On the same day Providence College parted company with Keno Davis, athletic director Bob Driscoll spelled out very succinctly the expectations he has for the Friar basketball program.
“It encompasses three different things. One, I want our student-athletes to represent the college and athletic department with dignity and class, both on and off the court,” was how Driscoll began. “I want my student-athletes to graduate from Providence College and I want to compete for a NCAA Tournament berth on an annual basis. Those are the standards by which I evaluate.”
Driscoll looked this reporter right in the eye as he delivered his State of the Friars address. He needed little time to collect and ultimately regale his grandiose, big-picture thinking, implying that the A.D. is truly sincere. People can spend their entire lives searching for the arc within one’s self, yet Driscoll sees no need to dawdle. He comes across as the type of guy who knows exactly what to look for when he ventures to the supermarket, mainly because the grocery list is written out in advance.
The question is whether Driscoll’s foresight is merely wishful thinking. Expectations are nice to have, but at the moment it’s best to deal with the here-and-now. These are tough times for the basketball and ice hockey programs, and not because both are in the market for new coaches. Each Friar team is in need of some repair work, hence why it behooves Driscoll to realize that in order for Providence to become one of the most respected athletic departments in the country — a line he mentions time and again — the pieces must be in place.
You have to crawl before you can walk. In PC’s case, you have to climb out of the nether regions by placing one foot in front of the other before you are allowed to talk a good game about raising the bar. Having the right coach in place would get the ball rolling in the right direction. Shortly after the last bit of confetti falls to the ground from the introductory press conference comes this reality: the coach has to land players who have the skill set to compete at a high level – that’s for both programs – and disciplined enough to behave accordingly away from the court, a problem that dogged the Friars under Davis’ watch. That would ameliorate the situation to the point that perhaps we can cite Driscoll’s three-prong wish list as something other than a pipe dream.
It’s about winning games, pure and simple. All the other details that come with running upper crust Division I athletics will iron out in due time. Without winning, Providence will continue to fade even deeper into despair. In college sports, you either keep moving forward or risk swimming against the current. Middle ground is not an option.
The fact that basketball and hockey – two sports worth their weight in relation to revenue and exposure – are facing long climbs back to respectability and relevance also illustrates that PC athletics as a whole are at an important crossroads. That’s why it behooves Driscoll and president Rev. Brian Shanley not to whiff on these impending hirings. Having the correct people in place is essential, the lesson learned from the ill-fated regimes of Davis and Tim Army.
PC is getting a mulligan, a do-over that it has no choice but to deliver on. Otherwise we can pencil in more of the same, which needless to say isn’t at all promising or encouraging.
Essentially both programs are hunkered down in the same barren spot of their respective league’s pecking order. With consecutive 4-14 league finishes (men’s hoops) and missing out entirely on postseason play three straight years (men’s pucks), it seems appropriate to place them on the same “things can only get better” boat and set sail far away from the Big East or Hockey East basement.
How that becomes a reality is what PC officials should be asking themselves as they scour the landscape for two new coaches.
A coach is only as good as the recruits he signs off on. Under Davis and predecessor Tim Welsh, PC wasn’t able to knock heads with Louisville, Syracuse, Connecticut, Pittsburgh and many other conference foes and bring in high-end talent. Ditto for Army when it came to excavating the same mines that Boston College and Boston University have already picked over. You can debate that forever but the truth is that come game-time, PC often stood at a clear-cut talent disadvantage.
Can that change with new blood in the coach’s chair? Anything is within reach, providing the correct pieces are in place. That’s the key here. It’s not about modeling oneself after Villanova or Marquette – two Big East programs that have yielded plenty of fruit despite being linked to the same Catholic school/lack-of-big-time football ideologies that have haunted Providence. PC must blaze its own trail, and must do so with a firm sense that though the road might be rocky in the beginning, a splendid taste of prosperity awaits – providing all the proper channels and measures are taken.
Providence College needs basketball and hockey to become relevant again. It’s ironic that both programs are being resuscitated at the same exact moment. It also shows that the only place to go is up, up to the beliefs Driscoll clings to.