Best And Worst At Towson: How To Solve Great Polarity
By Simon Habtemariam
On Jan. 7, 2012, the Towson Tigers made history.
A 75-38 loss to Old Dominion University marked the 35th consecutive loss by the men's basketball team, an NCAA Division I record. The Tigers' streak dates back through two different coaching staffs.
Pat Kennedy, lost his last 20 games during his final season as Towson's coach. First-year coach Pat Skerry's 2011-12 squad has yet to right the ship his predecessor steered off course. It's a monumental task, one that second-year athletic director Mike Waddell said he thought Skerry was the right man for.
"Hey, if it were easy, it would have already been done," Waddell said. "It's also a 24/7 job, but winners in any walk of life usually live the job more than 9 to 5. This is where I know that we will be a successful program, as I see this commitment from our entire staff improving with each passing month."
Conversely, it was announced shortly before Towson's record-setting basketball loss that football coach Rob Ambrose was the 35th recipient of the Eddie Robinson Award for Football Championship Subdivision Coach of the Year.
A feat that was accomplished overnight, right? Not exactly.
Going into 2011, Rob Ambrose had a 3-19 record stapled to his résumé from his first two years as the Tigers' coach. The Tigers, who were picked to finish dead last in the Colonial Athletic Association, turned the tide this season, posting a 9-2 regular season record to win the CAA championship in 2011.
Ambrose's success came from strategic recruiting on the prep and college levels, a surge in administrative support when Waddell took over and two intense years of building his roster. Ambrose's approach seemed like a systematic audit of a Fortune 500 company: He installed his new standard of operations, cut the fat of players that wouldn't profit the company in the future and developed his remaining resources, along with a pool of talented transfers.
A valuable lesson Skerry could learn from Ambrose is being patient, and setting the right chess pieces in play. Skerry's relationship with Ambrose is growing, a positive sign coming from an institution that is now desperate to resurrect one major sport and experienced in resurrecting another.
"We have a great relationship," Skerry said. "I went to all their games and I even invited Rob to come give our team a pep talk before the Oregon State game. Rob and his wife and family have been very good to us. They are good role models to have."
Skerry's staff has been hard at work from the start. Similar to Ambrose's situation, Skerry's first signs of hope came from the people with whom he has surrounded himself. An arsenal of well-connected recruiters up and down the East Coast -- Luke Murray, Kevin Clark and Kenny Johnson -- has already been recognized nationally with the No. 6-ranked incoming recruiting class, according to CBSSports.com.
"More than ever, kids pick their schools because of the staff bringing them in," said Skerry, who spoke highly of his assistants.
The next step will be to weed out existing players who will not contribute to winning games in the future and rebuild the roster. Skerry's roster returns only one letter winner from the previous regime, so the demolition factor has been taken care of. Now, it's on to building.
"Winning on the court does not come unless you are doing the little things right." Waddell said. "Winning habits have to be established throughout a coach's and athlete's entire life, and from that comes success."
Skerry said he emphasized maximum effort and maximum concentration in practices. The effort has been there, as seen during the Tigers' 57-50 losing battle against the Virginia Cavaliers -- ranked No. 23 in the country at the time. But concentration has not been the forte of this roster, which has only one upperclassman. This is evident in the conference's worst ball-handling team, which often scores fewer points than it gives up off turnovers alone.
Skerry now needs to bring in and grow talent. While he is surrounded by administrative support, financial resources and a valuable relationship with the Tigers' best program builder, the new coach does not intend to lie down and wait for the Promised Land to arrive.
"I'm not a patient person," Skerry said. "I want this done and I want it done yesterday."
Issue 169: January 2012