- Harvard Crimson writer, Martin Kessler, authored a contributing piece for Dime Magazine called, "Ivy League: Best Training Ground for Hoop Coaches." Kessler writes:
Joe Jones [the former Columbia head coach who was recently hired by Boston University is] the seventh coach since 2000 to be hired by an outside program after starting his head coaching career in the Ivy League. The list consists of Georgetown’s John Thompson III, Boston College’s Steve Donahue, Temple’s Fran Dunphy, Oregon State’s Craig Robinson, and Northwestern’s Bill Carmody. And when the 2011-12 season tips off, Jones will join Sydney Johnson – who was recently hired by Fairfield...
Why, you may wonder, have athletic directors from more highly-esteemed basketball programs dipped into the Ivy League – a conference with small athletic budgets and no athletic scholarships – to fill its coaching vacancies?
According to Donahue, the [Ivy League's] modest operation might just be the very reason. Donahue, who was hired by Boston College after coaching at Cornell from 2000 to 2010, says that the Ivy League’s strict admissions standards, back-to-back conference games, and limited resources force coaches to hone their skills, thus making them attractive candidates.
“It’s a very difficult situation in every aspect of coaching around basketball,” says Donahue. “There is a great deal of responsibility put on you as a coach that I think, once you get years and years of that, you really develop your craft.”
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing Ivy League coaches manifests itself on the recruiting circuit. Ivy League coaches must first deal with a limited talent pool, as only players who reach certain academic qualification can be granted admission. Second, coaches must convince players and their families to cover the schools’ hefty price tags without the aid of an athletic scholarship.
“You figure out ways to be successful,” says Donahue, who led Cornell to the Sweet 16 in 2010 with a core of players who were not heavily recruited out of high school. “I think it really helps when you go to other places and try to go in and develop a program. I think you’re more prepared than you could ever imagine.”
But recruiting isn’t the only challenge facing Ivy League coaches. They are only allowed two paid assistant coaches, one fewer than in other conferences. They must prepare for games on back-to-back nights because the Ivy League holds its conference matchups on Friday and Saturday nights. And the lack of a conference tournament makes every game a do or die in the one-bid league.
“Your week of preparation has got to be great,” says Donahue. “I think it’s the best coached league in the country, and I thought that when I was there, and I still think that. It’s not necessarily the coaching but it’s the kids you’re coaching.”
...Donahue has gotten off to a strong start at Boston College, going 21-13 in his first year.