If Steve Pikiell put Stony Brook on the college basketball map during his 11-year tenure, then athletic director Shawn Heilbron said his goal in hiring Ohio State assistant Jeff Boals on Friday as the Seawolves’ new head coach is to make sure they stay there.
Heilbron said the candidates he interviewed were well aware of the success Stony Brook achieved under Pikiell before finally breaking through to earn the school’s first NCAA bid this season, and they were attracted by the situation.
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“Something I made very clear is that we had a historic season, and now we have to build on that,” Heilbron said. “We want to get to the point where we’re competing for an at-large [NCAA bid] and we’re in the tournament mix every year. That’s hard to do, but certainly we’re well-positioned to do it. We’d like to put ourselves in a position, if we don’t win that last [America East title] game, to get a shot.”
After the Seawolves lost to Kentucky in an NCAA Tournament first-round game, Pikiell accepted the head-coaching job at Rutgers University on March 20, and Heilbron began a national search for a replacement with the aid of a search firm that “streamlined” the logistics of the process. The leading candidates for the job, along with Boals, were Notre Dame assistant Martin Inglesby, Villanova assistant Baker Dunleavy and former SBU associate coach Jay Young, who was part of the process to the end but opted to join Pikiell’s Rutgers staff earlier this week.
“The misconception about search firms is they tell you who to hire,” Heilbron said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. It was my decision 100 percent.”
Boals accepted the job Friday morning and returned to Ohio to prepare his family for a campus visit on Sunday, when he will meet with the remaining 11 players on the team for the first time. A formal news conference to introduce the new coach is scheduled for Monday. Heilbron met with the players Friday afternoon to give them the news.
“I joked with them that I need one more week,” Heilbron said. “I told them I appreciated their patience through this process. This decision was made for them. They have made history, and now we have to find the right guy to help them build on that. Then I told them what I liked about [Boals] and why he’s the right guy. I think there was an initial sense of relief and then excitement.”
Boals has been at Ohio State under head coach Thad Matta the past seven years, reaching the Final Four with that program in 2012, the Elite Eight in 2013 and the Sweet 16 four times. Ohio State won three Big Ten titles and made six NCAA appearances in that period. Since joining the Buckeyes, Boals has been regarded as a defensive specialist.
His first coaching job was at Ohio University, where he played before graduating in 1995. Boals’ resume also includes stops as an assistant at Division II University of Charleston (1996-99, 2003-04), Marshall (1999-2003), Robert Morris (2004-06) and Akron (2006-09).
Heilbron said Matta listed Boals and current Dayton head coach Archie Miller as the two best assistants he’s ever had.
“I didn’t have to sell Jeff on Stony Brook,” Heilbron said. “He wanted this job, and he wanted to build on what we have. I think we found our guy.”