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UAlbany coach Brown finds his home in a place he never left

UAlbany coach Brown finds his home in a place he never left

Will Brown is not the same guy as the rookie head coach who took over a fledgling Division I UAlbany
UAlbany coach Brown finds his home in a place he never left
University at Albany head men's basketball coach Will Brown talks with director of basketball operations Lucious Jordan, one of his former players, on Thursday. UAlbany announced Thursday it had reached an agreement with Brown on a five-year contract e...
Photographer: Mark McGuire

Will Brown is not the same guy as the rookie head coach who took over a fledgling Division I UAlbany men’s basketball program back in 2002.

“When I got the job as a 29-year-old kid,” the 44-year-old said Thursday, “I wanted to win, and I wanted to [move on and] coach the Celtics, or coach at Kentucky or Duke.

“That was the mindset. That was the eagerness. A little naïve.”

His wife, Jamie, was pregnant with their first son back then. Jackson is 14 now. Landon, the younger son, is 6. Fifteen seasons, five NCAA trips and flirtations with bolting to St. Bonaventure (2007) and Dartmouth (2010) later, Brown is still roaming the SEFCU Arena sideline. That sardonic kid on the bench is now the dean of America East coaches — 15 years now at the uptown campus.

And on Thursday, UAlbany announced an agreement with the coach on a five-year contract extension (the maximum allowed at New York State schools) that would keep Brown through 2020-21. The deal bumps his salary 55 grand, to a $350,000 base salary per year and a car allowance.

That is not stratospheric in the Division I basketball coaching world, but it’s mighty fine living in the Capital Region.

And Brown, who once saw UAlbany as a stepping stone, has come to see the school and the region much the way many other Great Danes coaches have: As a landing spot, not a rung.

Bob Ford in football. Doc Sauers in basketball. Roberto Vives in track. Chris Cannata in softball. Jon Mueller in baseball. All have been at UAlbany as long if not longer — or much longer — than Brown. Phil Sykes (field hockey) has 12 years in, MJ Engstrom (women’s volleyball) nine.

See the pattern?

Mark Benson, the athletic director who arrived in late August 2014 from Old Dominion, thinks that string of longevity is not a coincidence.

“UAlbany is a great place to work.” Benson said. “I think the Capital Region is a great place to live.”

Jamie Brown, admittedly biased, agrees, although she never thought she would be here today. From Cohoes and a graduate of Ballston Spa, the coach’s wife relishes the fact she has been able to stay in the region and raise her family here.

“When you marry someone in this position, you have to prepare yourself not to be in the same place,” she said. “Will is very, very happy here.”

Brown has been the hot young coach — several times. After the Great Danes came within 10 minutes of knocking off No. 1 UConn in UAlbany’s first-ever Division I NCAA appearance in 2006, it appeared it was a matter of time before he would be gone.

But time is a funny thing.

After two NCAA appearances came three lean years. In 2010, the ship got righted, and three straight America East championships arrived from 2013-15. A fourth was waylaid by an upset loss in the conference tournament last March.

Now Brown is tied with Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun with five America East titles. He has 17 victories in the league tournament, second most all-time in the conference and the most with one school. According to UAlbany, his players have had a league-record 19 America East All-Academic selections.

It takes time to accomplish all that.

Brown is no longer a kid. He is not ancient by any standard, but rather established. His career objective now is not the Next Big Job, but longevity — one of the most elusive goals in coaching.

“In this business, stability is difficult. Longevity is tough,” Brown said. “If you are in a situation where you have a good job . . . you need to take that job and put a bear hug on it. As each year has passed, I’ve learned to really appreciate this job.”

Brown (or another school) would not have to pay a buyout if he leaves during the new contract. (UAlbany would owe the coach a year’s pay if they fire him without cause.) But he’s happy here. His family is happy here. Accidentally, over time, he built his career here.

So what if Kentucky called now?

“I’d be a fool not to listen,” he said.

Let’s be real here.

THE RIVERS RATS ARE BACK . . .

. . . For two nights only.

In a blindingly obvious good move, the Albany Devils will wear Albany River Rats throwback jerseys on a pair of Saturday nights this season, Nov. 26 and March 25.

Homerism aside, the River Rats jersey was merely the coolest in hockey. You can argue that fact . . . but you would be wrong.

The River Rats were the AHL affiliate of the Devils from 1993-2006, including the Calder Cup championship season of 1994-95. From 2006-10, the River Rats were affiliated with the Carolina Hurricanes. When the Devils returned to the Times Union Center, they ditched the River Rats name and logo in favor of the parent club moniker.

It will be good to see Rowdy again.

SIENA AD IN ST. JOHN’S MIX

Siena College vice president and athletic director John D’Argenio was named in various New York media reports earlier this week as one of the final candidates for the athletic director position at St. John’s.

D’Argenio has been Siena’s full-time athletic director since April 1993 after serving as the school’s acting athletic director from the start of the 1992-93 academic year.

Along with D’Argenio, Iona athletic director Rick Cole, Marquette deputy athletic director Mike Broeker and Wisconsin senior associate athletic director Terry Gawlik were reported as finalists. Cole previously worked at St. John’s while Broeker is a Siena graduate.

D’Argenio didn’t return messages seeking comment.

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