Prosser jumps Loyola, but will he skip away?

March 15, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

On his first day at Loyola, Skip Prosser said, "The effect going to the NCAA has on a small, private college in a city is unbelievable. The place is electric on Selection Sunday, and I'm used to that kind of excitement. I'm not done living that."

Pretty prophetic, wouldn't you say?

Prosser smiles at the memory, recalling that it was April Fool's Day when he unveiled his bold vision, joking that "the irony wasn't lost on me, either." He was taking over a 2-25 team. Friends had told him that Baltimore was "college basketball oblivion."

Less than a year later, Loyola is set to compete in its first NCAA tournament, with a first-round game against Arizona on Friday. Prosser displayed such accurate foresight once, it's now meaningful to ask, what vision does he have for himself?

The question already is gnawing at Loyola, because suddenly Prosser is the definition of a hot coach. For a small, private college, the downside of making a great hire is that one day he -- or she, in the case of Loyola women's coach Pat Coyle -- is almost certain to depart.

Prosser, 43, gives every indication of being the rare coach who returns loyalty, but what if Clemson made him an offer tomorrow? Forget the three years left on his contract. Forget his genuine passion for Loyola.

He couldn't refuse.

Indeed, Loyola athletic director Joe Boylan began considering the inevitable on the heady drive back to Baltimore from the Greyhounds' triumph at the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament in Albany, N.Y.

"You know what this is going to mean, don't you?" he asked school president Thomas Scheye.

Scheye said that he did, reaffirming the commitment made by the late Father Joseph Sellinger when Loyola went Division I in 1981. Sellinger believed that Division I athletics enriched the collegiate experience. The electricity surrounding the men's and women's NCAA entries at Loyola is a tribute to his memory.

So now Boylan is talking about Loyola "doing what it can" for both Prosser and Coyle. Prosser's salary is believed to be in the $60,000 range. Boylan said the school might use part of the revenue generated by its NCAA appearance to give him a raise, and do the same thing with Coyle.

Let the faculty scream -- the men's and women's basketball teams generated more exposure for Loyola in the past week than the biology department ever will. The problem is, Loyola can extend itself only so far. If a big-time school beckons, all Boylan can do is throw up his arms and wish Prosser well.

The intriguing thing about Prosser is that he wouldn't necessarily jump at the first offer. Heck, he got into coaching by accident. His first job out of the Merchant Marine Academy was as a history teacher at the Linsly School in Wheeling, W.Va.

As Prosser puts it, "private schools are always dying for coaches." Linsly had openings for freshman football and basketball, and Prosser had played both sports. "My first game, we were down 16-0 at the end of the first quarter," he recalls. "It was 22-0 before my team ever scored."

But not long after, Prosser caught the bug. It was at Linsly where he met Pete Gillen, then the coach at Virginia Military Institute. Gillen asked Prosser about a player he was recruiting. Little did Prosser know that the conversation would change the course of his career.

Prosser kept in touch with Gillen after moving to Central Catholic High in Wheeling. He spent six years at Central Catholic and won a state championship, then became one of Gillen's assistants at Xavier in 1985.

"He offered the job to 91 other guys, and finally got down to me," Prosser says, only half-joking. He never actually interviewed for the job. He talked with Gillen from a phone booth on Route 7 in Eastern Ohio, with trucks in two lanes roaring by.

Prosser said he could have stayed in Wheeling forever, and the same went for Cincinnati. Yet, this is not a man who lacks ambition.

"Sometimes in life you've got to say goodbye to what you know, andhello to what you don't," he says, quoting from a movie based on William Faulkner's "The Reivers."

Gillen taught him "never say never," so Prosser won't guarantee he'll fulfill his four-year contract at Loyola. But he said he has not received a single job inquiry -- not even from Dayton, where he'd be a natural fit for Xavier's in-state rival.

"I really haven't had time to think about it -- it hasn't entered my mind," Prosser says. "I feel extremely comfortable here. There's a lot of me that is very, very loyal to Joe Boylan, Dr. Scheye and these kids.

"They didn't have to hire me. I was a guy who had never been a Division I coach. I'm not sure there's a lot of loyalty out there these days. But that's the way I was brought up. It's a major factor."

He still thinks of himself as a teacher first. He wants his team mottoes -- "Play Hard, Play Together" -- to apply not only to basketball, but also the real world. His coaching philosophy comes from that noted hoopster, Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Our chief want in life is someone who will make us do what we can."

No, this is not the second coming of Larry Brown. Then again, Loyola isn't a Clemson or Dayton, either.

So, will Prosser receive offers?

Boylan won't even venture a guess.

"I'll say one thing," the AD says with a chuckle. "If we beat $H Arizona, then it's for sure."

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