The last night of Tom Pecora's 16 years at Hofstra was both unusual and typical. It was odd because, of all times, Hofstra just happened to have its team banquet scheduled for Wednesday night, right after Pecora had accepted the basketball coaching job at Fordham.
Then again, it was typical because Pecora used the same plain-spoken manner that had allowed him to last so long and thrive in Hempstead. On his way back to Long Island after his agreement with Fordham Wednesday, he called Hofstra athletic director Jack Hayes and said, "Jack, I can't do it." Recalling it Thursday, Pecora said, "I couldn't go in and lie to them and say nothing had happened yet. I had never lied to them before."
So he gathered his now-former players before the banquet, told them he was gone, had an emotion-filled dinner, came home and "slept like a baby" and woke up ready to take on the earnest challenge of his life, restoring a once proud program that went 2-26 this season. "I just knew it felt right," Pecora said at his news conference Thursday, in a high-ceiling, gothic-style room in the Fordham campus library, under a massive stained glass window. "In these situations, you have to go with your heart, with your gut."
Yes, he was honest with the Hofstra players, acknowledging that the money didn't hurt. He will make $650,000 a year for five years. "I don't think 'bittersweet' is the right term, but it was a difficult decision to make. Hofstra was home for 16 years. We rebuilt that program," said the father of three who was 155-126 in nine years as the Pride's head coach. "But as a father, you look at what's best for your family."
His wife, Mary Beth, recalled that at a news conference almost exactly four years earlier (March 28, 2006), she had said "things happen for a reason" when explaining why her husband spurned the chance to leave Hofstra for Seton Hall. She reprised the phrase Thursday, happily reporting it took only about 30 minutes to reach Fordham from their Williston Park home. They are not moving.
The basketball shift will be enough of a move for Pecora. He embraces the challenge of the Atlantic 10 rather than Hofstra's Colonial Athletic Association, which he called "a great conference . . ." but "a Virginia-based league."
"By being in a conference at this level," he said of the Atlantic 10, which had three NCAA Tournament teams this year, "you can go into homes and you can get the best players in the country."
Pecora will go into New York-area homes, his rare recruiting specialty.
He is not sure how much of his Hofstra staff will join him; he is waiting to see if his lead assistant Van Macon is promoted to his old job. Either way, he will start recruiting at the state high school federation tournament this weekend.
"We do believe he is the man to return Fordham, first to respectability, then to frightening glory. And I do mean frightening," said Rev. Joseph McShane, Fordham's president.
Graciously noting that fellow Atlantic 10 teams hope Fordham succeeds, he added, "I want them to regret that in three years' time."