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Former Hofstra coach Tom Pecora embracing new role assisting at Quinnipiac

Tom Pecora, associate head coach for Quinnipiac, gets

Tom Pecora, associate head coach for Quinnipiac, gets ready to chat with fellow members of the coaching staff during a timeout in an MAAC game against Fairfield at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018. Credit: James Escher

Tom Pecora is back on the bench.

After a two-year absence from coaching college basketball, Pecora is the associate head coach at Quinnipiac. The former Hofstra and Fordham coach returned to Long Island on Saturday, when Quinnipiac beat Fairfield, 75-70, in the first game of a MAAC tripleheader at Nassau Coliseum.

Pecora, 60, who spent the last two seasons broadcasting Atlantic 10 games, has embraced the second chair.

“It’s not like he walks around handing out orders. He’s just basically totally on board,’’ Baker Dunleavy, Quinnipiac’s 35-year-old first-year head coach, said recently from Hamden, Connecticut. “He’s the most qualified person for the job. I’m lucky to have the resources to hire him.’’

Dunleavy’s father, Mike, played, coached and was in the front office in the NBA. He’s now coaching Tulane. Brother Mike Jr. won an NCAA title at Duke and had a 15-year NBA career.

Pecora doesn’t view his role as only a mentor to Dunleavy.

“He’s very bright, he’s got a great feel for the game, he’s been around the game his entire life,” Pecora said. “He is a star in waiting.’’

Baker Dunleavy played and then coached at Villanova, where Jay Wright, Pecora’s close friend, won an NCAA title in 2016. Pecora was Wright’s associate head coach at Hofstra before taking over the Pride when Wright went to Villanova for the 2001-02 season.

Pecora has a home in Mineola and rents an apartment near the campus in Hamden.

“He’s not at the point in his career [when] work’s remotely about him,’’ Dunleavy said. “He has the type of personality where it’s never been about him. His energy is contagious. He brings it every day.’’

Off the court, too. Pecora was the primary recruiter for Hills East senior guard Savion Lewis, who scored a school-record 50 points last Sunday at the Coliseum. Lewis signed a letter of intent in November.

Pecora had his biggest coaching success at Hofstra, where he went 154-125 from 2001-10. The teams earned three NIT bids and beat George Mason twice in the 2005-06 season but did not receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament. George Mason did, and went to the Final Four that season. Pecora still feels badly for his players, saying they deserved better.

During his time at Hofstra, Pecora received interest from Seton Hall and others, but he remained in Hempstead until Fordham made a big offer.

Pecora was confident that he could rebuild the program at Fordham and left Hofstra after the 2010 season for a five-year contract at a reported $650,000 a year. He was let go in March 2015 after compiling a record of 44-106.

Pecora said he thought the program was ready to “turn the corner’’ but said he was more upset “for my young coaches, the staff and their families.’’

One of those former Fordham assistants, Tom Parrotta, is now on the bench for Fairfield, and the two exchanged hearty handshakes before and after the game.

“During those tough times at Fordham, I would say to myself, ‘Man, if I could do this another few years, maybe I can retire, be a broadcaster,’ ” Pecora said. “Be careful what you wish for. I never sweat through my shirt [broadcasting] games.

“What I missed the most was that for the first time in 50 years, I wasn’t part of the team. You don’t get that same thing doing television. I missed meeting with my staff, I missed players coming into my office and talking to me about things. I missed going to practice every day.’’

Looking back, Pecora said he should have remained at Hofstra.

“It was the worst decision I made. I regret it tremendously,’’ he said. Hofstra had “the total level of commitment to their basketball. They are on the upper tier of Division I.’’

Pecora said he regretted not having direct talks with Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz before leaving. Asked about Pecora’s comments, Hofstra said in a statement: “We appreciate his contributions to Hofstra before he resigned to coach at Fordham University, and wish him well in his future endeavors.’’

Pecora has no plans to leave the coaching ranks anytime soon, saying: “Now that I’m back, I got another 10 years to be coaching. Whether it’s 10 years at Quinnipiac as the associate head coach, but I think I’ll be a head coach again. And I’ll be the best coach I’ve ever been because of these experiences.’’

Cameron Young had 15 points for Quinnipiac (9-13, 6-4) and Jesus Cruz had career highs in points (21) and rebounds (10) for Fairfield (7-13, 2-7).

Monmouth beat Marist, 91-78, in the second game. Austin Tilghman scored 24 for Monmouth (7-13, 3-5) and Brian Parker had 24 for Marist (2-7, 4-17).

Iona (13-8, 7-2), coached by Long Islander Tim Cluess, earned a 78-65 win over Manhattan (10-12, 5-5) behind five three-pointers and 20 points from Schadric Casimir.

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