The goal for Greg Fahey was to get into coaching men’s college basketball, and the job he’d landed working as a freshman high school head coach and varsity assistant at St. Benedict's Prep in New Jersey was a strong first step for someone just out of college and without any significant playing experience of his own.
That role, though, paid him less than $3,000. He needed a second job to make his situation work. So it was with enthusiasm that he informed his mother that he’d also picked up a full-time gig at the Baltusrol Golf Club, shining the golfers’ dress shoes while they played and their cleats when they were done.
That news was met with a long stare from mom.
“You,” she reminded him, “just graduated from Marist.”
Fahey laughs about that now, seeing the humor in it that he didn’t quite see back in 2013.
“But it was just about getting any job that I could that was done by 2 so I could go coach by 3,” Fahey said. “I was in.”
Now 28 years old, Fahey was recently named the director of basketball operations for head coach Carmen Maciariello’s first coaching staff at Siena College. It’s already been a long road for Fahey to reach such a position, and one he knew would be tough to travel since he never played a second of college basketball. At Marist, he worked as a team manager for four seasons and tried to soak up as much knowledge from that experience as he could. From there, he took advantage of any opportunity he could to learn more about the game or network himself as he tried to secure a full-time gig coaching college basketball.
“Everyone is on their own path and I’m extremely happy to be here and have a legit job on a staff,” said Fahey, who worked last season as a graduate assistant at Providence and first met Maciariello several years ago when Fahey coached a player at St. Benedict's Prep that Maciariello recruited as a George Washington assistant. “You’ve just got to be grateful for it because they’re only just so many spots like this in the world.”
Those spots are harder to secure for those without college playing experience on their resume. Recently, though, both of the Capital Region’s Division I men’s programs have had individuals without college playing experience on their coaching staffs.
At Siena, Fahey and assistant coach Bob Simon never played in college, while three of last season’s Saints assistants — Graham Bousley, Ryan Devlin and special assistant A.J. Register — didn’t play college basketball.
Meanwhile, at the University at Albany, Ty Conyers served last season as the program’s director of basketball operations. Like Fahey, Conyers served as a manager during his college years and has served in a variety of roles with college basketball programs since graduating from UAlbany in 2014.
For Conyers, his path is now set to take a slight detour — but an exciting one.
After spending the last two seasons working for head coach Will Brown at UAlbany, Conyers — who spent the 2017-18 season as the Great Danes’ video coordinator — recently accepted a position with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs as a basketball operations assistant with the organization’s scouting department. That’s a new type of job for the 26-year-old, but it’s become what’s next for Conyers after spending the last year-plus trying to make as many contacts with key players in NBA front offices to grow his personal network beyond the college game.
“You have to spread your wings and try new opportunities. You have to kind of know that every year could bring something different,” said Conyers, who said his goal remains to become a college or professional head coach. “In this industry, you know you’ll have to move around — and maybe a lot.”
In a twist, Conyers — who has spent six of the last eight NCAA seasons as a member of the UAlbany program in some fashion — credits former Siena head coach Jamion Christian for helping him to see the value of connecting with as many people as possible within the basketball world’s landscape. Conyers said he was a candidate for a job with one of Christian’s teams at Mount St. Mary’s, but that after he didn’t get the position he stayed in touch with Christian who always encouraged him to make as many contacts as possible.
“From then on,” Conyers said, “I started networking like crazy.”
Along with Brown, Conyers said Christian — who now is the head coach at George Washington — was one of his key references for securing his position with the Spurs.
“He’s really good at the networking piece,” Brown said of Conyers, who unsuccessfully tried out for UAlbany’s team as a walk-on when he was a sophomore. “Especially in this business, it’s about the networking and who you know.”
Beyond that, though, hard work matters. That’s what made Conyers initially stick with UAlbany as a team manager after his failed playing tryout.
“His big thing was that he wanted to stay involved in the game and wanted to be around the game,” Brown said. “[Being a manager] was a job he took seriously and you could always rely on him. No task was too big or too small for him, and that was true regardless of if it was his first year with our program or his last.”
That’s the kind of work ethic Fahey has developed as he has made stops coaching high school basketball, AAU basketball with the Albany City Rocks and Division III college hoops on his way to breaking into the Division I ranks last year.
In a way, it’s a path fairly similar to that of the one Simon traveled. Simon got his first job on a Division I coaching staff in 2000 at Toledo after starting as a high school coach in 1981 and moving to the Division II college level in 1991.
“The whole time I was in the high school ranks, I was either [a student] in college or working a full-time job outside of the school,” said Simon, who worked for years in sales and started coaching high school basketball when he was a college freshman. “And all my vacation time was either spent traveling with my team to away games or going to team camps, elite camps, position camps.”
Besides Toledo, Simon’s Division I stops include Fairfield, Providence, Alabama and Maine. He’s coached long enough to see different hiring trends come and go, but sees the landscape becoming more favorable for non-players to get into the coaching game.
“There’s just so many trends and so many different ways to get into it,” Simon said. “If it comes down to anything, maybe it’s persistence and trying to develop relationships. If you can do that, maybe that will open the door for you.”
To make up for his lack of playing experience, Fahey said he spent extra time working on his relationships with players and improving his knowledge in terms of skill development.
“Kids,” Fahey said, “are always going to value you, especially when you’re younger, if you can demonstrate a drill instead of only explaining it.”
Fahey’s relationship with Maciariello started several years ago, and helped him secure a spot last year on head coach Ed Cooley’s staff since Maciariello previously worked for Cooley.
“He’s more like part of my family,” Fahey said of Maciariello. “It’s not often you can work in this business with people you consider family.”
That relationship, Maciariello said, made Fahey his top target for Siena’s director of basketball operations gig — a position that is as demanding as it often is thankless for its holder.
“I know he’s not going to let me down and he’s going to do whatever is asked,” Maciariello said. “And when you do a great job in that role, you prove you can take that next step.”
Taking that next step, obviously, appeals to Fahey. Where is he now, though, compared to where he was a few years ago, is several steps ahead of when he needed to work construction or shovel snow to make ends meet as he started building a coaching career.
“I was working all kinds of crazy jobs when I was coaching high school to try to get to here,” Fahey said, “so I’m just grateful.”