Just days after coaching Stony Brook to its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, Steve Pikiell is headed to Rutgers, Stony Brook confirmed Saturday.
Pikiell reportedly agreed to a five-year contract with an annual salary of $1.6 million.
Pikiell, 48, replaces Scarlet Knights alumnus Eddie Jordan, who was let go after a three-year record of 29-68. The Scarlet Knights were 7-25 this season, 1-17 in the Big Ten. Jordan was the star player when Rutgers enjoyed its greatest success, advancing to the Final Four in 1976.
Before offering the job to Pikiell, Rutgers reportedly also interviewed Rhode Island’s Dan Hurley and George Washington’s Mike Lonergan, both of whom were said to have withdrawn their names from consideration.
Before accepting the Rutgers job, Pikiell, who did not return calls Saturday, discussed it with his coaching mentor, former Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun. “I think it’s a great move,’’ Calhoun said in a phone interview. “Steve and I have talked at length about this. Steve wants to go up and challenge himself at the next level. He loves Stony Brook, but it’s his time. He left Stony Brook in great shape. Stony Brook should feel, I’m sure they do, really happy that they had him and how he helped pushed them forward for the future.’’
Stony Brook athletic director Shawn Heilbron said in a statement, “For 11 years Steve Pikiell gave his heart and soul to Stony Brook University; his contributions have been immeasurable. His approach to the game is the epitome of winning the ‘right way,’ and I have no doubt that he will bring that same philosophy to Rutgers . . . Thanks to Steve, our men’s basketball program has transformed into one that will attract great candidates, and my expectation is that we will identify a world-class coach who shares our vision to positively transform the life of each student-athlete and win at the highest level.’’
Earlier in the week, Heilbron spoke of the likelihood of Pikiell receiving interest from other institutions and said administrators always have potential successors in mind. The in-house candidate could be Jay Young, Pikiell’s associate head coach, but Heilbron, who before taking over at Stony Brook was the senior associate athletic director at Oregon State, could look for someone from a school with BCS affiliation.
Rutgers, the doormat of the Big Ten with a 3-33 record in two years and lagging in facilities, is a rebuilding project, but Calhoun said that did not deter Pikiell.
“I left Northeastern after 14 years to take over UConn, and people said ‘not sure’ and all this other stuff,’’ Calhoun said. “But Steve was sure when I talked to him well over a week ago, right after the [America East] championship. He had spoken to some people. There’s no reason why Rutgers can’t be good. So I think it’s a great day for Rutgers, I really believe that. I think people are going to love him.’’
The Rutgers athletic program, football and basketball in particular, has had its share of controversies. In 2013, men’s basketball coach Mike Rice was fired when a tape surfaced showing him grabbing, shoving and throwing basketballs at players. Jordan’s hiring came under fire when it was discovered that he did not have a degree when he left Rutgers in 1977. He later earned one. Issues primarily with the football program reportedly led to the dismissal of athletic director Julie Herrmann, with Patrick Hobbs taking over late last year.
Pikiell had an overall record of 192-156 in his 11 seasons at Stony Brook and finished 26-7 this year. He was 119-48 in his last five seasons and reached the America East Tournament championship game in five of the last six seasons.
Behind 43 points by star forward Jameel Warney, Pikiell’s best recruit, the Seawolves beat Vermont, 80-74, for the conference title after falling behind by 15 points in the second half. That earned the team an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The 13th-seeded Seawolves lost to fourth-seeded Kentucky, 85-57, on Thursday night in Des Moines, Iowa.
The Rutgers rebuild may remind Pikiell of his early years at Stony Brook. In the 2005-06 season, his first coaching the Seawolves, the team went 4-24 and lost by 30 points in the conference tournament’s play-in game. “We were walking out after the game and [an observer] thought we were maybe in the conversation for worst team in the history of the league,’’ he said in later years. “We were in that conversation. We weren’t close to the number eight team; we just lost by 30. I didn’t realize how far we were from the eighth-place team . . . We were struggling having people come to games, we were struggling on the recruiting trail. It took me four years to get my neighbors to come to games.’’
Pikiell attributed Stony Brook’s success to a strong work ethic. “I’m a worker and an obstacle guy, and that’s all I’ve had to do since I’ve been here,’’ he said. “I’m a blue-collar person — nine brothers and sisters, paper route, nothing’s been easy. I had a positive approach to everything. I knew it would get better. Obviously, it can’t go in the other direction. Honestly, I really believed in myself and I believed in my staff. I believe in the university.’’
He might echo those words when he is introduced at Rutgers.
Steve Pikiell’s numbers at Stony Brook
192-156 overall record
(119-48 last five seasons)
105-71 conference record
(67-13 last five seasons)
1 NCAA Tournament appearance
3 NIT appearances
5 America East Tournament finals
4-time America East coach of year