Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Guru Special: La Salle Parts Ways With Jeff Williams Creating First Big Five Vacancy in Eight Seasons

Guru’s note: We interrupt the start of a lot of stories posted in play to get this on top by sunrise since it is newsworthy along with all of Friday’s action.

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA — For the first time in eight years there is a local change to occur among the Big Five women’s coaching ranks and it is going to happen at the same place the last one occurred — La Salle University.

The school announced Friday that the contract of Jeff Williams, who previously was an assistant at Pittsburgh, would not be renewed after he was believed to be on a one-year extension after the Explorers seemed to finally be gaining traction with 17 wins and his naming as the Atlantic 10 coach of the year last season.

But the program reversed direction this season with the Explorers ending it on Tuesday, losing in the first round at George Washington 69-49 to finish with an overall 8-22 record and 3-13 in the Atlantic 10, which was a tie for 12th in the 14-team conference.

His overall record in his first head coaching job was 92-149.

Some of Williams’ years were hampered by injuries.

By Friday’s end Williams was no longer listed on the La Salle website, just the assistants, Dalila Eshe, the recruiting coordinator; Khadijah Rushdan, a former Rutgers star out of Wilmington; Kam Gissendanner, a former Penn State star, and operations director Gina Catanzarita, a former Rowan star who also worked with the nationally prominent and headquartered locally BlueStar Basketball and Philadelphia Belles AAU operation.

Williams’ best recruit was probably senior Amy Griffin, who led the A-10 in scoring last season and recently became the school’s all-time blocked shots leader.

One of the better wins this season was an upset of Penn in the Quakers’ first Big Five game that, as it evolved, prevented them from winning their first City Series title outright. They went on to beat the Saint Joseph’s, Temple, and for the first time in 17 years Villanova to share the crown with the Wildcats.

A few of the La Salle past notable stars were Cheryl Reeve, who has won four WNBA titles, including last season, with the Minnesota Lynx and was recently given the title of general manager to add to her duties.

She also served under UConn’s Geno Auriemma on the last USA Basketball olympics run to a gold medal run and is a favorite to land on Dawn Staley’s staff.

Another star was Kelly Greenberg, who, along with former Explorers men’s star Chip Greenberg, are the only brother-sister combination in the Big Five Hall of Fame.

Williams was well liked among the Big Five coaches but they also know the nature of the business in terms of personnel changes.

There have also been changes in La Salle administration from the time Brother Michael McGinniss was the university president and Tom Brennan, who hired Williams, was the school’s athletic director.

In 2015 Colleen Hanycz became the first lay person and first woman to become president of the university located at 20th & Olney, near Broad Street.

A year ago Bill Bradshaw returned to his alma mater as interim athletic director and then became athletic director, a position he held previously prior to being athletic director at DePaul and later a long stint at Temple.

He is well knowledgeable of the women’s hoops world from working with Doug Bruno at DePaul, helping to keep Dawn Staley at Temple when the power schools began making runs because of her success and ultimately hiring Tonya Cardoza off UConn’s staff when Staley left in 2008 to coach South Carolina, which she led to an NCAA title last season.

When noted to Bradshaw Friday night it might be difficult to land the right candidate during the search, he said, “Besides looking at current head coaches who may apply, from our success in other sports I can say there are probably a lot of quality assistants who want to be a head coach and will do a good job.

“You want somebody with connections, locally would be great, who can make players want to come here again.”

Actually, by finding the right person who can draw a few stars,  moving up in the Atlantic 10 is not as difficult as say when Staley went to South Carolina and had to start from below to overtake Tennessee along with several other schools perennially nationally ranked.

If the Guru were assembling a head hunting list, for starters in no particular order, there are people in conversations in recent years who have expressed interest in returning to the city if a job opened. And then there are those who have been here a long time.

Right in town Drexel associate head coach Amy Mallon, a former Saint Joseph’s star, who has been part of the Dragons’ success under Denise Dillon, would be a good place to begin, though Mallon’s salary might be more than what Williams was being paid.

George Mason assistant Tajama Ngongba, who was a star at George Washington under the name Tajama Abraham, has helped the Patriots rise in the conference and has knowledge of the city, especially having played for former Colonials coach Joe McKeown, a Father Judge grad.

Memphis assistant Jessica Bogia is a former Lafayette star who worked with the Philadelphia Belles and has at times been one of those desiring of returning to town if the right job came along.

A tantalizing name to go to a new younger generation might be to seek interest from Mississippi State assistant Carly Thibault, the daughter of WNBA Washington Mystics coach Mike Thibault.

Her brother Eric did a stint with VCU on the staff of the A-10 school before joining his dad as a Mystics assistant.

She also was on the staff of Massachusetts coach Tory Verdi at Eastern Michigan and played for Stephanie Gaitley, the current Fordham coach, when she was at Monmouth.

Her husband Blake DuDonis has Blue Star connections.

Northeastern associate head coach Mike Leflar is from the city and was an aide to Kelly Greenberg at Penn and with her when she moved to Boston University before taking the job in town up there with the Huskies in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Former Dartmouth longtime coach Chris Wielgus is now living in this area, though it is not known if she has interest in returning to the profession.

Saint Peter’s coach Patty Coyle, a former Rutgers star who coached the WNBA New York Liberty, was on the list when Bradshaw was seeking Staley’s successor.

She also was involved when La Salle was seeking a replacement for Tom Lochner, the coach before Williams who had previously been a long time assistant to John Miller back in the glory days of the Explorers.

Seton Hall, near her home was also in the mix, though just when it seemed the Pirates might hire her, people connected to Hall of Famer Anne Donovan told the school of interest from the North Jersey native and she was selected back when the school was still part of the old Big East.

Chris Day, who was an assistant at La Salle, Saint Joseph’s, and joining Mike McLaughlin at Penn as the Quakers became an Ivy power, was a name during the Temple search.

He is now finishing his second year at Vermont, but perhaps if there was mutual interest, he might be worth contacting.

Looking at local coaches at the smaller schools, there’s USciences’ Jackie Hartzell, who coached Archbishop Ryan previously but has made the Devils a local power.

Jefferson University’s Tom Shirley, also the Rams athletic director, has been at the school a long time with success, but he was known to make an inquiry to Bradshaw when the Temple job opened.

Then one never knows what may come out of left field, so to speak.

Coaching was the last thing on Staley’s mind when the late Dave O’Brien, then Temple athletic director, contacted her and coaxed her into taking the job.

And for the times Staley was still playing in the WNBA and coaching Temple, Bradshaw was ok with that dynamic.

So one never knows who else might have interest, especially veteran and notable WNBA stars whose careers are winding down and are seeking their next adventures.

“Believe it or not, I’ve actually had a few of those thrown at me,” Bradshaw said. “Intriguing, but not worth getting into names unless there actually is a real seriousness about wanting to take the job.”

Stay tuned.



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