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Tim Cluess steps down as Iona men's basketball coach

Iona head coach Tim Cluess, shown here during

Iona head coach Tim Cluess, shown here during last year's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament, won 20 or more games in his first eight seasons at Iona.   Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

Long Island has its share of coaching greats, and Tim Cluess ranks among them.

At St. Mary’s in Manhasset, his teams won three state Catholic titles and two Federation crowns. In one season at Suffolk County CC, he won a Region XV championship. In four at Division II LIU Post, he reached the NCAA Tournament twice. In nine years at Iona, he got the Gaels to The Big Dance six times.

Cluess. 61,  was the coach in name only this season at Iona, though. He has battled a health condition, and on Friday, he told Newsday that he is stepping down “because I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get my health to the level to coach the way I like to. I’m hands-on in everything. I have to try to see if I can get my health back, hopefully, to do that again.”

The West Hempstead native, who played for St. John’s and Hofstra, was 199-106 with Iona and won five Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championships. He also got the Gaels into the NCAA once via an at-large bid. His teams also played in two NITs.

Asked if one NCAA Tournament team stood out, he said each one was special but added that last season’s was “the most unlikely” because it got off to a 7-15 start.

“I was just sitting there joking with my coaches and said, ‘Imagine if we could ever go on a run here and get to the NCAA Tournament. Everything we’re feeling now will be wiped out and we can have a great memory for us and these players,’  ” he said. “I think we went on a 10-game winning streak at that point to not only win the conference but then to win the conference tournament to get to the NCAA.  Any time you’re part of the pile, it’s special.”

He said he got a lot of breaks along the way and that maybe the biggest was when his friend Tom Raleigh, a noted Long Island PAL coach, turned down the St. Mary’s job and asked its administrators to interview Cluess. The Manhasset school won Federation Class B titles in 2000 and 2002, defeating Amityville in the final both times.

His finest year at LIU Post was 2008-09, when the Pioneers went 30-0 to reach the Division II Elite Eight before losing.

In many ways, Cluess’ coaching philosophy was ahead of its time. He never cared about the size on his roster; he wanted players who enjoyed the fun parts of the game — playing hard and fast, working together and scoring a lot.

“I always wondered, ‘Will this work at the next level?’ and I always believed it would,” he said. “I’m kind of laughing now because I’m watching how basketball has almost kind of morphed into what we’ve been doing for 30 years, since way back at St. Mary’s.”

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