Frank McLaughlin was overjoyed. The venerable Fordham athletic director had landed his first choice as the school's new basketball coach. The announcement won't be made official until Thursday, but the shout heard 'round the Bronx was McLaughlin lauding the arrival of Tom Pecora.
"We are really excited,'' McLaughlin said Wednesday after touring the campus with Pecora, who is leaving Hofstra after nine seasons. Pecora, 52, was kept under wraps for this afternoon's news conference, but he did confirm his acceptance of a multiyear deal that will pay him $650,000 - about $250,000 more than he made at Hofstra. Pecora was on Fordham's radar since last December, when it fired Dereck Whittenburg. The only other serious applicant was Robert Morris coach Mike Rice, a Fordham alumnus.
McLaughlin had nothing but praise for his new hire. "You talk to a lot of people and all you hear about Pecora is that he is a classy guy, a good coach and an unbelievable recruiter.'' Those talents will be put to the test immediately as Pecora takes over a team that finished last in the Atlantic 10 at 0-16 and was 2-26 overall.
McLaughlin said Pecora will be up to the task. The new coach will build around forward Chris Gaston, the A-10 rookie of the year. "I don't want to put any pressure on him. This is a multi-step move to regenerate Fordham basketball,'' McLaughlin said. The first step was that the board of trustees made a strong institutional commitment here. The second step was to get the right coach and we did that. The next step is to get out alumni fans and support, and the New York basketball community to say, how do we help Fordham basketball?
"If we know we have a kid who is academically qualified we know we can trust Tom Pecora with him. We wanted somebody who wanted the job,'' McLaughlin continued. "This wasn't just a job to him. It was a challenge. This is something that intrigues him. He has a lot of pride in New York basketball. We wanted somebody who knew the New York scene. As far as we are concerned, we have the perfect person.''
Asked to comment on Pecora's departure, Hofstra AD Jack Hayes issued the following statement: "Over the past 16 years, Tom Pecora has played a significant role in the growth of the Hofstra University basketball program, first as an assistant coach and then as the head coach. Tom has been an excellent coach, a mentor to student-athletes and athletic staff members, and an outstanding ambassador for our university. We wish him well at Fordham University and we will begin the search for a replacement immediately.''
Pecora has recommended to Hofstra that his top assistant, Van Macon, be considered in the search.