Towson picks Pittsburgh assistant Pat Skerry as men's basketball coach

April 04, 2011|By Ken Murray, The Baltimore Sun

Towson University turned over its moribund basketball program to Pat Skerry on Monday, giving the Pittsburgh assistant a five-year contract -- on a three-year timetable -- to perform resuscitation.

"The judging point will be three years from now," Mike Waddell, Towson's new athletic director, said from Houston, where he and Skerry agreed to terms. "Where are we then, and will we be better off than we were three years before?"

Waddell's three-year vision is tied to the opening of Towson's $68 million arena for the 2013-14 season. The university is counting on Skerry to deliver a competitive -- and compelling -- team by then in the torrid Colonial Athletic Association.

In Skerry, 41, the Tigers get a New England recruiter who has traveled up and down the East Coast in search of opportunities. A head coach at 26 at Division III Curry (Mass.) College, Skerry has held six assistant jobs in 15 years since then, most recently at Pitt (one year), Providence (two) and Rhode Island (three).

That diversified resume became a selling point for Skerry.

"Every move he made was an upwardly-moving job," Waddell said. "I wanted somebody who had played [Tufts, 1989-92], somebody who had great communication skills, who had a variety of experiences in a variety of programs at all levels.

"To have that critical Division I experience was very important. When you have that for an extended time, it gives you contacts. The player development piece is big, too. This was the best fit for us."

Skerry joined Jamie Dixon's staff at Pitt a year ago and recruited 6-foot-8 McDonald's All-American Khem Birch for the Panthers. In 2009, he helped bring Providence the 35th-best recruiting class in the nation, according to HoopScoop. And in 2006, he delivered the 24th-ranked class for Rhode Island.

But can he recruit Baltimore?

Waddell said Skerry has recruited here, but that he likely will need to hire an assistant familiar with the area. Pat Kennedy, Skerry's predecessor, couldn't take advantage of local talent, and instead went the junior college route. He produced a 36-90 regular-season record in the CAA over seven years at Towson.

Waddell whittled a list of 50 candidates to two by Sunday, then introduced them both to outgoing university president Robert Caret at the Crown Plaza Hotel 30 miles outside Houston. One prominent candidate, Xavier's Pat Kelsey, withdrew from the process earlier.

Of all the coaches he spoke with, Waddell said that only Skerry had "a contract [placed] in front of him."

"I don't accept the premise there is a better name out there," Waddell said. "Pat is a great fit for Towson. He was in [consideration] for the Providence job. He brought in some strong recruiting classes and he's a pretty damn good person. Where are those other people right now? How many of them are in different places right now?"

Waddell brought his four-week search home one day early; he said he wanted to identify his coach by the time the Final Four ended in Houston. His success as an administrator will be directly tied to Skerry's.

Towson has suffered 15 consecutive losing seasons and has a meager, 10-year record of 48-132 (.267) in the CAA. Kennedy's first team went 5-24, and his last went 4-26, including 0-for-19 in the CAA.

Skerry, a native of Medford, Mass., returned to Pittsburgh on Monday and was not available for comment. He will be introduced at Towson on Tuesday in a 2 p.m. news conference, a function that should lift the pall surrounding the basketball program. Last week, junior forward Braxton Dupree, the team's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer this season, withdrew from the school.

Change is coming.

"I'm ready to get started," Waddell said. "The losing needs to stop. This is where we go forward. Every day we will get better.

"Pat is absolutely prepared, without a doubt, to be head coach at Towson University. The guy is tenacious, and he has an incredible work ethic."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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