Tom Parrotta’s reading glasses sat on his office desk in the Koessler Athletic Center Sunday night, but they will be gone soon. Canisius has announced that Parrotta will not return for a seventh season as men’s basketball coach.
Parrotta was believed to have one year remaining on his contract, but athletic director Bill Maher said late Sunday night that the final year was school option, which Canisuis decided not to pick up.
“In the end, our goal is to compete for championships in our conference,” Maher said. “We simply have not made sufficient progress toward our goal. We think it’s in our best interest if we make this change at this point in time and move forward with our basketball program.”
Parrotta had a six-year record of 64-121 and did not have a winning season. His best year was the 2010-11 season, when the five seniors of his prized recruiting class finished 15-15 and 9-9 in MAAC play. That was also Parrotta’s only team that escaped the play-in round at the conference tournament.
This year’s team finished 5-25 overall and just 1-17 in conference play. Parrotta had a 3-10 record against rival Niagara, including Friday’s 80-70 loss in the opening round of the MAAC Tournament.
Though Maher physically wouldn’t have had a press conference Sunday night if Canisius had won in the tournament, he said Parrotta’s future was not hinging on that game.
“The loss to Niagara was not a final straw in any way at all,” Maher said. “We look at everything, we look at the full body of work over the six-year period, look at the future of our program moving forward, and make the decision we think is the best decision for us.
“I do think that we have the talent to be more competitive than we have been, and that’s been a disappointment.”
Parrotta was asked Wednesday at the team’s media day if he had heard the rumors about his future and if they were a distraction.
“Sure … [but] I don’t think it can be, because that’s the world of coaching,” Parrotta said. “If you win, you have those distractions too. Never once have we [the coaches] spoken about it, we don’t talk about it as a staff, because that’s my job. I’m in it for the right reasons and if you stay true to that, you don’t even have to go down that road.”
Parrotta was not available for comment Sunday but may speak with reporters early this week.
Maher said the school hopes to complete its search for a new coach in the next 4-6 weeks. Outside help may be used to aid in the process but no search firm has formally employed at this point.
Maher said Canisius would like to hire someone with head coaching experience and wouldn’t shy away from someone who has been successful at a lower level, noting the success of coaches like former Canisius head man John Beilein (now at Michigan) and current Iona coach Tim Cluess, who took a step up coming to the MAAC.
“Trying to find folks who have the ability to recruit and develop student-athletes and also have experience in coaching them would be the profile that we’re looking for,” Maher said. “Certainly, and it’s always easy to say, but someone who has head coaching experience would be preferred if we can do that.”
Rhode Island also fired its coach, Jim Baron, on Sunday. Maher said the school has not considered any individuals yet, but “if that’s a possibility, we would absolutely consider it.”
Players, as expected, were not happy about the decision. No players were available for comment but many voiced their frustrations on Twitter. Most are not from the area and viewed Parrotta as a father figure.
“I can’t even believe this,” Gaby Belardo, one of the more tenured and vocal players, tweeted shortly after the news was broken.
Kevin Bleeker, a freshman Parrotta recruited from the Netherlands, kept it short and sweet: “Damn, this sucks.”
“I feel sick,” Sean Ezeamama posted, while fellow walk-on Tyler Funk wrote that his “mind is spinning in every possible direction.”
Parrotta was well-liked on campus and received national recognition for implementing a program in which all players took summer classes and graduated with their master’s degrees in just four years.
Former Griff Julius Coles offered some of the best perspective on Twitter: “Coaching is a hard job to have. It’s unfortunate that keeping your job depends on wins and losses not personality traits.”
Maher acknowledged the risk that some players in the program may want to leave following Parrotta’s departure.
“That’s always a concern,” he said. “We’ll work with the young men in our program to lead them through that decision-making process, assist them with that process. Many of those young men, because of the progress they’ve made academically, are very close to graduating and it is my hope that they will see the opportunity of completing their degree requirements.”
Parrotta made a gambit this season, choosing to take in three transfers whom he believed would greatly help the team next season. Freddy Asprilla started at Kansas State before coming to Canisius and Isaac Sosa played about 25 minutes per game in both his sophomore and junior seasons at Central Florida. The team was perhaps most excited about Jordan Heath, older brother of Josiah Heath, who showed a lot of good things in practice this year and challenged other players – his brother, especially – to get better.
“You have to keep things in perspective,” Parrotta said Wednesday. “A lot of the reasons why it has been challenging [this year] is because of the calculated decision we made to bring those three guys to Canisius, which would have been unheard of on a lot of different levels. We know that’s something to look forward to. If we can inject those three guys with everybody back from this year’s team, I think we have something special.
“I think that’s something where it’s taken so long, the six years, to get to that point, where you can finally attract those kind of people to Buffalo and here to Canisius … Not just to win and kind of [have] a flash in the pan – we’re looking to sustain things. That’s what the whole approach has been about.”
But after six years and a 30-78 record in conference play, the school decided to move forward with someone else’s approach.