Joe Milhalich’s move to Hofstra is a stunner. The 56 year old Milhalich has spent some fifteen years at Niagara winning more than he lost and being a big fish in a relatively small pond. Milhalich could have probably retired from Niagara University and had a building on campus named after him like Taps Gallagher, but he decided to leave.

When the story broke two weeks ago that Milhalich was interviewing for the Hofstra job he denied it to the media. Normally in any other line of work that would be understandable because why upset your present employer before you have a chance to accept a job you haven’t been offered yet. However, in the world of college athletics coaches always let it be known they are being sought after by another school because it gives them leverage for a contract extension. Milhalich did that several times while at Niagara.

Obviously Milhalich had an interest in leaving Niagara, despite his media denials, and I guess I’m wondering why?

Niagara University has a brand new College President in the Rev. James J. Maher, but I can’t imagine that would give Milhalich any reason to leave. Unless there is something brewing within the department that Milhalich is aware of and wants to get out first, but I honestly doubt that. Perhaps he wasn’t getting along with first year Athletic Director Tom Crowley?

The Milhalich era was not without some controversy. There were several off the court incidents that resulted in suspensions, the most high profile incident in 2006 involving Charron Fisher and five other players who assaulted a NU baseball player. However, the program never received any sanctions by the NCAA and Milhalich never had any recruiting violations.

I was never a big fan of Milhalich’s bench coaching. Too often the players went one on one, forcing too many turnovers and playing out of control. I also wondered publicly why Milhalich dismantled the Niagara Basketball Booster Club, an organisation that supported Purple Eagle basketball for decades and held wonderful tip-off dinners.

Yet there was no denying Mihalich’s ability to recruit athletes with offensive skills. Most seasons Niagara was in the upper tier of offensive teams nationally and he brought excitement to the Gallagher Center on campus.

The next hire to replace Joe Mihalich will an important one for NU. Whoever it is they will inherit a young talented team, capable of playing for another MAAC Championship for at least the next two years. Some are already hoping that Reggie Witherspoon re-surfaces at Niagara after being let go by UB.

For better or worst the quest for a new men’s basketball coach at Niagara University will be much more high profile than the hire of new President Maher. That’s just the nature of Division I athletics and especially at Niagara where basketball is still king.

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