathology are also outstanding.

There is at least one other department gaining renown. That's the athletic department, which has been on the upswing since Joe Boylan took it over in December 1990.

There were pockets of excellence before Boylan came to Evergreen. Men's lacrosse and soccer have been in NCAA championship tournaments. Women's lacrosse has been in the top 10. The golf team has been winning conference championships.

But there were two embarrassing problem spots. They were in basketball, the sport for which Loyola traditionally has been known, the sport that's supposed to lead the athletic program. Two years ago men's and women's basketball were dead in the water. The women were 6-21. The men reached their nadir last year. They were 2-25.

Now the Loyola women, having won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament championship in Albany, N.Y., Sunday, are headed for the NCAA Division I tournament next week. And the men, winners of 17 games so far this year, have, for the first time in Loyola history, earned a spot in the 64-team NCAA tourney.

During the weekend the Greyhounds defeated St. Peter's and beat heavily favored Canisius in the MAAC tournament.

And last night in the championship final Loyola upset Manhattan, 80-75, in a game that told the world that the Greyhounds truly have arrived under new coach Skip Prosser.

What's important is the big picture: In one year Loyola's men have gone from two wins to 17 with at least one more game to go, they have been on ESPN for the first time -- and won. And they are in The Big Dance.

If you don't think last night's basketball game has brought renown to Loyola, consider:

ESPN estimates that the game was seen nationwide in 693,000 households. That translates to "well over 1 million people," according to the cable network. That's more people than have seen Loyola play in person since sports began at the college in 1908.

How did things improve so dramatically and so quickly?

Answer: Joe Boylan. There can be no other answer.

It was Boylan who hired second year women's coach Pat Coyle. He knew her when he was an assistant coach at Rutgers and Pat was a star basketball player there.

And it was Boylan who chose Prosser last April from 125 applicants.

"Both coaches have touched the campus," Boylan said yesterday.

Boylan found Prosser at Xavier University, where he was assistant to coach Pete Gillen.

Gillen is probably one of the 10 most respected coaches in the country, but almost every year he's rumored heading somewhere -- to Virginia, to Notre Dame.

At the NCAA convention a year ago, Boylan was having lunch with Xavier's athletic director, Jeff Fogelson. At that time the two schools were considering a conference alignment.

"If Petey did leave Xavier," Boylan said, "where would you go for a coach?"

"I'd go right down the hall," Fogelson said, "and offer the job to Skip Prosser. He's ready."

That was good enough for Boylan. Already Prosser has proved he's good enough for Loyola.

In fact, Prosser says he wants to do for Loyola in Baltimore what Xavier has done in Cincinnati, what DePaul has done in Chicago, what St. John's has done in New York. And after last night who's to say he won't?

Boylan has done more than hire two basketball coaches. He has humanized an athletic department that, under his predecessor, Tom Brennan, was dispirited and devoid of morale.

Dave Cottle, the coach who built the lacrosse program, typifies the feeling of the coaches about Boylan.

"Joe is a tremendous A.D.," Cottle said. "He knew exactly what he wanted in a coach and he went out and found it. Every hire he's made has been great."

Thomas Scheye, Loyola acting president and overseer of the athletic department, values Boylan's contribution.

"Not that we haven't made mistakes in the past," Dr. Scheye said, "but I think we have it right now."

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