After enduring a basketball season of culture shock, Hofstra's main priority was hiring a coach to implement culture change. The university believes that person is Joe Mihalich, who clearly set the ground rules during his first day on the job yesterday.
A program that went 7-25 and had six players arrested for off-court incidents cost third-year coach Mo Cassara his job. Four players were suspended, three others left the program.
Mihalich said he will tell the current roster and all to come, "What you expect, why you expect it and if they don't want to do it, then they probably shouldn't be part of your team."
Mihalich, 56, spent the last 15 years at Niagara University. He said he is up to the challenge of repairing Hofstra.
Athletic director Jeff Hathaway gave him a six-year contract to do just that. "The bottom line, this is a journey not for the fainthearted, but only for the lionhearted," Hathaway said. Mihalich was the MAAC's winningest coach with 265 overall wins, but his job at Hofstra will encompass more than victories.
"I'm not one bit interested at all about a great team," Hathaway said. "We're looking for a great program built on durability, stability and sustainability, and with Joe that all happens."
Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz was firm about what he expects. "We don't have any toleration for tough years when it comes to behavior and character,'' he said. "What years I have left as president -- and I have a long contract -- I want to know that we put in place a program that is going to make every Hofstra graduate proud of their alma mater through the success and behavior of their student-athletes.''
Mihalich said his "gut" told him it was time for him to make a change. Hathaway called the task "hefty lifting," and Mihalich said, "I don't want to underestimate how hard it's going to be because I know it's going to be hard. But it is basketball. If you can get two or three of the right kids, the timetable can speed up.
"What we have to be careful with -- and Jeff made it pretty clear -- make sure we take the right kids. If you have to, go brick by brick. If you can get two of those bricks in the same year, that's a pretty good thing."
Mihalich has been working the phones and texting recruits, hoping the verbal commitments made over the past months will turn into signatures Wednesday on signing day.
There is potential difficulty in maintaining a satisfactory Academic Progress Rate -- which measures eligibility and retention of Division I athletes -- because of losing the suspended players. That could make the program ineligible for participation in a future Colonial Athletic Association Tournament, the pathway to the NCAAs.
"Anytime you lose four players and lose those APR points, it's a concern," Hathaway said. "But we'll find out how big a concern it is over the next year . . . Clearly that's on our radar screen."
Mihalich said he factored the APR situation into his decision.
"We've got an athletic director working his tail off to try doing whatever we can with that situation," he said. "I know about that going in, it's something that we'll deal with. We've got a bunch of scholarships to fill, we've got some irons in the fire . . . The clock's ticking, we've got to get going right away."