Not your everyday coaching change
In every sport these days, teams are trying to find creative new ways to get an edge. Whether that’s by latching on to analytics, hiring staff with never-beforeseen titles and job descriptions, or creating leadership groups to lead the franchise. Almost anything is worth a try.
But even by those standards, what McMaster’s doing with its men’s basketball team is unusual.
On Friday, the school announced it had hired Ryerson’s head coach, Patrick Tatham, as its new boss. Which means incumbent Amos Connolly had been fired, right?
Not exactly. In fact, not at all, according to Mac.
After seven years running the program, Connolly will be staying on as recruiting co-ordinator and player development specialist, meaning he’ll be part of the coaching staff, just in a different capacity.
“I agree, it is a unique situation,” Glen Grunwald, director of athletics and recreation says. “But we’re hopeful it turns out to be a good one for the program and the student athletes.”
In his lone year as head coach at Ryerson — he was there as an assistant before that — Tatham led the Rams to the best stretch in their history, winning the regular season and the Wilson Cup as Ontario champions in 2015-16. He capped that by being named Canada’s coach of the year.
This past season, he was an assistant coach with the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Developmental League, the Boston Celtics’ farm team. So he’s certainly qualified.
Here’s where the story gets … well … unconventional.
Many are going to read all this and interpret the changes as a firing in disguise which would generally be an understandable suspicion. After all, who steps down as head coach and then sticks around? Except Grunwald insists the way this is being explained is absolutely the way it’s played out. In fact, he says Connolly — who had a record of 151-66 in his seven years — actually initiated the conversation that started the process.
The outgoing coach says that’s because he wanted to spend more time with his young children and was eager to be able to do some actual on-court, hands-on coaching which he loves rather than having to oversee the entire program. Plus, a great option like Tatham was available.
“It was entirely my idea to look at changing things,” Connolly says.
For those with a more skeptical side who still believe Grunwald is providing cover for a deposed employee, Tatham echoes the same story. He says it was a little while back that he received a Facebook message from Connolly — or someone pretending to be Connolly, he suspected — proposing this new setup.
“I wasn’t really sure if it was real or not,” the 33-year-old says. “I thought, there was no chance this is even remotely possibly real.”
Until a few days later when the phone rang and it was Grunwald. Not only was the offer legit — Connolly told Tatham he wants to spend more time with his young family — but the administration was fully behind the swap and wanted Tatham on board. Over the next few days everybody involved tweaked a few things in the initial proposal. Then he signed on. But why keep the old coach around at all? Won’t that lead to some awkwardness?
Grunwald points to his alma mater to explain why it’s important the former coach remain part of the current program.
The boss went to Indiana University. He won a national championship there with Isaiah Thomas. Their coach was the volatile and controversial Bobby Knight. When Knight was dismissed in 2000, players, fans and alumni were sharply divided on the move. Some thought it was necessary, others balked.
Grunwald says it was important that Connolly remain part of the Mac team so players he recruited don’t feel as though they’ve been brought in to something entirely different from what they were expecting. Continuity is important. Plus, he says, Connolly is strong at recruiting and that hands-on coaching he craves, which defines his new role.
“I think what stops things like this from happening are ego, generally,” Connolly says. “I didn’t have that.”
Instead, he says he’s excited about the changes.
Tatham lands on campus May 15.
firstname.lastname@example.org 905-526-2440 | @radleyatthespec Spectator columnist Scott Radley hosts The Scott Radley Show weeknights from 7-9 on 900CHML
Former Ryerson Rams head coach Patrick Tatham is now in charge of the McMaster Marauders men’s basketball team.