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Every Assistant Tells A Story

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

By Andrew Jones
Wilmington (N.C.) Star-News

July 31, 2007

Comfort is important to Dino Gaudio.

The Wake Forest assistant basketball coach long has held professional dreams and desires that would take him beyond Winston-Salem, but for the longest time he was just fine serving under Skip Prosser.

Following his third year as the head coach at Loyola-Maryland - his second Division I head coaching position - Gaudio walked away from the offer of a three-year contract extension in 2000 to work for Prosser, his long-time friend and mentor.

It was a head-scratching decision in a world where status often is determined by one's title, in a community where a multitude of eager, young coaches scramble to position themselves for the head coaching positions that open each spring. To many, it's all about running a program.

But Gaudio wanted something else from the profession and was fortunate to have a fall-back option. Working for a confidant whom he trusted helped make a difficult decision easier.

"When I left to go with Skip from Loyola, I was going back to Xavier, and I had been there for six prior years as an assistant," said Gaudio, 50. "(I) loved the school, loved the people and had a great relationship with Skip. ... I did foresee myself staying with him for a significant period of time. And that bond that we had, I knew I could trust my family's and my professional future with Skip. And that was big."

Gaudio's unique path is just one of many among ACC assistant basketball coaches.

Some have run their own programs and aren't rushing into their next head coaching jobs. In addition to Gaudio, five current ACC assistants have previous head coaching experience at the Division I level: Clemson's Ron Bradley (Radford), North Carolina's Steve Robinson (Tulsa, Florida State), Virginia's Steve Seymour (Drexel), N.C. State's Pete Strickland (Coastal Carolina) and N.C. State's Monte Towe (New Orleans).

Most assistants, though, eventually want to move on.

Some coaches, including Clemson assistant Frank Smith and Duke aide Chris Collins, have spent years following the same head coach and/or working in the same program while building toward their first gigs. Others, including the Wolfpack's Strickland, derive tremendous satisfaction while assisting a major program in a tradition-rich conference and aren't as focused on that next step.

Maryland assistant Michael Adams' rare path includes playing a decade in the NBA, while the pre-Florida State working life of Andy Enfield was spent mainly improving millionaires' shooting skills.

There are many distinctive paths to becoming a head coach, of course, and their stories identify those differences.


Chris Collins' trail is unique in the ACC and rare nationally. Basketball has surrounded the Duke assistant coach since his birth 32 years ago.

   His father, Doug Collins, was an NBA all-star and has coached in the league off and on for two decades. The younger Collins played for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke and is approaching his eighth season assisting the Hall of Famer. Collins previously served as an aide for two years under former Duke star Tommy Amaker, then at Seton Hall, and for one year in the WNBA.

Collins may not possess a large collection of polo shirts from numerous schools, and most of his adult life has been spent in Durham, but few other eventual head coaches have the advantage of learning their trade from the likes of Doug Collins and Coach K.

"I've been fortunate in my life. I've been around the game ever since I can remember," Collins said. "To be around my dad, who's been a coach of three different NBA programs, and be with the guy who's arguably the best coach in college basketball when it's all said and done, I feel very lucky to be around those guys as my mentors."

While many other assistants know the experience of building from the ground floor or working in a program that doesn't receive much attention, Collins doesn't. But his pedigree may help avoid any culture shock when he lands his first head gig.

He has the unique perspective and experience of serving as a player and coach in one of the few programs in which the head man is a verifiable CEO. Michigan State, Connecticut, Arizona and North Carolina also come to mind as similar programs, but none has been consistently nestled at Duke's perch for the last 20 years.

Building a program is one thing, but Collins has seen first-hand how to maintain one at the highest level. He believes that's an invaluable advantage.

"Any time you're around greatness and someone that has done things the right way and built a program the way Coach K has done here or Coach (Roy) Williams at North Carolina," Collins said, "to be around it every day to see the little things he (Krzyzewski) does to keep us at a high level is one thing I've learned."

It's helped that Krzyzewski allows his assistants the flexibility to lead certain aspects of practice, scouting, film analyses and even dealing with the media. Collins said Krzyzewski is as intent on molding his assistants into head coaches as he is developing his players.

Ten former players and/or assistants under Krzyzewski already have become full-time head coaches in Division I men's basketball: Amaker (now at Harvard), Bob Bender (ex-Washington), Mike Brey (Notre Dame), Jeff Capel (Oklahoma), Mike Dement (UNC Greensboro), Neil Dougherty (Texas Christian), David Henderson (ex-Delaware), Quin Snyder (ex-Missouri), Chuck Swenson (ex-William & Mary) and Tim O'Toole (ex-Fairfield). Half played for Coach K, including Dougherty at Army.

"There's always situations that you go through during a season on and off the floor where we're presented with certain situations," Collins said. "And he'll talk to us about, 'Hey, eventually, when you have your own job, this is how you should handle it.'"

Collins can't gush enough about the impact of the Duke experience and how it's laying a foundation for his future.

"I feel so fortunate to be around him (Krzyzewski) every day. You get such a greater appreciation," he said. "When you're a player, it's different. You come to practice and he coaches you, but when you coach with a guy like that you get to see how much that goes into running a program at the highest level.

"It's not just about being ready for practice and games. It's almost about running your own corporation. And I feel like I've learned a tremendous amount in the last seven years, and I continue to learn even today."


Dino Gaudio once ran the shows at Army and Loyola. He wasn't successful from a winning standpoint, going 36-72 at West Point and 32-50 leading the Greyhounds. In both cases, however, he inherited troubled programs with precious little history of accomplishment.

West Point's annals include all-time victories leader Bob Knight's run of success in the late 1960s, a period unmatched by the Black Knights since.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski eventually may pass Knight's win total, but his reign leading Army's program wasn't nearly as successful as his mentor's. Nevertheless, Krzyzewski parlayed those years into a job in Durham, where he's become a legend.

Gaudio's story veers off in another direction. Three years at Army with a season-best mark of 12-16 in 1994-95 got the attention of Loyola, which hired him in 1997. His best year at the Baltimore school was 13-15 in the 1998-99 campaign.

Yet he decided to take several steps backward to possibly take many more forward down the road.

The 1981 Ohio grad still relishes his time at Army on many levels, but he also admits that the timing probably wasn't best to tackle such an arduous task.

"I'll put it this way," Gaudio said. "I would never, ever not want to have had that experience of coaching at West Point. That was a great experience for me. ... Was it the job to take at the time? Probably not.

"I don't think there is a more challenging job at the Division I level in America than West Point."

During his six years working for Prosser at Wake Forest, Gaudio's goals changed a bit. Not tempted by the head coaching bug like many of his peers, he was quite content coaching in the ACC and working for his best friend.

He was the best man at Prosser's wedding, and Prosser was the godfather to Gaudio's youngest daughter. The men met in 1981, when a 22-year-old Gaudio went to work for Prosser at Central Catholic High School in Wheeling, W.Va. They had been extremely close ever since.

All along, though, Gaudio has had other goals.

"I would love to coach at the next level," he said. "I would love to coach in the NBA in some capacity."

Prosser helped get Gaudio into a four-day session of the Denver Nuggets' preseason camp last year to expose him to the NBA and develop some contacts. But that doesn't mean Gaudio is ruling out accepting another Division I head job.

"I would be very judicious," Gaudio said, "on the next head job at the collegiate level I would take."

Editor's note: Gaudio spoke with the ACC Sports Journal before the tragic July 26 death of Prosser. At press time, Wake Forest had not announced any future plans for its basketball program or assistant coaches.


Clemson assistant Frank Smith makes no bones about it: He wants his own program. Smith even jokes that he "would have been a head coach years ago" if it was his choice alone.

But Smith, who also worked for Tigers coach Oliver Purnell at Radford, Old Dominion and Dayton, said assistants must be patient and keep both eyes focused on the task at hand. Yet one can't be that choosey, either.

"There's a fine line between taking a job and biding your time," Smith said. "I don't know how selective you can be sometimes in this profession, looking at head coaching positions. Everybody out there wants to be a head coach ... (and) the pool of jobs is never that big."

A high school football star in Alexandria, Va., who chose a basketball career at Old Dominion over playing quarterback at Nebraska or Southern Cal, Smith believes that he has strong, well-rounded credentials. Not only is he still the all-time leader in assists and steals at ODU - he also remains one of the NCAA's top 20 assist men - Smith has helped build four struggling programs.

That's one of his greatest assets, he said.

"When we're looking for head coaching jobs, the ones that come available are often programs that have been down for a year or more and need to be rebuilt," said Smith, 41. "I think having that experience with these four schools at different levels is an advantage for me.

"People can say, 'Hey, he was involved in building programs at various levels, and he knows what it takes.'"

There's also that respected athlete thing. Some athletic directors prefer coaches with a playing history, and few college basketball coaches can boast about their studly days on the gridiron.

"The guys (players) know about some if it (football success), but probably more about my days at ODU," Smith said. "I get an ODU media guide every year and they flip through it, see the numbers, but I think they enjoy the afro I had more."


Michael Adams made a name for himself during an 11-year NBA career racing past opponents in the open court and either darting to the basket for easy lay-ins, converting a myriad of runners and floaters, or kicking the ball out to open teammates waiting to drain jump shots.

In college in the early 1980s, the 5-10 Adams began building his reputation helping then-Boston College coach Gary Williams and the Eagles to heights unprecedented for the coach and program at the time.

It was Adams' intensity, leadership and unusual style that crafted him as a unique player. Those are attributes he believes give him a distinguishable edge as an assistant and will as a head coach, too.

His past also affords him credibility with the current Terrapins, as well as on the recruiting trail. He's one of the few former NBA all-stars serving an apprenticeship in college.

"What helps me is when they know I played pro ball, although I don't look like I played pro ball," said Adams, 43. "That helps a lot. Maybe they think I can help them get to that level. It doesn't hurt to have a guy (on staff) who's done that before."

Adams, though, is quick to deflect attention, instead pointing out the depth of Maryland's staff. Former Terrapins star Keith Booth (1998 NBA title with Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls) and Chuck Driesell (son of legendary coach Lefty Driesell) comprise the rest of the trio working under Williams.

But it's Adams who really sticks out, even though Booth's jersey is retired in College Park.

Adams was an all-star in 1990-91, when he averaged 26.5 points and 10.5 assists per contest. He also played three seasons with the nearby Washington Bullets (now Wizards). He averaged 14.7 points and 6.7 assists for his career before spending two years as an assistant for the Vancouver-Memphis Grizzlies, and one season as the head coach of the WNBA's Washington Mystics.

Williams then made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

"My experience in the WNBA was great, and I loved being there," Adams said. "But I just couldn't turn him down. When Coach Williams called and offered me this opportunity, I felt like it was the right fit, and I could learn a lot from him, and it would make me a better coach."

Unless an amazing opportunity is presented, however, Adams plans on spending at least four more years at Maryland. His son is entering the ninth grade, and dad doesn't want to uproot the family before he graduates.

Until then, Adams will continue passing along information that few other coaches can from personal experience.

"I have a lot of knowledge I can give back to players at Maryland and future players we're trying to get to come to Maryland," he said. "I'm not trying to sell pro basketball to the guys or what we can do to help them get there. ... I think it would be a disservice. My job is to help them become better basketball players, a better student and a better person.

"And if they're good enough, the NBA will be there."


Perhaps no ACC assistant's path has been more out of the norm than Andy Enfield's.

The Florida State assistant has worked personally with more than 100 NBA players and released two instructional shooting videos. He's completely changed the shots of stars such as former Duke great Grant Hill, and he helped Vin Baker improve from a decent rookie to an NBA all-star. He also has taught Jerry Stackhouse, Kirk Hinrich, Paul Pierce and Dwyane Wade, among others.

But Enfield wanted to do more with Xs and Os, and he focused on landing a college job. Assistant positions with the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics were great experiences, but he thought the best way to become a most qualified head coach was by working in college.

He developed a relationship with FSU coach Leonard Hamilton when Hamilton was at Miami in the 1990s. Most of Enfield's developmental work took place in Miami, and he often used the Hurricanes' facilities in next-door Coral Gables. He's always admired Hamilton's work.

"Coach Hamilton has really done an outstanding job building the Florida State basketball program to a certain level, and his vision for the future really sold me on where we can take this thing," Enfield said. "I think it's a great opportunity for me as a coach, to help take Florida State where it's never been in the basketball world."

Enfield gained plenty of experience working with strategies in the NBA. While there are similarities to the college game, he feels prepping for changing defenses, multiple zones and different presses is more difficult, even though there's more time between games.

"College has helped me in my progression to hopefully become a head coach," said Enfield, 39. "I've kind of had the best of both worlds. I've prepared for games in the NBA and also in college in the ACC."

He made an immediate impact at FSU.

The Seminoles raised their team free throw shooting percentage last season 5.4 percentage points. Guard Jason Rich went from connecting on just 17.8 percent from three-point range to 38.9. Guard Isaiah Swann improved from 33 to 41 percent. Guard Ralph Mims rose from 30.4 to 37.9.

Still the all-time career free throw shooter in all NCAA divisions at 92.5 percent, Enfield set out to teach shooting as a graduate student at Maryland, following his playing days at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

His instructional business exploded by word of mouth after his first clients - Baker, former Maryland star Walt Williams and Billy Owens - reaped immediate benefits from his tutelage.

As rewarding as improving individual pros was, Enfield's eyes now are set on coaching players and their team to success, although he's not in a hurry to run his own program.

"I want to help get FSU to where Coach Hamilton wants it to be in the basketball world," Enfield said, "and if successful, opportunities may come."


N.C. State aide Pete Strickland also learned from a legend as a player and assistant coach. But his experience was on a vastly different scale from Collins' Duke DNA.

Strickland played guard for legendary coach Morgan Wootten at famed DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Md., and later served as an assistant for three years under Wootten.

A three-year starter at Pittsburgh, where he played with fellow NCSU assistant Larry Harris, Strickland later was the head coach at Coastal Carolina from 1998-2005.

He maintains, however, that the most important aspect of his job now or anywhere he's worked is impacting young men's lives. That's something he learned first-hand from Wootten and is an essential part of his service today.

"What we're all really in this thing for is to do what Morgan did for me," Strickland said. "And that's what I'm able to do better from maybe even the (assistant's) chair where I sit."

Strickland went 70-127 with the Chanticleers but was the Big South coach of the year for the 1999-2000 campaign. He'd likely entertain another head coaching position if offered, but he's also content living in the Triangle and coaching in the ACC at a school with two national championship banners hanging from the rafters.

"We're at a place that's high-profile," Strickland said. "People may say, 'Those fans are tough. They drove (former head coach) Herb (Sendek) out.' No, no, no. I've been where fans don't care. I'll take N.C. State any day of the week."

Working for State coach Sidney Lowe, also a DeMatha product, isn't bad, either. And unlike some coaches, Strickland places a greater value on quality of life these days than on his job title.

"(I've) been to the mountaintop (as a head coach). The view is fine," Strickland said, before letting out an exhale. "But it's so much better as an assistant. Relationships are often better."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Gaudio, Collins and the other assistants know they have quality jobs and recognize that high-profile yet more challenging opportunities could await them.

No matter how each arrived at his current position, the next step likely will hinge more on what happens from this day on than from where their paths have traveled thus far. The business is just that way.

"You have to keep proving yourself," Smith said. "That means you have to win, and then you have to keep winning."

Andrew Jones covers the ACC for the Wilmington (N.C.) Star-News.


“(I’ve) been to the mountaintop (as a head coach). The view is fine. But it’s so much better as an assistant. Relationships are often better.” — N.C. State assistant coach Pete Strickland

        • *

“What helps me is when they know I played pro ball, although I don’t look like I played pro ball. That helps a lot. Maybe they think I can help them get to that level. It doesn’t hurt to have a guy (on staff) who’s done that before.” — Maryland assistant coach Michael Adams

        • *

“College has helped me in my progression to hopefully become a head coach. I’ve kind of had the best of both worlds. I’ve prepared for games in the NBA and also in college in the ACC.” — Florida State assistant coach Andy Enfield

        • *

“There’s a fine line between taking a job and biding your time. I don’t know how selective you can be sometimes in this profession, looking at head coaching positions. Everybody out there wants to be a head coach … (and) the pool of jobs is never that big.” — Clemson assistant coach Frank Smith