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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Props for Powell after Christian Selection

I first spoke with Jamion Christian in May 2010, days after he lost out on the Mount men’s basketball head coaching job to Robert Burke.

I had sent Jamion a Facebook message asking if we could talk on the phone. He said yes even though we hadn't met. All I wanted to ask was whether he was interested in being one of Burke’s assistants, but he told me more.

"I wouldn’t go for the first assistant job, no disrespect to coach Burke, but my goal is to be a head coach at Mount St. Mary’s one day or be a head coach at some level at some place," Jamion told me nearly two years ago.

At the time he was William & Mary’s second assistant. He added back then: “I think we’ve got something truly special going on here that I’d really only leave to be a head coach somewhere.”

(He left William & Mary to be a VCU assistant under Shaka Smart that offseason, so I guess he was only half-lying.)

Fortunately for the Mount, that day came years sooner than expected. And while Jamion deserves congratulations, I’m also happy to credit one of my biggest editorial targets: President Thomas H. Powell.

It’s no secret I didn’t like the Burke hire. I thought Brion Dunlap or Jamion should have been selected. The Mount not only needs a good coach, but someone who understands the campus. The students, administrators, local residents – the combination of them is unlike anywhere else. We do things “differently.” Mostly with pride, but sometimes with thinly-veiled shame.

So it’s important, not only to passionate alums, but for the good of the university, that we make the most of our limited resources. In 2010, Powell miserably failed to do that, and Burke shamed us on and off the court because of it.

This time, though, was different. We were scared by rumors that Burke assistant Matt Henry, who finished the season as interim head coach, was a shoe-in for the job. Not scared because of Henry himself, but because no one else was going to be considered for the school’s biggest coaching job. But the more days that passed, the less frequent the search updates.

Then, one glorious Friday night in March, word leaked that Jamion had gotten the job. This was great not only because the class of 2004 graduate meets the aforementioned requirements to coach at the Mount, but also because of how he was chosen.

Athletics director Lynne Robinson had a say, as did other prominent, athletic-minded people who care about the Mount. Powell proactively sought their opinion, to the point that they were surprised. Lynne was even included in the initial press release and led the press conference this time.

So I salute you, Dr. Powell, for a job well done. As much as I respect your efforts on the west side of campus, I don’t think you have much to add in the east, and that’s not meant as an insult. There are, however, some great people working in the ARCC, and others who have moved on, but know Knott Arena far better than you. (Again, not an insult.) I thank you for being part of the well-informed group that chose Jamion. I look forward to returning to Jim Phelan Court next season to watch the Mountaineers in action.

By the way, I already donated $100 to the annual fund this year, and that was before you hired Jamion. Just wait until 2013. For the money and the basketball.

Monday, March 5, 2012

As Mount Falls, Colonials Enjoy Continued Success

In 2008, Mount St. Mary's men's basketball won the Northeast Conference championship. Best three weeks of my life.

The next year, we lost the championship to Robert Morris on a BS buzzer-beater. The year after that – my final as head manager – the Colonials beat us in the semifinals en route to their second consecutive title.

That offseason, Mount head coach Milan Brown was hired by Holy Cross while Mike Rice left Robert Morris for Rutgers. Robert Morris replaced Rice with his assistant, Andrew Toole. Brown was replaced by outsider Robert Burke, whose qualities included his "devotion to Catholicism." (I wasn't happy, but I kept an open mind.) Brown's first assistant, Brion Dunlap (yes, my friend), was shunned, and joined his boss in Worcester.

Two years later, Toole's troops will play their fourth consecutive title game Wednesday (this with their best player suspended the entire season). Meanwhile, in Emmitsburg, Burke was placed on administrative leave Feb. 15, and there hasn't been an update since. (UPDATE: Burke's resignation was announced shortly after this post went live.) The seventh-seeded Mount lost a first-round road game by 19 in last year's NEC tournament and didn't even qualify this season.

Funny how Robert Morris, the program that opted for an in-house hire, had a smoother transition, and maintained its success.

Of course, Mount president Thomas H. Powell's quotations were all over the press releases announcing Burke's hire in May 2010, but athletic director Lynne Robinson wasn't even quoted. (Even the video for the press conference has been removed.) Then, when Burke was abruptly placed on leave, only Robinson was quoted.

If Burke doesn't return, maybe Robinson should ever-so-graciously be allowed to lead the hiring process this time. You know, since it's her job.