New coach wants Towson's passion for game re-ignited

Kennedy realizes building winning program requires taking steps slowly, surely

College Basketball

May 11, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Pat Kennedy came prepared to his introductory news conference as Towson University's new men's basketball coach yesterday at Unitas Stadium.

Kennedy, 52, had read up on the school, the program and the team he was inheriting from one of his former Florida State assistants, Michael Hunt, who resigned last month after three losing seasons and a 23-63 record.

In stating why he was interested in leaving Montana for Towson after spending a good portion of his 24-year career at bigger schools in bigger conferences, Kennedy recalled the words of Irish poet William Butler Yeats.

"He wrote that education is not about filling a pail, but it's about lighting a fire," Kennedy said. "The thing is that when I came for the interview, a fire was lit far beyond the first part of the process to when I left.

"Now our job is to light a fire with our men's basketball program."

The hiring of Kennedy represented what university president Robert Caret called "a huge step" in upgrading an athletic program that has made significant strides in football and lacrosse, but not in basketball.

Caret, who handled the search process with athletic director Wayne Edwards, said the university met all its requirements in finding a new coach.

"We wanted a coach who could win; you're always looking for that," Caret said. "But we also wanted a coach who could put the Baltimore region on notice that we are serious about our athletic program, our basketball program in particular. We wanted a coach who could recruit instantaneously and quickly and had a lot of experience in this region."

Terms of Kennedy's contract were not announced, but Edwards said it was a multi-year deal that will give Kennedy "enough time to get the job done." Kennedy was on a year-to-year contract at Montana and lost a lot of job security when the athletic director who hired him resigned earlier this year.

Kennedy, who grew up in New Jersey as part of a family immersed in the coaching business, will be working on the East Coast for the first time since he left Iona 18 years ago.

"It's like a homecoming for me," said Kennedy, whose wife, Jeanne, is from New York. They have three children. "We're really looking forward to it. It was very important. I would not want to underplay it."

Nor would he overstate how quickly he can rebuild the Tigers' program, which hasn't had a winning season since 1995-96 and hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since going to two straight in 1990 and 1991 under Terry Truax.

Though Caret joked that part of the university's goals was for its men's basketball team to make the Sweet 16, if not the Final Four, the reality is how difficult it could be just to get an NCAA bid.

"Our job obviously, to become valuable to the university and to the community, is to create a winning program," Kennedy said. "It's not always easy. There are going to be some baby steps.

"It will be built better if it's built correctly and built slowly."

Kennedy plans to meet with his current players this week, as well as with the assistants who helped during the transition period after Hunt's resignation. But he also will start recruiting immediately and called the inquiries about possible assistant coaching positions "overwhelming."

Of the returning players, Kennedy said: "We want them here and we want them to know that they're a very important part of what we are going to be doing. They are the building block that we will start with. The youngsters that are here now are very special to us."

Kennedy also will try to make many former players who have lost touch with the program a part of the rebuilding process.

"We've got to link the tradition of the student-athletes who played here," he said. "We've got to try to explain to people that there is a good tradition here. It takes a lot of time. Tradition is something we'll have to build our way through. I see that as a particular drawback right now."

Despite eight losing seasons in the past 11 years, including the past two at Montana, Kennedy's 416 career victories tie him with Louisville's Rick Pitino for 19th among active coaches.

Kennedy is also in familiar territory: rebuilding another team, as he did at Florida State and DePaul.

"I often loved just building programs, the excitement of just building something," Kennedy said. "What do you inherit, what do you do with it and how you leave it is a great legacy for what you're capable of doing. In my life, this is a great time for me."

Kennedy's record

Season School W-L Postseason

1980-81 Iona 15-14

1981-82 Iona 24-9 NIT 1st round

1982-83 Iona 22-9 NIT 2nd round

1983-84 Iona 23-8 NCAA 1st round

1984-85 Iona 26-5 NCAA 1st round

1985-86 Iona 14-15

1986-87 Fla. State 19-11 NIT 2nd round

1987-88 Fla. State 19-11 NCAA 1st round

1988-89 Fla. State 22-8 NCAA 1st round

1989-90 Fla. State 16-15

1990-91 Fla. State 21-11 NCAA 2nd round

1991-92 Fla. State 22-10 NCAA Sweet 16

1992-93 Fla. State 25-10 NCAA Elite Eight

1993-94 Fla. State 13-14

1994-95 Fla. State 12-15

1995-96 Fla. State 13-14

1996-97 Fla. State 20-12 NIT final

1997-98 DePaul 7-23

1998-99 DePaul 18-13 NIT 2nd round

1999-2000 DePaul 21-12 NCAA 1st round

2000-01 DePaul 12-18

2001-02 DePaul 9-19

2002-03 Montana 13-17

2003-04 Montana 10-18

Totals 416-311

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