Tim Cluess finally has made it to Division I as the new basketball coach at Iona. But leaving C.W. Post and his players created a spigot of emotions for the 51-year-old Cluess.
"He gave us tears,'' Post captain Gilbert Montalvo said Thursday after Cluess bid farewell to his team. "He walked in, sat down, talked for 10 seconds and stopped talking. We looked into his eyes, the water started and he left the room. He came back and said, 'Let me try this again.' He was sad. He said he loved it here. But it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it's knocking on the door.
"We said, 'Coach, we're proud for you, we're happy. You made a good move.' I'm sad I'm losing a great coach, a great guy, but in the long run, I'm happy for him. He'll be cutting down nets at Iona.''
Cluess left behind a four-year record of 98-23, two NCAA appearances and plenty of good will as he departed for his shot at the elite level of the college sport. Cluess' Post team went 30-1 in 2008-09 - losing only to national champion Findlay (Ohio) - but he received no offers. Division II coaches do not often get the opportunity to become head coaches at the next level, and he knew this could be his only chance.
"I was surprised only in the fact that I didn't know if anybody out there had the guts to go out of the box,'' Cluess said. "I thought, 'If I could only find that school and that person who would go outside the box and give an opportunity to somebody who deserved it and who has put in their time and paid their dues.' My record speaks for itself and I was able to find a group of people who would give me this opportunity.''
Cluess, who will sign a multiyear deal for an estimated base salary of $275,000, also won a Region XV title at Suffolk CC-Brentwood and, before that, eight Catholic League titles at St. Mary's. That was enough for Iona athletic director Patrick Lyons. "He shows he can flat-out coach,'' Lyons said. "Everyone speaks so highly of him, he runs a great program and oh, by the way, he can win. That's a home run for us.''
NYIT coach Sal Lagano, his friend and conference rival, said, "You always root for the Division II guy . . . We do everything from recruiting to sweeping the gym floor. It's really blue collar. It's nice to see Timmy get a chance on a bigger stage.''
When Cluess left St. Mary's in 2005 because of issues with the administration, he was about to leave the sport. He was a Holiday Inn banquet manager when the Suffolk job opened. "I said I'd give myself one year to see if I like coaching at this level,'' he said. "At the end of the year I'll evaluate if I should be in coaching or go into another line of work.'' His success at Suffolk answered that.
"I have a strong belief in my work ethic and my ability to adjust to things and believe I'm going to succeed,'' he said. "I know I've got a lot more that I'm going to learn at this level. And it is going to be another building process and I'm really excited about it.''