Maciariello ‘more comfortable being uncomfortable’ as he readies for 100th game leading Siena men’s basketball program

Coach smiling on the sidelines

FILE - Siena’s head coach Carmen Maciariello.

A disappointing defeat concluded, a 71-66 overtime loss at Manhattan, Siena men’s basketball head coach Carmen Maciariello expressed confidence his club would quickly reset with a game looming against Niagara.

“We’ll be ready,” Maciariello said. “These guys are resilient. They’re tough-minded.”

Now tied for first place in the MAAC standings with Rider ahead of their 2 p.m. Sunday matchup with Niagara, a lot of that attitude and approach for the Saints comes from their fourth-year head coach. A graduate of Shenendehowa High School and Siena College, the 44-year-old Maciariello’s 100th game leading the Saints takes place this weekend against Niagara at MVP Arena in Albany.

Maciariello’s tenure has been a successful one for the Saints. Siena is 25 games over .500 during Maciariello’s first 99 games, and the Saints won at least a share of the MAAC regular-season title in his first two seasons and seemed on their way to playing in the 2020 NCAA tournament prior to the sport’s shutdown amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. This season, Siena appears poised to collect a 20-win season and contend for the MAAC’s spot in the NCAA tournament.

A Division I assistant coach for 11 seasons before he succeeded Jamion Christian as the Saints’ head coach, Maciariello said he’s learned a lot since he was promoted from Siena assistant coach to head coach in 2019. Key among those lessons has been how to better handle the day-to-day grind of life as a head coach and how to offer what the club needs from him. 

“I’m learning to be looser. I don’t think you need to be uptight. Your team feeds off how the head coach is,” Maciariello said this past week. “So I want to have energy and enthusiasm, but I don’t want to have that tightness where [players are] like, ‘Coach doesn’t want us to make a mistake,’ and it’s more, ‘Hey, we’ve been coached — the coaching’s been done on the practice floor — so let’s show everyone what we’ve worked on and how good we’re getting.’”

For Maciariello, fostering that type of approach started with adjusting his own. Since becoming a head coach, Maciariello said he’s become “more comfortable being uncomfortable.” A large part of that has been learning that what made him a successful assistant coach isn’t necessarily the same as what he needs to do to be a successful head coach.

“Like, with preparation, as an assistant, you’re basically programmed to know all the other team’s plays, know all their tendencies, know what are they going to do offensively, know what are they going to do defensively,” Maciariello said. “As a head coach, you kind of have to be able to trust more. You have to know the meat and potatoes of things — and not over-coach. We’re better when we keep it simple with our guys.”

For Maciariello, part of that has come to mean not over-loading players with how to handle hypotheticals. Game prep needs to be sophisticated, but not complicated.

“I think I’ve learned how to adjust on the fly and to be ready to adjust, as opposed to thinking I have to prepare [for every situation] and put my guys through that, too,” Maciariello said. “I’m just the one that has to be ready for those moments within the game.”

Each of Maciariello’s Siena teams have produced a winning record, and the current club could guarantee that continues as early as midway through this month. Each of the teams and seasons, though, have been quite a bit different. Maciariello’s first club featured a championship-caliber roster that he molded into a force by the time March arrived. Maciariello’s second season leading the Saints included another talent-rich group, but one that needed to navigate a full season amid the pandemic. Last season’s club, especially in hindsight, was very much one that served as a transition season for the program, which now has a restocked roster and whole-heartedly expects to contend for a MAAC championship next month.

There’s pressure to be successful for every college basketball coach. Wins and championships combine to create stability in a current job for coaches, as well as offer them the chance to be in the running for higher-level jobs. 

Within the MAAC, though, coaching at Siena comes with extra pressure, as the school’s fan base is larger than elsewhere. This season, Siena’s MAAC-leading average home attendance of 6,359 is just slightly smaller than the combined attendance of the three programs — Fairfield, Iona and Mount St. Mary’s — that directly follows Siena in that category.

How to deal with pressure, especially for someone coaching at an alma mater, is another area Maciariello said he thinks he has made progress in handling as he has served longer as a head coach. 

“You want to do well, so badly,” Maciariello said. “So, you’re grinding and you’re working — but I think my family helps with that. Being able to have my [children Reese, Matteo and Caden] and my wife Laura at home helps. 

“And my wife is a phenomenal coach’s wife. She gets it. She knows when I need to go for a walk, or get a workout in or go watch some football to decompress.”

A win against Niagara (7-5 MAAC, 12-9 overall) keeps Siena (9-3, 15-8) very much in control of its path to the top seed for the MAAC tournament. The goal for the Saints is to dance this March, and securing the No. 1 seed in the MAAC tournament offers the club the best path toward doing that. 

But Maciariello keeps his club on a day-to-day, game-by-game focus. That’s what a lot of coaches say, but not all can do. As he’s grown “more comfortable being uncomfortable,” Maciariello said he’s developed more of an appreciation for savoring each step. It’s why he made sure his club celebrated its win last weekend at Marist, a relatively nondescript January victory that Maciariello praised to his players “is part of the journey,” toward a championship, and why Maciariello said a result like Friday’s “should hurt” for the team before it turned the page.

“You have to stay present in these moments,” Maciariello said.

Contact Michael Kelly at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMichaelKelly.

Categories: College Sports, Siena College, Sports

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