Tuesday, March 22, 2016


One can lead while advancing.  Contrary to popular belief, one can lead while in retreat.  It’s standing still that makes a leader hard to find.  President Fry and the Board of Trustees have led Drexel into a sprawling, competitive future throughout the prior six years.  While still a work in progress, the business minded pursuit of excellence was most recently shown in the announcement of Schuylkill Yards, the 3.5 billion dollar expansion plan announced earlier this month.  The leadership and quest for better is also what led to the dismissal of Drexel Men’s Basketball Head Coach Bruiser Flint just a week later.

That Drexel Athletics has not kept up with the growth of the rest of the university is not question, it is fact.  From the Armory debacle of the early ought’s to the significant empty seats at all athletic competitions this year, things at the NCAA level in the department have been at a relative standstill when compared to the overwhelming growth and construction seen throughout the rest of the University.  Some of that can be accredited to Coach Flint’s lack of success, as a rising tide in basketball would certainly rise all boats.  There are more challenges in today’s NCAA atmosphere than there were when Coach Flint was hired, and as Drexel looks to hire their next Men’s Basketball Coach it’s not the coach, but rather the leadership and symbolism shown by the administration that should  be the main concern of Drexel supporters and donors.

The newest, largest burden for the school is the NCAA’s admission of the Cost of Attendance stipend for athletes.  Some CAA schools are going to pay this stipend, it appears others will not.  Both Athletic Director Eric Zillmer and President Fry have been outspokenat a national level about the concerns that the COA will bring and the rise in spending within college athletics departments – many of which are a cost center and not a profit center for the school.  That they have been so outspoken about cost control in athletics while the rest of the university grows at impressive rates seems telling.  There appears to be a clear belief that Drexel Athletics will remain a cost center for the broader University.  It almost begs for a new slogan - Drexel Athletics:  DragOn Growth.

While these statements by Dr. Zillmer and President Fry were recently spoken , it’s also worth noting that Eric Zillmer brought Drexel Athletics forward by taking the leap from the America East Conference to the CAA in 2001.  And when President Fry hit campus, one of his first major moves was to give Bruiser Flint the longest and most expensive contract extension a coach has received at Drexel.  DAC renovations are continuing.  Money is being poured into the squash program.  These are all signs of investment and a desire to grow. 

If the reader is confused by all of this, please note that the writer shares your company.  On the one hand their words and outspoken criticisms of the finances of college athletics seem to make Drexel primed for a step backwards to the comforts of the America East Conference, Patriot League or even down a Division.  On the other hand the growth of the university, the contract that Coach Flint was working under and his recent release lead to the belief that the university would like to push forward and become a prominent name on the Athletics scene in a Philadelphia market.  There may be financial opportunity in becoming a local, conference or national leader. 

Perhaps the largest reason for the confusion is the lack of clear and concise standards shown by either Dr. Zillmer or President Fry.  In a letter to season ticket holders the dismissal of Coach Flint was said as “[Taking] the men’s basketball program in a different direction” without stating what direction the department is looking to go in.  Are they looking for a surge in spending to catch up to the rest of the university?   Is it time to acknowledge the rampant spending in D-I and take a step back?  What are the standards that Drexel Athletics ascribes to that Bruiser Flint didn’t meet?  All of those are unknown, and with them being unknown comes significant challenges towards advancing ticket sales, donations and other development.

What program donors, ticket holders and other stakeholders do have to look towards is this next coaching hire.  It may be the most clear statement they receive as to the aspirations of President Fry and Dr. Zillmer.  A rising young assistant from a high major school is a clear nod towards future growth.  A more seasoned coach from a lower, academically focused league presents a less clear message.  A D-II coach may present a clear message in the other direction.  That is generalizing and it’s important not to do that here – each name brings its own opportunity to the table, but the point remains.  This hire is a message.  The message of this hire can, and should, determine development efforts within the department for years to come.

When Oklahoma State hired a coach, the school's goal was known.  Similarly, when Dartmouth hires a coach later this month, their goal will be known as well.  At Drexel, there is a unique situation.  A turning point, and there are arguments to be made for transition in either direction, let it be acknowledging the challenging climate of D-I and the CAA today or playing catchup with the rest of the University.  The one thing, and the only thing, that fans should find unacceptable is doing neither.  As Ryan Koechig acknowledged in yesterday’s post on prospective hire Zach Spiker, this athletics department has stood still while their peers, both internal and external have moved.  

The one thing that stakeholders should find unacceptable with the next hire is a parallel move.  The school needs to show decisiveness, in either direction, or else they will continue to pay large dollars for very few returns.  As the empty seats of the last few years have shown, including that sad scene in the game against James Madison where President Fry sat alone in the President's Suite, a lateral move is not a profitable move.  One can lead while in retreat.  One can lead while advancing.  It’s standing still that makes a leader hard to find.  


  1. There was, maybe, an update on the issue of COA at the end of August as it appears that Drexel responded to an ESPN survey and stated we are undecided but the amount would be about $3500:

    Not sure if the Fry piece now supersedes that and it shifts Drexel's position to unlikely from undecided. My biggest issue is that the NCAA has provided extra money that could be used for COA (among other things), which would seem to mean the only reason not to provide it is due to philosophical beliefs regarding student athletes.

  2. Ignoring the unfortunate player injuries over the past several seasons, Bruiser Flints tenure was a good one for Drexel Basketball. His teams always played hard and were generally well prepared. What ultimately determined the success of each team was the overall talent of the players. Coach Flints best teams often shared similar composition, a good low post player (i.e Robert Battle), two solid wing shooters, and very stout defense. Again, ignoring recent injuries what hurt his teams was lack of talent and depth. These issues poit back to recruiting. Ignoring UPENN (Ivy league status), Drexel is and has always been at the bottom of Phila local talent recruiting player choices. Strong academic requirements along with painfully outdated facilities places Drexel at a disadvantage with other Big Five schools when it comes to recruiting.

    A coaching change brings renewed optimism concerning the future of Drexel Basketball. A new coach may bring different on court "personality" for the team. However, the aforementioned challenges will not disappear.

    Expect to get more or less the same result with a new coach. A good season here or there, average performance being the norm. Drexel either needs to move to a lower D1 conference or learn to manage expectations. James Jones was coach at Yale for 15 years and his record/results mirror Bruiser Flint's. Where they differ is university expectations and reality based thinking.

    Drexel made a mistake letting Coach Flint go.

    1. I'm going to respectfully disagree here. I know, shocking.

      A new coach offers a few new things, the first being a new scheme both offensively and defensively, something that this team desperately needs. I dont even think that Bruiser Flint knows that there is a back door to his own house, let alone one on the basketball court. The Drexel offense both at the eye test and statistically was terrible, especially when the team had solid players like Massenat, Fouch, and Lee on the same roster. That team should have dominated.

      While the team is at a recruiting disadvantage, i think that actually plays in Spiker's favor. I have only looked at a very small sample set so far, but Spiker was able to develop some pretty decent players at Army. Many of the players playing under Flint who were his "stars" were stars right from day 1. You didnt see players grow. You knew what you had by their sophomore year, and you watched them for three more years play the same quality game or in some cases, regress.

      If I can watch a player grow and develop, then that is a win for the program. As for James Jones, you are right. His 15 years at Yale mirrors Bruiser's 15 years at Drexel. Do you know what the difference is? Jones made it to the Dance this year, AND he made it out of the first round. Flint has NEVER won a conference tournament in his career, whether it was with Calaperi's leftovers in his years at UMASS or at Drexel. IF Drexel had kept him around, he would be the only coach in college basketball with the tenure Bruiser had at a school to NOT dance. That, to me, is a big deal, especially with the diminishing CAA.

      And let's not get into the attendance issues. Have you been to the DAC lately? Do you know how a person at the DAC knows that there has been new seating put in over the past couple of years? It's because they're empty and you can see them. This school has actually invested money in the DAC, and they need to put butts in the seats. Its anecdotal, I know, but I have been told by more than one person unsolicited who have no affiliation with this blog that alumni avoid the DAC because of Bru, and his departure will mean an increase in attendance. I'm waiting with baited breath to see if that happens.

      The cream should have risen to the top, but we crumbled with the conference around us. Bye bye, Bruiser. It's time to see what someone else can do.

  3. Quicksand,while I agree with a good portion of what you wrote, I'll disagree with you on two levels. The first is that if this is a parallel move, Spiker is probably cheaper. If we can do the same for less, we should. Sexond, Damion Lee. Chris Fouch, Frantz Massenat. Thsee guys were legitimate, talenter recruits. Going .500 or worse in the CAA with Damion Lee is unthinkable. I'd argue Bruiser had declining results over time. Largely due to a reliance on what he always did and an unwillingness to adjust as the game adjusted, something that would continue to be amplified going forward.