Third in an occasional series on trying to turn around one of college basketball’s worst programs.
BLACKSBURG, Va. - It takes only a few minutes for Jimmy Patsos to morph into Gary Williams.
The long-time Maryland assistant is making his coaching debut for Loyola against Virginia Tech. Patsos gives a relatively restrained pep talk before the Nov. 19 game, discussing strategy and stressing staying tough in a game where his team is given little chance. The coach takes a seat on the bench, hoping a relaxed look will settle his team’s unavoidable jitters.
The John Wooden approach does not last long. The Greyhounds are hesitant and clearly intimidated despite a dispassionate crowd in the half-filled arena. The Hokies pounce on Loyola’s mistakes and break out to a 15-1 lead. That is when Patsos’ coaching career really begins.
“I did the math real quick,” he says. “I’m like ‘OK, it’s going to be 80-10.’ We have to do something different. I was raised by [Maryland coach] Gary Williams for 13 years. I don’t know how else to do it. I tried to be calm. It just doesn’t work.”
The once peaceful Patsos explodes into a nonstop rage that would wear out Richard Simmons. The theatrics include flailing arms, stalking the sideline, leaping from his coaching crouch and issuing in-your-face challenges to his players. His new designer suit soon becomes a sweat-soaked casualty, as does his styled hair, which turns into a raggedy mop. He looks like he is debuting in a blender, not Cassell Coliseum.
“I look over and want to laugh” freshman Freddy Stanback says. “But I can’t. That’s what we need right now.”
A few soiled garments would be well worth the trade-off for some on-court success as Patsos is trying to turn around one of the nation’s worst programs.
“They should put something in his contract for new clothing,” senior forward Jim Chivers says. “He sweats a lot. The intensity feeds onto us.”
The 38-year-old, three seasons removed from a national championship with the Terrapins, is attempting to revive the moribund Baltimore program. Loyola sunk to 1-27 last season to post its 10th consecutive losing campaign. The Greyhounds brought a 24-game road losing streak to Blacksburg.
“We are still fighting for confidence,” says junior Charlie Bell, the team’s leading scorer last season. “We are still picked 10th [out of 10 teams in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Association]. We are fighting hard to show people we are not a slouch this year.”
Virginia Tech is an unlikely venue for a program-changing victory. It is expected to be a demoralizing loss for Loyola, something Patsos knew when he agreed to start his head coaching career here. The Hokies are ACC newbies and come in as 17[1/2]-point favorites.
Why would he subject himself to a seemingly no-win situation in his first game? The answer is like so many other things in life: the money.
Loyola took a six-hour bus ride to get a taste of big-time atmosphere, gain some experience and bring home a hefty paycheck. Virginia Tech paid $45,000 for the money game. The income will be a major boost to the Greyhounds’ modest athletic department budget.