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SportsColumnistsSteven Marcus

Pecora was tired of being wallflower at Big Dance

Tom Pecora in action during a practice at

Tom Pecora in action during a practice at Hofstra. (Nov. 8, 2008) Photo Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

Tom Pecora's body of work as Hofstra's basketball coach was missing only one ingredient, but it was a significant one to him. His resume did not contain an NCAA Tournament appearance.

At first, he fought the validation theory, saying being a Division I coach at a good school with good students was enough of a reward.

Eventually, it started to gnaw at him. Great winning seasons ended without that coveted reward. It hit a crescendo in the 2005-2006 season when a 26-7 record - and consecutive victories over Colonial Athletic Association power George Mason - went for naught on Selection Sunday. Hofstra received plenty of attention as the snubbed team most deserving of an NCAA bid, but it was Mason that went on to the Final Four.

The survive-and-advance mantra heard all over the NCAA Tournament was never a refrain for Pecora. He couldn't get his team to the tournament, but it was not for lack of trying. His career record of 155-126 does not tell the story.

In his nine seasons, Pecora's teams won at least 20 games four times; he won 19 this year. Any mid-major program would expect that work to yield at least one invitation to the Big Dance. But it never happened for Pecora or his team. It wasn't ego with him, more a sense of seeking a reward for his players and himself.

He grew tired of hitting his head on the glass ceiling of the CAA, where the hope of multiple bids were never realized in the nine seasons since Hofstra left the America East Conference. Pecora had to settle for reflected glory in America East as Jay Wright's assistant. Two AE titles got Wright to Villanova. Pecora took over, but in the vastly different CAA.

At 52, Pecora needed a change and the fresh air, believe it or not, comes in a rebuilding project at Fordham. It is a university down on its basketball luck, but certainly buoyed by the arrival of Pecora, who will roll up his sleeves and get to work.

This time, it will not be in vain. The Atlantic 10 does yield multiple bids (three this season), so when Pecora goes after city players, still his specialty, he can tell them there is a realistic hope of punching a Dance card. Pecora was the coach Fordham targeted in December when they removed Dereck Whittenburg.

The Fordham administration worried that they might lose Pecora to Seton Hall or even St. John's.

While some others might have viewed Fordham basketball as a monumental project to resurrect, Pecora hit a long trey in yesterday's interview with the top administrators at Rose Hill.

"This is where he wanted to come, he wants to be here," athletic director Frank McLaughlin said. Pecora is not a coach on the way up, just one looking for a bigger job. He is not a coach on the way down, he's just trying to rebuild a career. He is still in his prime.

For all the criticism directed at Fordham basketball over the years, Wednesday was a day of celebration. Fordham got their man, Pecora got the job he wanted and try to find someone who thinks he will not be successful.

Pecora has a new partner and, in time, he will take the Rams to The Dance.


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