If you watched Mike Griffin’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute men’s basketball teams over the last three decades, you got the definite impression that the veteran coach was always in a hurry.
Most of his teams, especially in the last 10 years or so, raced end-to-end, substituted freely and scored 80, 90 or 100 points a game quite frequently. Hurry, hurry, hurry.
Now, Griffin can finally slow down.
The veteran coach recently announced his retirement from both the basketball team, and his other responsibilities, including as the assistant athletic director, at the end of the month.
After Griffin became RPI’s 13th head men’s basketball coach in 1984, he compiled a lifetime record of 402-382 and led the Engineers to eight postseason appearances overall and three NCAA tournament berths (1991, 1996 and 2009). He was named Coach of the Year five times. His teams won at least 17 games eight times, and won 20 or more twice. In 1990-91, the Engineers won 18 straight games.
“I guess in the last three or four years, we’ve kind of gone to extremes with our offense,” said Griffin with a laugh. “Even before that, through 2000 or so, we were always looking to play fast. I enjoyed the transition offense. We tried to get it, shoot it and go after it.”
Griffin, the program’s all-time leader in victories, said most of his teams adapted well to his quick-paced attack.
“The only variation from year to year was on defense. We had to decide whether to fall back into halfcourt or pick up and press right away. It was fun, and I enjoyed it,” Griffin said.
Griffin said his fast-paced offense also had another advantage, because it put more players into the game and gave them experience.
“When they became juniors, they had already been in a lot of close games and played plenty of minutes. We were able to give experience to the entire roster, not just seven, eight or nine guys,” he said.
Griffin said he had no trouble recruiting players who were math, science and technical-oriented students.
“I just told them that I expected the same commitment from 4-6 p.m. in practice as they gave from 8-4 p.m. in the classroom. Some of the guys had a hard time with that, but once they committed, we were just fine,” he said.
The Dormont High School (Pa.) and Columbia University graduate averaged 12.5 points per game as a junior with the Lions, good for second in the Ivy League behind Princeton’s Bill Bradley.
His coaching career included assistant coaching stints at Columbia, the University of Vermont and RPI, where he served under Billy Kalbaugh.
Griffin was the head coach at Division I Colgate for six seasons and was also the head coach at Thiel College for one year.
Griffin coached more than 40 all-league honorees, five league players of the year and was named the Marvin H. Anderson Award recipient as RPI’s Coach of the Year, according to his peers, on three occasions.
“Mike Griffin’s time at Rensselaer is marked with incredible successes on the basketball court,” said RPI athletic director Jim Knowlton in a press release. “But what is even more impressive is the impact that he has had on hundreds of young men during his time as our coach. Mike has provided opportunity for growth both on and off the court. He has helped many to achieve at levels they never thought possible, and that will truly be Mike’s legacy at Rensselaer. We are going to miss him dearly.”
Griffin said he has no immediate plans during his retirement.
“Being here at this school, I’ve seen and been through a lot of changes, including improvement in our facilities and more women on campus,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed the school and my colleagues. With all the great student-athletes, I’ve been very fortunate to be here. I know I’ll be around campus, though. I’ll still come over and watch the guys play. This is a group of people, whether they are adults or college students, that I consider my guys. I’ve had a great time.”