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Mixed Feelings On Patsos' Departure

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

 

April 12, 2004 COLLEGE PARK — A lot of people associated with Maryland basketball experienced mixed feelings over the departure of long-time assistant Jimmy Patsos. There was elation that one of the truly good guys in the game had gotten an opportunity to be a head coach. There was disappointment that an assistant who loved the Terps and everything they are about would no longer be part of the program. Patsos spent 13 seasons on the Maryland staff, starting as low on the totem pole as possible and rising all the way to second assistant. Along the way, Patsos did just about every job imaginable, from organizing the Gary Williams Basketball Camp to scouting to ultimately recruiting. So Patsos was well-prepared to become the head coach at Loyola College in Baltimore, which set the NCAA record for consecutive losses this season en route to a 1-27 campaign. It will take all of Patsos' boundless energy and enthusiasm to turn around such a downtrodden program, but there will be a lot of people rooting for him. Patsos, an outgoing and gregarious sort, made an awful lot of friends during his tenure in College Park. Just about all of those who had gotten to know him well — and that included sports information personnel, high-level boosters and members of the media — loved the 38-year-old Boston native. Perhaps no one will miss Patsos more than the Maryland beat writers, who could always count on the thoughtful and well-spoken assistant for an enlightening quote, an interesting nugget of information or a few behind-the-scenes tidbits. Williams himself, of course, isn't exactly the touchy-feely sort. Truth be told, he has become somewhat of a loner over the years. He doesn't have many close friends or special confidantes, and he seems to like it that way. Patsos was one of the few people in Williams' life who fit into both categories. The head coach developed a soft spot in his heart early on for Patsos, and vice versa. That may be why Patsos endured for so many years at or near the bottom of the coaching ladder, and why Williams didn't hesitate to promote him after Billy Hahn left for LaSalle. Patsos received a big salary boost upon being named the No. 2 assistant for the Terps, and he earned additional raises after his promotion. That was welcome news to those who remember Patsos working as a bartender and manager of the Fifth Edition nightclub in Georgetown in order to make ends meet back when he was a volunteer assistant. Observers often wondered how Patsos could take having Williams scream and curse at him on the bench, but the reality was that 13 years in that position eventually made the protege almost a mirror image of the mentor. In fact, part of Patsos' job was to relay Williams' messages to players, and he often did so with much of the same foul language and venom used by his boss. "Patsos is like Gary Williams Jr. They act exactly the same way," former Maryland guard Juan Dixon said recently. "If you didn't know better, and saw them going off, you'd think they were both crazy." Dixon's statement, which he obviously meant in a flattering way, helped explain the special relationship between Williams and Patsos. Perhaps no assistant from Boston College, Ohio State or Maryland has been as similar in personality to the intense, fiery head coach. Whether it was like father-son or brother-brother, Patsos revealed the feelings he had for Williams after Maryland captured the ACC Tournament in March. It was a monumental moment in the near Hall of Fame career of Williams, and nobody was happier than Patsos, who understood what the accomplishment meant to his boss. "Gary Williams deserves this. He's accomplished just about everything in coaching, but this was one of the things missing from his rÈsumÈ," Patsos said. "I'm thrilled right now because Gary Williams is my guy. He's always been my guy. I've had opportunities to leave for other jobs, but I always stayed because of Gary." It was thanks largely to Williams that Patsos got his first head coaching job. Williams is a friend of Loyola athletic director Joe Boylan, and he quietly pushed Patsos as a candidate. Patsos quickly tapped into his Maryland connections after landing the Loyola job, as the early word was that Greg Manning Jr., a fundamentally sound but athletically limited guard from the Atlanta suburbs, would accept an offer to join the program as a walk-on. Sadly, the son of the former Maryland great is probably already better than most of the guards on the Greyhounds' roster. Meanwhile, Maryland fans shouldn't be surprised if center Will Bowers also eventually winds up at Loyola. The freshman seven-footer was recruited by Patsos, and the two are extremely close, intelligent sorts who enjoy discussing intellectual topics. Bowers was very concerned in March about Patsos' potential departure and told friends he would consider going wherever his favorite assistant landed. Patsos would never take Bowers as a transfer without Williams' blessing, and that is not likely to come during this offseason. Williams almost always waits two years to determine whether one of his recruits has what it takes to succeed in the ACC, and one-time reserves Matt Slaninka and Kelly Hite serve as two of the more recent examples of that philosophy. Elsewhere, good fortune for Patsos probably will mean at least another year of waiting for Dave Dickerson, as Williams probably won't let his top two assistants depart in the same year. Insiders predicted that Williams would use a heavy hand to keep Dickerson on staff, likely while offering a salary increase that would make it worth his while. Sure enough, it was announced in early April that Dickerson had been elevated to associate head coach, and a nice salary increase came with the new title. Dickerson, who was briefly a candidate for the James Madison vacancy this spring, will be expected to decline any other potential openings this year. Now Williams must make a much tougher decision, whether to elevate Matt Kovarik to the No. 2 assistant spot. Kovarik has done little to distinguish himself in his three seasons on the Maryland staff, and the consensus is that Williams would be wise to bring in a more seasoned assistant to fill the No. 2 slot. Kovarik, a former backup point guard at Maryland, passed up law school to fill the opening created by Hahn's departure, and he may revisit that decision. One name mentioned prominently as a possible replacement for Patsos is Mike Lonergan, the highly successful head coach at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He's certainly a savvy strategist and clearly has significant experience as a recruiter, but he would face a major adjustment in going from the Division III level to the ACC. If Kovarik leaves the program, another name to keep in mind is former Maryland star Keith Booth. Patsos proved a pleasant surprise as a recruiter, using his strong connections with the California-based Pump brothers to land Nik Caner-Medley, Ekene Ibekwe and D.J. Strawberry, who played for the same AAU program. Of course, Patsos developed that relationship as a result of having been at Maryland for so many years, as the Pump brothers also fund the squad that has played exhibitions against the Terrapins for many years. Whoever gets the job will need to hit the ground running and make sure Maryland stays in good standing with Patsos' former targets, most notably California stars Andre McGee and Amir Johnson. Cochran Surprise Upsets Defense Most good college football coaches, including Maryland's Ralph Friedgen, organize every aspect of their programs down to the last detail. When it comes to personnel, that means setting things up so there is at least one experienced player at each position, and allowing youngsters to gain some seasoning as backups before they're asked to carry heavier loads. So one can imagine Friedgen's displeasure when linebacker Jamahl Cochran recently announced, to the surprise of many, that he was going to graduate early and forfeit his final year of eligibility. Friedgen reportedly met twice with Cochran in an unsuccessful effort to get the player to change his mind. Cochran was slated to start at the Leo linebacker position for the third straight season. Having a solid veteran such as Cochran manning that hybrid end-linebacker spot was going to allow defensive coordinator Gary Blackney to move promising junior-to-be Shawne Merriman to strong-side linebacker. Merriman, a dynamic defender with the ability to fly around and make big hits, was to replace departing senior Leroy Ambush. However, Cochran's abrupt exit forced Blackney to keep Merriman at the Leo and left no experienced player at the strong-side spot. A pair of sophomore walk-ons, David Holloway and Jeris Smith, entered spring camp one-two on the depth chart. The fact that neither youngster has played a meaningful minute at the college level was a definite concern to the coaching staff. Holloway (6-2, 228), who at least appeared in two games last season, runs well and is the better of the two in coverage. Smith (6-2, 233), whom the Terps seriously considered offering out of Liberty High in Eldersburg, Md., is stronger and better against the run. "Jeris can line up against the tight end as good as anyone, but can he walk out in space to get the dive guy?" Maryland linebackers coach Al Seamonson said. "Meanwhile, David is more athletic and can do more in space, but does he have the strength to go up against the tight end? If we could mold the two of them together, we would have the complete player at that position." One full week into camp, Holloway was one of the more pleasant surprises. He has proven to be a playmaker, making interceptions and forcing fumbles. Whether that ability transfers over to real game remains to be seen, but so far Blackney and Seamonson have been encouraged. Holloway, out of Albany Academy in Stephentown, N.Y., comes from good bloodlines. His father, Brian Holloway, was an All-Pro with the New England Patriots. David Holloway has been named defensive scout team player of the week twice in his brief career with the Terps. Coaches also have been impressed with the performance of recruit Eric Lenz, a 2004 signee who enrolled in January after graduating early from Urbana High in Ijamsville, Md. Lenz (6-4, 220) is easily the most versatile member of the incoming class, as he played tight end, wide receiver, defensive end, linebacker, punter and placekicker in high school. He also blocked five punts, an ability that has not gone unnoticed and may earn him a special-teams role at Maryland. Friedgen already had penciled Lenz onto several special teams units, but the coach may have to back off that plan a bit if the youngster elevates himself to No. 2 on the depth chart at the strong-side linebacker spot. One might wonder why the staff doesn't simply switch former high school All-American Wesley Jefferson to the strong side instead of having him No. 2 on the weak side behind William Kershaw. The answer is that Maryland wants its best tacklers — the guys who can chase down ball-carriers — playing the position that is not supposed to get blocked in Blackney's system.