Towson's Kennedy has 2-fold plan

Basketball: Once a rising star in the coaching ranks, he hopes to get the Tigers and his career back on track.

May 23, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

He was considered among the rising stars of college basketball coaching; a disciple, if not quite a clone, of Jim Valvano.

When then-34-year-old Pat Kennedy arrived at Florida State in the spring of 1986, the folks in Tallahassee didn't quite know what to make of this fast-talking New Jersey guy who had worked for and then succeeded Valvano as coach at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y.

Then again, those who run football-crazy Florida State didn't know much about basketball, big-time or otherwise.

"I'll never forget the athletic director and the president saying to me, `You've got a blank page here,' " Kennedy said recently. " `You tell us what you need and why you need it and we'll give you a few years and look at the residuals.' "

The conversations Kennedy had last month with Towson athletic director Wayne Edwards and university president Robert Caret were reminiscent of that honeymoon period. The talks led Kennedy, now 52, to decide to leave the University of Montana and accept an offer from the Baltimore County school.

Yet with all the excitement at Towson surrounding Kennedy's hiring two weeks ago, there is also the inevitable question about the way his career has unfolded. Or, as cynics might suggest, unraveled.

What happened to the rising star who took Iona to two NCAA tournaments and two National Invitation Tournament appearances in six years? What happened to the guy who, in 11 seasons at Florida State, brought the Seminoles to five NCAA tournaments in a six-year stretch and to the brink of the Final Four. What happened to the coach who was going to revive DePaul?

After having only one losing record in his first 13 seasons as a head coach, averaging nearly 21 wins, Kennedy has coached losing teams in eight of the past 11 seasons. His teams the past four years have gone a collective 44-72, including 23-35 in two seasons at Montana.

"It does bother me because I thought I was a better coach than those records show," Kennedy said.

There are circumstances behind his steady decline, and for what some might regard as Kennedy's wanderlust when it comes to his profession.

Many believe Kennedy left Florida State because athletic director Dave Hart didn't think his basketball coach was deserving of a contract extension that Kennedy publicly campaigned for after the Seminoles ended a three-year losing skid with a 20-12 season and a trip to the 1997 NIT championship game.

Kennedy says that going to DePaul was his biggest career mistake. Inheriting a DePaul team that went 3-23 the previous year under Joey Meyer, Kennedy didn't understand how powerful the Meyer family remained despite the Blue Demons' decline since the early 1980s.

"I really admired and liked Ray Meyer," Kennedy said of the program's patriarch. "Coach is really a good guy. I underestimated the effect of replacing him and his son, 55 years, tremendous friendships, tremendous loyalties. There were a lot of people who were waiting in the bushes for us."

The sniping began after Kennedy was able to keep several big-name Chicago high school stars, particularly Quentin Richardson, at home. After the team reached the NIT in Kennedy's second year, a former walk-on charged that Kennedy had given Richardson and other recruits gifts such as video games.

The school hired an independent law firm to investigate the allegations.

"We spent six figures and came up with one kid getting free pizza in the locker room after a game," said former DePaul athletic director Bill Bradshaw, now the AD at Temple. "The only question I asked was whether it was pepperoni or mushroom."

DePaul went to the NCAA tournament after Kennedy's third season, losing to Kansas in overtime, but the Blue Demons soon saw four players - Richardson, Bobby Simmons, Stephen Hunter and Paul McPherson - leave for the NBA. A fifth, Chicago high school phenom Eddy Curry, opted for the NBA after signing with DePaul and wound up with the Chicago Bulls.

Unable to replace them because of an NCAA rule prohibiting coaches to immediately fill those scholarships (the rule was recently rescinded), the Blue Demons dropped to 12-18 and 9-19 in Kennedy's last two seasons at the school.

"As soon as we stumbled, and started to fall a little bit, they [Meyer loyalists] came out of the woodwork," Kennedy said. "I went through a two-year period of time that was extraordinarily difficult. I really got worn down. It was the first time in my career that I felt like, not like I could have not successfully fought back, but it made no sense for me to fight back."

Shortly after a season-ending loss at Marquette in 2002, Kennedy resigned. He had five years left on a seven-year contract and the parties negotiated a settlement. He told Bradshaw that he planned to go into broadcasting.

"He was frustrated," Bradshaw said. "He had already been contacted [by ESPN]. I was surprised a few weeks later when he accepted a job at Montana."

Off to Montana

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.