By: Joe Pantorno Editor-in-Chief
It was going to take a special place for Joe Mihalich to leave Niagara. After 15 years at the upstate school, which included two trips to the NCAA Tournament and three more to the NIT, Mihalich has taken a new challenge, being appointed Hofstra men's head basketball coach on Tuesday night.
"It all happened really quick," said Mihalich. "I said I would only leave [Niagara] for a great opportunity. This was a chance to do something else and it is entirely perfect."
Being introduced to the Hofstra community on Wednesday afternoon, Mihalich laid down his objectives to the program and gave the men's basketball program something it has not experienced in quite some time: optimism.
"This school remains committed to having a top tier basketball program," said Hofstra President Stuart Rabinowitz. "Joe Mihalich is a winner...he's going to stay here for a while."
It took 19 days for Athletic Director Jeff Hathaway to find Hofstra's new man after the firing of Mo Cassara.
"I wanted a man who was able to sift through the recruiting process and tie down recruits," said Hathaway. "We're going to talk about how to build and rebuild a championship culture here at Hofstra."
Mihalich, who followed statements from Rabinowitz and Hathaway, might not be entering the best situation, but he immediately showed commitment to right Hofstra's ship as he wasted no time in talking x's and o's.
"We like to play fast," said Mihalich. "You have to dance with the girl you brought so we have to see what kind of guards we can bring in. I think the up tempo style is fun to play that way and fun to coach that way."
Having just met their new coach, some key role players have expressed their excitement for the program's new look less than a day into Mihalich's new regime.
"He gave the most phenomenal first impression ever," said forward Stephen Nwaukoni. "It's comforting, I can feel that love he has towards his players already. I can feel that positive energy and that positive spirit."
"I didn't know any of them, Jeff [Hathaway] just put me in a room with them, I took the coat off and hung out with them for like a half hour," Mihalich said. "We could still be there right now talking. It was just great. Not because of me, but because of them."
The former Niagara coach has his work cut out for him early. With only four scholarship players (Nwaukoni, Moussa Kone, Jordan Allen, Darren Payen) still with the program, Mihalich will need to act quickly to fill up the roster.
There are rumors that he will bring a few of his players and assistants from Niagara which raises the question of the status of Hofstra's current assistants, Sellers, Wayne Morgan and Steve DeMeo.
"All I know as of now is that we're going to have a great staff," said Mihalich. "We're taking this one day at a time, but I've worked with great guys and I know we'll have a great staff here."
Hofstra is coming off a 7-25 season that saw six players in total arrested; there are concerns about the school's standing in the Academic Progress Ratings (APR). If Hofstra does not meet the basic requirements, the NCAA will penalize the program.
"Anytime you lose players and those APR points, it's a concern," Hathaway said. "But we'll find out how much of a concern it is over the next year."
While Hathaway scopes out the big picture, Mihalich will zone in on his players and getting them back on the court.
"These players want to be good," said Mihalich. "As a coach you pick up on that right away and I can't wait to coach people like that."