Column: Crowley’s coaching turnaround started with 2006 tirade

(Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)

By Ryan Lazo

NEW YORK- Jim Crowley walked onto the court inside the Reilly Center for his team’s practice and his blood immediately boiled.

St. Bonaventure had suffered a blowout loss to Bowling Green the night before, yet his players seemed okay with the poor result. Laughter, smiles and joking around emanated throughout the arena. Crowley, feeling the pressure of being in the midst of three-consecutive one-year deals and sleepless nights on a friend’s couch in fear of a possible firing, had enough.

“It was near bottom and I was near bottom,” Crowley told me about the incident in 2006. “To be honest, the program was probably heading for a change … I remember kicking basketballs and it was genuine.

“I also remember going to each kid and asking them to explain each turnover they committed and had them running for each mistake. I drove it home that it was not acceptable.”

Fast forward 10 years later and St. Bonaventure is undergoing a coaching change for its women’s basketball program, but not for the reasons Crowley had worried about all those years prior. Instead, it’s making a change because of what has happened since:

Two NCAA Tournament appearances (the first resulting in a Sweet 16 appearance), four WNIT appearances, six 20-win seasons, three Atlantic 10 Conference Coach of the Year honors, a National Coach of the Year honor and a 205-117 record since the 2006-07 season.

After 20 seasons with St. Bonaventure, 16 as its head coach, Crowley has stepped down and accepted the vacant head coaching job at Providence College.

“It’s a bittersweet time because I’ve always dreamed of coaching in the Big East but so much of my heart is with Bonaventure and the Olean community,” Crowley said in a statement. “I can never thank the University, the fans, the alums, the community enough, but mostly I can’t thank all of our players enough because they are the ones who made all of our success possible. (Providence) was just an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Nor should anyone blame him for it.

Providence represents an opportunity to coach in the Big East while also receiving a significant bump in his salary. Coaching is a fickle profession and he needed to strike when his stock was highest.

Besides, Crowley has shown more than enough loyalty to St. Bonaventure than he’s had to. He could have left following the 2012 team’s Sweet 16 appearance, but he remained and went back to work at building another team capable of reaching the same heights.

Four years later, St. Bonaventure reached the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.

In my time as a reporter around Crowley, no one ever outworked him. His team never had McDonald’s All-Americans, but it never mattered. He instilled a work ethic into his team while filling needs with each player and stuck to a disciplined system.

“We’re never going to win the lay-up line because we’re not flashy and people look past us,” Crowley told me after his team’s Sweet 16 appearance. “It will always be our mentality. We will always have that chip on our shoulder.”

Maybe that’s why Crowley is well-liked by St. Bonaventure fans, students and alumni. Both he, and his team, represent the university in its best light. Crowley never quit when he recorded three-consecutive nine-win seasons. He never made excuses for his team’s poor showings and results.

Instead, he found ways to win.

Whether it was noticing the balance of Jessica Jenkins, who developed into the best 3-point shooter in program history, gaining inspiration from ‘Moneyball’ or adapting his offensive philosophy to use much of the shot-clock, he found a way.

“Find any other company, in area of this size and have a sample size of over 340 and make that one of top 16 of that. That’s what our kids did,” Crowley told me about putting his team’s success in words.

His struggles to success story means he leaves the program in a much better state than when he inherited it. Once an afterthought, St. Bonaventure women’s basketball is nationally known.

A team with no basketball history now has plenty thanks to one tirade in 2006 which changed the course of the program.

One look upward inside the Reilly Center highlights that fact. Retired numbers and postseason banners fill the air. The echo of Crowley screaming, “WIN IT,” at every loose ball still reverberates throughout the arena.

As will his impact on a program which certainly will have no shortage of interest in a vacant position that 10 years ago no one would have wanted.

And St. Bonaventure has Crowley to thank for that.

Ryan Lazo is a 2013 graduate of St. Bonaventure University and is currently a Sports Reporter at the New York Post.

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