Friday, March 25, 2016

Just #SpikeIt

One of the great advantages of writing on the internet is the ability to reference through link, and in this case also attach additional documentation.  Please see the bottom of the piece for some additional related documents.

I don't say this to be braggadocious but Drexel basketball is huge.

That's the clear message sent by the business-first President Fry and Drexel Board of Trustees.  When businesses are unsuccessful and their failures would cause mass chaos for the American economic system, the government is forced to step in and protect the citizens.  At Drexel, with the legitimate possibility of the DAC roof collapsing at any time because well, it's the DAC, they turned to America's muscle.  On Thursday March 24, 2016 it was widely published (Adam Hermann of the Triangle had it first) that Army basketball coach Zach Spiker would be the next men's basketball coach of the Drexel Dragons.

A quick gauge of the online community shows the move appears to be met with mixed reviews.  Coach Spiker wasn't one of the "hot" names coming into the offseason, he has an under .500 record and local recruiting connections may or may not exist.  When that's whats on the label, it's easy to understand that some will question the move.  The Drexel coaching job is a strong opportunity in a strong conference, a position which would be a significant stepping stone for hundreds of coaches - so why this one?  The answers come just as easy as the question, and begin with a mea culpa.

While we at the blog did an exhaustive search for candidates before writing our now largely ironic 21 Guns piece, we missed a few names.  It was within hours of posting the piece that Coach Spiker's name came up multiple times from sources.  He was a hot name, we just whiffed.  That's on us as a reporting entity.

With regards to Coach Spiker's under .500 record, Army went 25-35 (.417) in the two years prior to Coach Spiker taking the reins.  Once he arrived on campus, on short notice he couldn't do the normal coaching shortcuts, flipping the team with transfers, dumping academic standards, or pouring cash into recruiting - this was Army.  He had two options.  Roll up his sleeves with the players he had available or roll up his damned sleeves with the players he had available.  And while his career record at Army may be under .500, in the final 3 years of his 7 at West Point, when all of the players had spent four years playing for him, the teams record was 49-45 (.521).  At West Point.  This season, with a senior laden team and lofty goals that were enabled by his work at Army, may have been disappointing.  Certainly the home blowout postseason loss to Holy Cross gives reason for pause.  But for those pointing at his career win loss record at Army as a reason for concern, it might be worth a deeper look.  There's no there, there.

To put it bluntly, the recruiting issue is a concern.  Coming from 7 years on the Hudson, where recruiting is unlike 347 other NCAA D-I institutions, it has to be.  The response to this is twofold.  First, no judgement should be made until he fills out his staff (Associate Head Coach Ashley Howard would be as exciting as it would be unexpected and unrealistic).  Second see this, from that rat bastard really good guy and really good coach who coaches at the hellhole down the block:

"Zach has an incredible work ethic, he's willing to put in the time. I think a lot of guys in this business think recruiting is making a big splash and being dynamic in a setting. ... In reality it's the guy that's going to develop relationships over time through hard work, and really fulfilling all the things he talks about with the coaches and the families, and Zach does a great job of staying on top of kids and making them realize he's there for them. He did that for us time and again."

Sounds pretty similar to the last guy to coach at DU, doesn't it?  And he wasn't such a bad recruiter himself.

For all of the great opportunity at Drexel there is an understanding that no potential hire will be a slam dunk.  Gregg Marshall, Brad Stevens, Mark Few, those guys aren't walking through that door.  The options available at a place like Drexel are a coach who has stubbed his toe at a higher level and is looking for an opportunity to reboot, a coach who has been moderately successful at a similar or lower institution, a coach without Head Coaching experience or... a gamble.  And at this level, if you're going to gamble it better be an educated gamble.  And that appears to be the best definition of what this hire is.

We know Coach Spiker has been reasonably successful in unusual and challenging circumstances.  We can see his pedigree, which is an absolute murderers row.  Gregg Marshall, John Beilein, Steven Donahue.  And while Bru had Coach Cal at the top of his cell phone, if a recruit asks, Coach Spiker can get Coach K or Bobby Knight on the line, relationships he has seemed to have forged at West Point.  We also have some numbers (we'll post another article down the road with more details on numbers and what to expect on the floor) that can tell a story.  Keeping in mind the most predictive stats the public has available today are two point shooting percentage, two point defense and turnovers, all of which showed marked improvement from his first season at Army to his seventh:

Educated Gamble

This wasn't the safe choice.  It wasn't the easy choice.  But it's a high ceiling choice.  It's an aggressive, go for it move, that yes, has a deep floor as well.  Mixed reviews, especially if one doesn't look deeply into the choice, are understandable.  But all of that is burying the lede.  Drexel Athletics just went big.  They got aggressive.  They took a well informed gamble.  Given the complacency that is so often spoken of, this is a stunning move.  In his email (posted below) to season ticket holders, Dr. Zillmer spoke of Coach Spiker's energy, his uptempo style, and his "modern coaching" (we'll figure out what that means, promise).  He even used this line:

In fact, Zach’s brand of basketball and personality perfectly fits the aspirations of our University as a creative, fast-paced, and innovative institution of higher learning.

It just got a little chillier in Hell, didn't it?

Lets make it a deep freeze.

President Fry, Dr. Zillmer and their staff should be lauded for taking a shot.  The letter to fans brilliantly captures and responds to many of the frustrations that have been verbalized for the better part of a decade now.  This move can be called a lot of things, but it can't be called safe, complacent, or asleep at the wheel.  It's an aggressive shot across the bow to Drexel's CAA brethren, especially those 45 minutes down I-95.  And it makes today a proud day to be a Dragon.

For reference:

Coach Spiker's West Point Contract
Coach Spiker's Army Bio

Letter from Dr. Eric Zillmer to fans:

Dear Drexel Basketball Season Ticket Holders,

I wanted to share the great news with you that Zach Spiker, who led Army West Point to its most wins in more than 30 years, has been named the new men’s basketball coach at Drexel University.

Coach Zach Spiker is an exceptional coach and person. He has unbelievable energy and he is a true CEO and modern coach of college basketball. I know you will come to love coach Spiker. His team plays a tactical, up-tempo pace and exceptionally creative basketball. Coach Spiker has a contagious energy and will bring a new excitement to the Drexel fan base, the CAA, and the City of Philadelphia.

In fact, Zach’s brand of basketball and personality perfectly fits the aspirations of our University as a creative, fast-paced, and innovative institution of higher learning.

Drexel’s new coach will be formally introduced to the Drexel community on Tuesday next week at noon outside the DAC. I would like to invite all of you to attend this event.

Zach also worked under well-respected coaches and administrators, all of who endorsed him enthusiastically as an ambassador of basketball and a “sure thing.”
John Beilein – Head Coach, University of Michigan
Gregg Marshall – Head Coach, Wichita State
Steve Donahue – Head Coach, University of Pennsylvania
Kevin Anderson – AD, University of Maryland
Mentored by Mike Kryzewski, Head Coach at Duke University and former West Point Coach.

They all told me the same thing, hire him; he will do great things for Drexel.

Spiker comes to the Dragons from Army West Point, where he spent the past seven seasons as the head coach of the Black Knights. He won 102 games during his time at West Point, tied with Naismith Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight for second all-time at the Academy. This season, Spiker led the Black Knights to a 19-14 record, tied for the best overall mark in the Patriot League. They earned Army’s first postseason appearance since another Hall of Famer, Mike Krzyzewski, led them to the National Invitation Tournament in 1978. The winner of the 2013 Patriot League Coach of the Year award, Spiker was also named a finalist for the 2013 Skip Prosser Man of the Year and the Hugh Durham Award, presented annually to the nation’s top mid-major coach. Spiker was one of only seven coaches in the country to receive at least one vote for the Associated Press National Coach of the Year honor that season.

In the near future and after he transitions from West Point to Drexel, I will personally introduce coach Zach Spiker to you.

Go Dragons!

Dr. Eric A. Zillmer

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