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Life without Parrotta

blog by The Canisius Griffin  • 

It’s been a busy week for Tom Parrotta. Last Friday, he paced the sideline at the MassMutual Center while coaching his Canisius Golden Griffins in the opening round of the conference tournament. By Sunday, his athletic director was holding a press conference to announce that Parrotta was out of a job.

A realtor came through the Parrotta household on Monday and said ‘change this, move that,’ before planting a big sign in the front yard. Tuesday evening, Parrotta was planning a trip down to Atlanta for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament this weekend, where he will interview for an assistant coaching position.

He looked at ease this week while entertaining reporters in the back room of a house that will shortly belong to someone else. Parrotta had the top button of a blue shirt with red stripes open as his wife, Dina, handed him a bottle of Bud Light Lime, which he poured into a tall glass and sipped before saying that if the whole losing-his-job thing had to happen, he was at least glad to get his answer quickly.

Now both sides can get over it and move on without wasting anyone’s time.

Parrotta was believed to have one year remaining on his contract, but Canisius athletic director Bill Maher told reporters late Sunday night that the final year was a school option, which Canisius decided not to pick up.

“In the end, our goal is to compete for championships in our conference,” Maher said. “We simply have not made sufficient progress toward our goal. We think it’s in our best interest if we make this change at this point in time and move forward with our basketball program.”

Parrotta had a six-year record of 64-121 and did not have a winning season. His best year was the 2010-11 season, when the five seniors of his prized recruiting class finished 15-15 and 9-9 in MAAC play. That was also Parrotta’s only team that escaped the play-in round at the conference tournament.

This year’s team finished 5-25 overall and just 1-17 in conference play. Parrotta had a 3-10 record against rival Niagara, including last Friday’s 80-70 loss in the opening round of the MAAC Tournament.

Though Maher physically wouldn’t have had a press conference Sunday night if Canisius had won in the tournament, he said Parrotta’s future was not hinging on that game.

“The loss to Niagara was not a final straw in any way at all,” Maher said. “We look at everything, we look at the full body of work over the six-year period, look at the future of our program moving forward, and make the decision we think is the best decision for us.

“I do think that we have the talent to be more competitive than we have been, and that’s been a disappointment.”

Maher said the school hopes to complete its search for a new coach in the next 4-6 weeks. Outside help may be used to aid in the process but no search firm has been formally employed at this point.

Maher also said Canisius would like to hire someone with head coaching experience and wouldn’t shy away from someone who has been successful at a lower level, noting the success of coaches like former Canisius head man John Beilein, who is now at Michigan, and current Iona coach Tim Cluess, who took a step up coming to the MAAC.

“Trying to find folks who have the ability to recruit and develop student-athletes and also have experience in coaching them would be the profile that we’re looking for,” Maher said. “Certainly, and it’s always easy to say, but someone who has head coaching experience would be preferred if we can do that.”

Rhode Island also fired its coach, Jim Baron, last Sunday. Baron has ties to the Western New York area.

Although Maher said the school has not considered any individuals yet, “if that’s a possibility, we would absolutely consider it.”

Other names are circulating in the rumor mill include, most notably, Bobby Hurley (no relation to school president John Hurley), a former Duke point guard and NBA player who is currently an assistant coach for his younger brother Dan at Wagner College, a Division I school in Staten Island.

Players, as expected, were not happy to see their coach leave. No players were immediately available for comment Sunday night but many voiced their frustrations on Twitter. Most are not from the area and viewed Parrotta as a father figure.

“I can’t even believe this,” Gaby Belardo, one of the more tenured and vocal players, tweeted shortly after the news was broken.

Kevin Bleeker, a freshman Parrotta recruited from the Netherlands, kept it short and sweet: “Damn, this sucks.”

“I feel sick,” Sean Ezeamama posted, while fellow walk-on Tyler Funk wrote that his “mind is spinning in every possible direction.”

Parrotta was well-liked on campus and received national recognition for implementing a program in which all players took summer classes and graduated with their master’s degrees in just four years.

“It’s disappointing to me, personally, because he’s the guy who recruited me,” said Chris Manhertz, who was made available during the week as a team representative. “But at the same time, you have to understand that it’s a part of the business. If you don’t win, tough decisions have to be made.

“My initial reaction was, part of me was, you know, kind of surprised, but at the same time, unfortunately, we won five games this season. So I’m sure it was hard for Bill Maher to make that kind of decision, but…”

Players with stronger emotional ties to Parrotta, Gaby Belardo in particular, were not made available this week.

Maher acknowledged the risk that some players in the program may want to leave the school following Parrotta’s departure, but suggested they give the new coach a chance before making a decision.

“That’s always a concern,” Maher said. “We’ll work with the young men in our program to lead them through that decision-making process, assist them with that process. Many of those young men, because of the progress they’ve made academically, are very close to graduating and it is my hope that they will see the opportunity of completing their degree requirements.”

Parrotta made a gambit this season, choosing to take in three transfers whom he believed would greatly help the team next season. Freddy Asprilla started at Kansas State before coming to Canisius and Isaac Sosa played about 25 minutes per game in both his sophomore and junior seasons at Central Florida. Parrotta was perhaps most excited about Jordan Heath, older brother of Josiah Heath, who showed a lot of good things in practice this year and challenged other players – his brother, especially – to get better.

Parrotta believed bringing in transfers was the way to win in the MAAC, and decided to try to build a winner for next season instead of bringing in players that would have led to more wins this year, but not make much of a difference in the big scheme of things.

But after six years and a 30-78 record against conference teams, the school grew tired of waiting for Parrotta’s results. The team he recruited may win next year, but someone else’s name will go down in the record books.

- Nick Veronica

TAGGED: canisius griffins, maac basketball, nick veronica, tom parrotta

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