FGCU introduces new head coach
FGCU introduced new head men's basketball coach ...
FORT MYERS — New Florida Gulf Coast University men’s basketball coach Joe Dooley said during his introductory news conference that he’s proud to call Fort Myers home.
One of his new players couldn’t resist correcting him.
“Dunk City,” Chase Fieler interjected from the second row of seats.
“Sorry,” Dooley said with a smile. “Dunk City, Florida.”
Enthusiasm filled Alico Arena’s hospitality room, a makeshift media center, Monday as FGCU athletic director Ken Kavanagh introduced the former Kansas assistant as the program’s third head coach.
Dooley, 47, greeted the standing-room-only crowd with more smiles, and echoed the excitement at taking over the recently-famous Eagles. Fresh off FGCU’s run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, almost 100 supporters packed the room along with dozens of media members.
Seeing the support reinforced to Dooley why he accepted his second head coaching job and first since he was at East Carolina from 1995-99.
“As this opportunity presented itself … I saw that a culture had been created,” Dooley told the crowd. “It’s neat to be able to continue a culture. That’s our mission right now. … You don’t want to be a one-hit wonder.”
Kavanagh and Dooley praised departed coach Andy Enfield for building the foundation for a winning program. Enfield led FGCU to the Sweet 16 as the first No. 15 seed to get that far before taking the head job at Southern California.
Dooley now wants to take Enfield’s success a step further. Kavanagh talked during FGCU’s run of making the team the next Gonzaga — a small school no one had heard of that is now a persistent tournament presence. Dooley said he shares the same goal.
“It can happen; I don’t see why it can’t,” Dooley said. “Why not us? The ceiling is high. If you look at (FGCU’s) progress in a short period of time, it’s been amazing. Now we have to grow the product and grow the brand and continue to improve.”
While Monday’s public response encouraged Dooley, it also assured Kavanagh that he got the right man for the job.
Kavanagh personally sought out Dooley after a friend recommended the 25-year college coach. Dooley did not apply for the FGCU job, but he was more than willing to listen when Kavanagh contacted him.
Three weeks after players sat somberly around Alico’s concourse answering questions about Enfield’s departure, the Eagles demeanor completely changed Monday. Nine players attended the news conference, and like the fans and boosters there, the Eagles also expressed excitement.
“I really like him,” rising senior forward Chase Fieler said. “He’s very qualified.
Fieler added that grabbing a coach from Kansas, which has more wins than any NCAA men’s team in the country the past eight years, “shows the leap we’ve made. People want to be a part of our program. It speaks to have we’ve become one of the more elite, well-known programs.”
With its newfound fame in the college basketball world, FGCU drew a deeper pool of candidates than two years ago when Enfield eventually was hired to replaced the fired Dave Balza. In turn the Eagles had to increase their pay scale.
Dooley’s annual salary of $225,000 puts him among the Atlantic Sun Conference’s top five high-paid basketball coaches, Kavanagh said. Enfield made $157,500 last season plus bonuses for making the NCAA tournament and each of FGCU’s two tournament wins.
The excitement brimmed outside of Alico Arena. Around midday, a few hours before Dooley’s news conference, fans eagerly waited for tickets for next season. Monday was the first day 2013-14 men’s basketball tickets were on sale, and fans were lined up outside of the arena’s box office.
Kavanagh was amazed with the large fan turnout for Dooley’s first news conference.
“Wow,” he said as he stepped up to the lectern. “I don’t think we had this many people combined at some of our games until this year.”
From the start of the search process, Kavanagh emphasized he wanted a coach who could maintain FGCU’s up-tempo offense that earned it the nickname Dunk City. Dooley should bring a similar style from Kansas, where the Jayhawks averaged 75 points a game or more nine of his 10 seasons.
More importantly to the 10 returning players, Dooley wants keep the loose and relaxed atmosphere that made FGCU’s Cinderella story during the tournament even more endearing.
“If we’re not going to have fun, we shouldn’t do this,” Dooley said. “When we need to be serious, we’ll be serious. When we need to have a joke or have some fun, we’ll have some fun. That’s a big part of college athletics.”
Monday was the latter. Fieler, who entertained the media during his NCAA tournament interviews, and point guard Brett Comer couldn’t resist having some fun with their coach after his news conference.
As reporters and cameramen surrounded Dooley afterward, the Eagles’ ringleaders jumped in on the media scrum. Comer stuck a microphone in Dooley’s face while Fieler grabbed a camera and snapped photos.
“Can he dunk?” Fieler demanded, pointing to his point guard.
“Comer? I’d be that he can’t,” Dooley snipped back.
Speaking first at the news conference, FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw called Dooley’s hire a home run. Fully aware he mixed metaphors, he corrected himself.
“Or maybe a slam dunk,” Bradshaw said.