On a blustery April day, Hurricane Jimmy blew into town on Wednesday.
With that, Jimmy Patsos began the job of pumping some life into the deflated Siena basketball team.
The school introduced its 16th head coach at a press conference followed by a pep rally, and Patsos certainly brought pep to the proceedings, in his inimitable way.
He also brings substantial success at his previous job as head coach at Siena’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference rival, Loyola. Not only did Patsos’ Greyhounds win the MAAC tournament two seasons ago, but he raised that program from the ground up.
The Saints are coming off three straight losing seasons, but historically have been one of the best teams in the conference. By hiring the 46-year-old Patsos, Siena was willing to give him a chance to show that he can do as good a job of rebuilding their program as he did at building Loyola’s.
In a sometimes rambling but always compelling press conference in which Patsos’ energetic personality repeatedly bubbled to the surface, one clear theme emerged: his desire to someday get a job like this.
“I was jealous for nine years,” Patsos said. “I always really wanted to coach here, I would love to have all the things they have and, really, what I mean is the fans.
“It starts with the fans and the players. Six NCAA appearances, five NITs. But in two days, I could feel why you guys win so much. Because you’re all in.”
Patsos received a five-year contract from Siena.
Citing school policy, athletic director John D’Argenio declined to disclose terms other than the number of years.
Patsos replaces Mitch Buonaguro, who had three losing seasons, most recently an 8-24 record that matched the program record for losses in a season.
Loyola was 145-135 in nine seasons under Patsos, including 47-21 the last two seasons.
He got the job over three other finalists, Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole, VCU assistant Mike Rhoades and George Mason assistant Mike Wells.
“It became clear that he was more than just a personality, more than just a recruiter,” D’Argenio said. “I talked to many coaches, and they all told me that his teams all play hard, they execute as well as anyone in the MAAC, they screen as well anyone in the MAAC and his student athletes love to play for him.”
D’Argenio said Siena would not have pursued Patsos had Loyola not decided to join the Patriot League next year.
Patsos will begin workouts next week with the current Saints, who are losing just one player to graduation, star forward O.D. Anosike.
A slow-it-down team on offense that played mostly zone under Buonaguro, Siena will shift to Patsos’ preferred style, a pressing team that will look to run at every opportunity.
“I just want to run, press and score,” Patsos said. “I like ‘first-team-to-80-wins.’ And there’s going to be some bumps in the road when you play like that. But that’s OK. My mother kept telling me to get on the merry-go-round, and I got on the rollercoaster every time.
“There’s some good pieces here, but I didn’t see them play fast [this season]. Playing fast and playing slow are different. I’m not saying which way is better. But if you’re going to play for the Heat, you might not be a good player for the Spurs. That’s what I’m going to find out.”
Patsos spoke to the team Wednesday morning.
He said part of the appeal of coming to Siena was the weight the school’s name carries on the mid-major level.
“My first five years, I’d go in and say, ‘I’m from Loyola.’ They’d say, ‘Marymount?’ ‘No.’ ” Patsos said. “ ‘Chicago?’ ‘No. And if you say the place in New Orleans that has 10 students, I’m walking out the door.’ Loyola’s a great place, but you walk in and say ‘Siena,’ and everyone knows Siena basketball.
“We have to beat Albany, too, by the way.”
“This is a basketball decision, and there’s nothing that keeps fans happier than winning games,” D’Argenio said. “He has that, and he also has the personality and the people skills.
“He has the experience, and what I like is that he went to Loyola and rebuilt a program.”
A jump by Siena to the Atlantic 10 has been the subject of speculation, and D’Argenio said the coaching prospects were interested in whether Siena would be making a move out of the MAAC.
He said the school hasn’t been approached by another conference, so it’s a moot topic.
“Since there’s nothing there, it was really hard to talk about it,” he said. “We said what we’ve said all along … if someone’s interested enough, we’ll sit down and listen and do what’s in the best interests of Siena.”