Jimmy Patsos is known for his eccentricities, at least compared with other college basketball coaches. He might be the only Division I coach in the country with a tattoo, a peace symbol etched into his left forearm by a well-known Los Angeles artist. In his six seasons at Loyola, he has taken his teams to museums, historical landmarks and Broadway shows on road trips.
"I torture the players with culture," Patsos said.
Two of his more highly publicized moments of on-court quirkiness came in the same week two years ago in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament, when he went into the stands to talk with Joe Boylan, then Loyola's athletic director, about an official during a game in Boston, then had his players double-team Stephen Curry to hold the Davidson star scoreless during a 30-point loss.
It gave Patsos the kind of publicity that would have made P.T. Barnum smile and Patsos' friends smirk.
So when rumors circulated this spring about Patsos leaving the comfort of his North Charles Street domain to become an assistant coach again — either at St. John's or Maryland, where he worked under Gary Williams for 13 seasons — some wondered whether the 43-year-old coach was losing his mind or about to lose his job after the Greyhounds won 12 and 13 games, respectively, the past two seasons.
Turns out it was neither, at least according to Patsos, who said in a recent interview that he plans to stay at Loyola to finish what he started when he inherited a 1-27 team.
"I'm extremely happy here at Loyola," Patsos said, sitting in his tiny third-floor office at Reitz Arena. "I'm lucky I'm at a place like Loyola. I really like my president. Really know all the deans. The new AD is going to be really good. It's good being a head coach. When I got here, we were not only 1-27, there was no program. There were no shirts, no schedule. We built this from scratch. We've changed the culture of the basketball program."
Patsos said whatever discussions he had with newly hired St. John's coach Steve Lavin and Williams had more to do with the changing landscape of college basketball and the escalating salaries of assistant coaches than with his own wanderlust or the insecurity that comes when a new athletic director takes over. Jim Paquette replaced Boylan, who recently retired.
"All of this is a part of the way college [basketball] has changed in the money for assistants," Patsos said. "Six years ago, this would have been unheard of. Now, I wouldn't say I wouldn't do it, but there's a lot of money out there at these schools. Those are going to become more like gold."
The St. John's rumor began when Patsos showed up at Madison Square Garden to watch the National Invitation Tournament and was seen by reporters talking with Lavin during a game and later as they walked together out of the building. "Mistake No. 1," said Patsos, who added that Lavin did gauge his interest in joining what the former UCLA coach and ESPN analyst referred to as his "dream team" of assistants, a group that includes Mike Dunlap, Tony Chiles and Rico Hines.
The second was more serious. Patsos had worked his way up from graduate assistant to one of Williams' valued lieutenants during a time when Maryland was one of the best teams in the country, reaching back-to-back Final Fours and winning the national championship in 2002. It didn't help that Patsos and Williams decided to have dinner one night at Congressional Country Club, where Williams is a member.
What started out as two friends and sports junkies catching up on their recently completed seasons while watching Game 7 of the Washington Capitals- Montreal Canadiens playoff series went quickly from grill-room gossip to Internet chatter to an article in The Washington Post saying that Patsos was expected to replace Chuck Driesell, who had left to become the head coach of The Citadel.
"Did [Williams] have an opening on his staff? Sure he did," Patsos said. "Did he offer me the job the night we had dinner? No. We just talked about coaching, then he had to go away and I had to go away. I get home at 1 in the morning and I have 17 messages on my phone. Were we hiding in the backroom? No. It was a great little discussion of what if, and maybe when."
Patsos, who has three years left on his Loyola contract with an option for a fourth, acknowledges that the discussions became more to the point a week later when he and Williams met for dinner at a local restaurant. But in the end, it was Williams who talked Patsos out of pursuing it further.
"Gary said: 'Think about this, all the work you've put into building the basketball program and all the recognition the school has received' — most good, some bad. 'Is that something you'd consider walking away from?' " Patsos recalled. "He asked me: 'Do you like the school? Do you like being a head coach? Do you like Baltimore?' Absolutely. I live here. I'm dug in here. He said, 'Then don't worry about it.' "