Not your ev­ery­day coach­ing change

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SCOTT RADLEY

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.

sradley@thes­pec.com 905-526-2440 | @radley­atthes­pec Spec­ta­tor colum­nist Scott Radley hosts The Scott Radley Show week­nights from 7-9 on 900CHML

VINCE TALOTTA, TORONTO STAR

For­mer Ry­er­son Rams head coach Pa­trick Tatham is now in charge of the McMaster Ma­raud­ers men’s bas­ket­ball team.

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