LOUDONVILLE — Siena College wants to conduct the search for its next men’s basketball head coach as quietly as possible.
And, even after an 8-24 season, Siena men’s basketball remains a big deal in the Capital Region.
That popularity, combined with the ability for information — and misinformation — to spread quickly now through social media, makes that task extra difficult.
Siena gets that.
“It’s the expectation when you go into it and it’s a high-profile situation, that there is going to be a lot of speculation and innuendo. You just have to try to block it out,” said Jason Rich, Siena’s director of marketing and communications. “It’s like spaghetti against the wall in a lot of ways. People get a little bit of information or hear something from sources that aren’t credible, and they push that narrative.”
So, even before the college announced last Friday that it had accepted former head coach Jimmy Patsos’ resignation amid what continues as an ongoing investigation into the men’s basketball program, potential replacements for Patsos became a source of speculation.
At that point, everyone knew — they knew — Le Moyne head coach Patrick Beilein was set to become the next Siena men’s basketball head coach.
He has the proper pedigree as the son of John Beilein, currently coaching at Michigan as part of a career that included a tour in the MAAC with Canisius. Patrick Beilein, too, has had success of his own at Le Moyne in a short stint at the school, a tenure which included a win last year at Siena in an exhibition game. Plus, he is a young coach at an institution similar enough to Siena to makes his candidacy for the Saints’ job a logical one.
And, as of Thursday afternoon, Beilein still has not been contacted by Siena.
That’s according to Le Moyne athletic director Matt Bassett, a Capital Region native and son of former Catholic Central boys’ basketball coach Don Bassett. Matt Bassett said it has been interesting, to say the least, to see Beilein connected to Siena and other jobs — Beilein reportedly turned down an offer weeks ago to become the Marist head coach — but there is only smoke, no fire, at this point when it comes to Beilein heading to Loudonville.
Bassett said he speaks with Beilein each day, and it is no secret between the two men that Beilein eventually wants to run a Division I program. The lack of secrecy regarding Beilein’s career aspirations, Bassett said, leaves the athletic director confident he’d know right away if Beilein was approached by another school in this cycle of the coaching carousel.
“But I’m not sitting by my phone for [that call], either — and I promise you Pat’s not sitting by his phone, either,” Bassett said. “In his heart and his mind, he’s all-in [at Le Moyne]. It’s been business here as usual, but with an awareness his name has been floated as a candidate. He’s not unaware of it. I’m not unaware of it.”
Last Friday, Siena athletic director John D’Argenio directly addressed a question about if Beilein had already been contacted about the opening.
“We have not had any contact with any coaches [or] any coaches’ representatives,” D’Argenio said. “So, no.”
Also that day, though, D’Argenio gave this response to a question about what characteristics Siena would look for in its new coach, an answer which seemed to suggest someone from a school such as Le Moyne had a good shot at the job: “We certainly want somebody that’s going to embrace Siena, has had an experience like Siena, embraces what we’re trying to accomplish as a college and what we’re trying to accomplish as a basketball program — and, again, embraces Siena and it’s traditions and values.”
This week, D’Argenio has not responded to multiple interview requests pertaining to the college’s coaching search, and Siena has also not made available school president F. Edward Coughlin — who released a statement last Friday about Patsos’ resignation.
“At this time, we’re not going to be commenting on the process itself,” said a Siena athletics spokesman. “We don’t have any public comment at this time on the search process or any potential candidates.”
And, this week, things heated up regarding one particular candidate — or non-candidate, depending how you read things.
A report in the Albany Times Union suggested Rick Pitino, fired from Louisville last year amid scandal, could be interested in coaching at Siena. Pitino eventually weighed in on the matter to a number of media outlets, offering semi-contradictory answers as to whether he would want to coach the Saints, stoking the flames of a storyline that became a national one during a shelf life that (seems to have) died down after a few days.
Rich Ensor, the MAAC’s commissioner for the last three decades, has watched a lot of coaching searches unfold during his tenure, and has a wide range of experience interacting with them. He has served as a “sounding board” for some MAAC athletic directors — he said he has spoken to D’Argenio about Siena’s search — and has occasionally served as a reference for search firms, of which Siena is believed to have hired one.
His response to the idea Pitino — a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member who had his 2013 national championship victory with Louisville vacated — was in the running for a MAAC job?
A mix of a groan, laughter and bemusement.
“Somewhere in between all that. But I understand the business model, and sometimes names are being floated just because the individual is looking to get their name floated,” Ensor said. “But I also recognize there’s a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes — and what you read about is often not what’s taking place.”
In past years, Ensor said, MAAC coaching searches did not garner much media attention, but that Siena has long been an outlier in that regard because of the amount of media outlets in the Capital Region which devote resources to covering the school’s men’s basketball program. Now, though, Ensor has grown to expect every MAAC coaching search to generate at least some coverage, fueled with a rumor mill that churns . . . and churns . . . and churns.
“It’s all changed with social media,” Ensor said. “Everybody is an expert.”
D'Argenio on Siena's past coaching searches: “If I look back, maybe we could have taken a little more time.”— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) April 13, 2018
Full @dgazette story on today's @SienaMBB fallout after Jimmy Patsos' resignation: https://t.co/DVbGzX1H4i pic.twitter.com/1P6SVLZ0hu
That has played — and will continue to play — a large role in the narrative around Siena’s coaching search until it concludes.
“It speaks to the relevance and prominence of the program in the area, and the interest people have in it,” said Jason Rich, who previously served as the college’s assistant athletic director for communications. “From that standpoint, we recognize it’s a really important decision and that a lot of people care deeply about the future of the program.”
And Siena, with good reason, won’t offer any type of official comment on any name that is out there in connection to its opening. That doesn’t serve the school’s best interest in finding the right person to rebuild its flagship athletic program.
“It’s a balance between having to respect the process and knowing that making statements about any candidates or even giving details as to who is involved in the search committee, the process itself, could really jeopardize the ability to get the candidates you want,” Rich said of the school’s approach.
Meanwhile, it is certainly possible Siena’s next coach will end up being one of the names already part of the public dialogue regarding the opening.
After all, there have been a lot of them.
To start, there were Beilein and Syracuse assistant Gerry McNamara. Pitino’s interest — or lack of interest? — could allow him to resurface again. Plus, there is any assistant coach tied to Fran McCaffery . . . or any current college head coach out there with past Siena assistant coaching experience . . . or Paul Hewitt . . . or former Siena players, such as Marc Brown or Carmen Maciariello, already coaching at some college level . . . and there are local coaches, such as Skidmore’s Joe Burke, looking to make a leap.
You get the idea.
Siena does, too.
“From a fan perspective, that’s part of the fun of it,” Rich said. “But we can’t get caught up in it.”