Siena fired head coach Mitch Buonaguro on Tuesday, three days after the Saints finished one of the worst seasons in program history.
As the school did three years ago after Fran McCaffery left for Iowa, Siena will begin a national search for a head coach.
Athletic director John D’Argenio, who will attend the Final Four in Atlanta, said there’s no timetable on the next hire, but the process likely would follow a schedule similar to 2010, when four finalists were interviewed before Buonaguro, McCaffery’s lead assistant, was promoted a week after the national championship game.
Siena was 35-59 (.376) under Buonaguro, including an 8-24 record this season that matched the program record for losses in a season. It was just the third time Siena has had at least 20 losses.
D’Argenio met with Buonaguro in the morning, then called a meeting of the players to inform them and give them a chance to ask questions.
The AD called Buonaguro a “consummate professional” and thanked him for being an integral part of Siena’s success under McCaffery, having “engineered the game plan for some of our greatest wins.”
“If you sit down and look at it on paper, the decision is certainly a little easier,” D’Argenio said during an afternoon press conference. “But he’s such a great person and such a great professional. I’ve never been around anybody who’s worked harder at it, which made it all the more difficult.
“He was great, and he understood. He thanked me for the opportunity, said he was sorry it didn’t work out better and just reiterated that he gave it everything he had.”
Like the school did in 2010, Siena won’t employ a search committee for the next coach, although D’Argenio said there are a few people “in strategic positions” that he will consult with before submitting a short list of names to school president Fr. Kevin Mullen.
Assistant coaches Tobin Anderson, Ben Davis and Tyler Simms were also released, and lead assistant Craig Carter will stay on to take care of some administrative duties until the next head coach is hired.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity Siena gave me,” Buonaguro said in a statement released by the school. “It’s a very special place, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my eight years here. The student athletes we have brought through the program are people the Siena community can be very proud of.
“We had some great success here, and although the last three years did not produce the results any of us hoped for on the court, I leave knowing I gave my all every day. This is a program I care deeply about, and I wish Siena nothing but the best in the future.”
“It’s unfortunate to have a season like that,” Carter said. “Coach has been a lifer, somebody I’ve known since I was 17 when he recruited me to Fairfield. It’s obviously a very somber day. He’s meant a lot to the school and the program.”
The 59-year-old Buonaguro, a native of Queens, was the lead assistant on Rollie Massimino’s staff when Villanova won the 1985 national championship and helped McCaffery and the Saints win three straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championships and NCAA tournament games over Vanderbilt in 2008 and Ohio State in 2009.
His record as a Division I head coach is less than stellar.
Besides his three years at Siena, Buonaguro was 72-103 (.411) in six seasons at Fairfield from 1985-1991, although the Stags won the MAAC tournament his first two seasons.
Siena was 13-18 overall and 8-10 in the MAAC in 2010-11, 14-17 and 8-10 in 2011-12, despite a very thin roster and 4-14 in the MAAC this season. The ninth-seeded Saints beat Marist in the first round of the MAAC tournament on Friday and lost to top-seeded Niagara on Saturday.
“At the midway point, we weren’t winning games and weren’t improving as much as we needed to,” D’Argenio said. “Then you start to sit down and say, ‘What will we do if this continues throughout the year?’ I mentioned to Mitch and the staff that we could be a .500 or better team.”
“Sometimes, things just don’t work,” Carter said. “I wouldn’t profess to know why things didn’t work. It becomes disrespectful of coach. We all know what the expectations are for Siena basketball, and we all know we fell short of that.”
Those expectations could weigh heavily on the next coach, but at the same time, the pressure may have been diminished by Siena’s record over the last three seasons, D’Argenio said.
“The great thing about this program is the great support, which leads to high expectations,” D’Argenio said. “Expectations were off the chart [in 2010]. They won’t be there now; they will be eventually. So in some ways, it might be a little easier for somebody, and still be a very attractive job.
“The nature of where we are is it’s a high-risk and high-reward program. We come in, have great success, somebody leaves for a great job and you try to come in with somebody else. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of where we are, and we’re trying to change that and have more consistency.”
Some potential candidates who appear to fit what Siena would look for and have been the subject of speculation include Cliff Warren of Jacksonville, Andrew Toole of Robert Morris, Bill Coen of Northeastern, John Becker of Vermont, Dave Paulsen of Bucknell, Steve Pikiell of Stony Brook and Richard Pitino of Florida International.
Coen interviewed for the job in 2010, and Warren, a former Siena assistant under Paul Hewitt, was contacted in 2005 and 2010.
Another name that has been thrown around, based on his professed affinity for the MAAC in general and Albany in particular, is Loyola’s Jimmy Patsos, whose team is moving to the Patriot League next year.
“It’s wide open,” D’Argenio said. “There’s no particular background or profile that we will be looking for, as long as the individual respects the tradition and history of Siena College.
“We’re looking for someone who can win championships and graduate players. Whether that’s a head coach or an assistant, so be it. We’ve gone both ways before and have had successes, and we haven’t had successes. It just has to be the right person.”
Besides finding a head coach, Siena will work hard to convince current players not to transfer, and the two incoming recruits, Troy High School’s Javion Ogunyemi and guard Stephan Jiggetts of Forestville, Md., to not change their minds about coming to Siena.
The only player Siena loses to graduation is leading scorer O.D. Anosike, one of the top rebounders in the country.
“The most important things are the guys in the program right now,” D’Argenio said. “I’m hopeful that they all stay. We didn’t have that discussion [yet]. We talked about continuing to work hard, work out, take care of your academics. We want them to stay.”
“I don’t want to speculate on who might leave and play that guessing game,” Carter said. “They still have to talk to their families and figure out what they want to do. It’s an ongoing process that could go into May or into tomorrow. Who knows? I’m hoping they all stay. I think they all know that they have a great future here and that they can still win games here with the talent they have.”