Column: Watson remembered for turning around athletics

Mark Schmidt in 2012 after the Bonnies beat Xavier to win the A-10 Championship
Mark Schmidt in 2012 after the Bonnies beat Xavier to win the A-10 Championship

[Image courtesy of gobonnies.com]

By Joseph Pinter, @JPinter93

Local media who have been around long enough can remember 2006. The men’s basketball team had just gotten blown out by an Atlantic 10 opponent late in the season, and the Reilly Center was quite empty.

Coach Anthony Solomon lashed out at the media members, yelling about the lack of student and community support his team had.

Had I been in the room, I would have asked one simple question: Why would anyone support this team?

Three years earlier the Bonnies were the laughingstock of national media; a basketball program completely undone by the university’s own president. A president overriding NCAA academic standards to admit an athlete? How ridiculous does that sound?

The scandal has been ranked in the top ten in many lists of the worst NCAA scandals of all time. Bleacher Report even ranks it as the seventh-worst ever.

It brought down the program and left a disaster for Solomon to try and clean up. Well, he succeeded about as well as Bill Buckner in the infamous 1986 World Series. The team went 24-88 until a new athletic director was finally hired in 2006.

Enter Steve Watson.

Watson’s father, mother and brother all taught at Bonaventure, and he had grown up in nearby Franklinville, New York. He was a standout basketball player at Archbishop Walsh High School in Olean before playing at the collegiate level at Rutgers and Bowling Green. He played professionally overseas for a few years before entering administration.

He worked in the athletic departments at Dayton and Georgia before being named associate AD at Eastern Michigan.

He knew Bonaventure, knew the area and knew what athletics needed.

He was also what Bonaventure needed.

He hired Mark Schmidt as men’s basketball coach. Four years later, the jokes were gone and the Bonnies were Atlantic 10 Champions. Bonnies fans took over Bridgestone Arena in Nashville for the second round of the NCAA Tournament and the Orlando Magic selected Bonaventure forward Andrew Nicholson in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft.

That same year, the women’s basketball team made it to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.

Basketball fever had returned to Allegany in full force.

The truth is, Bonaventure has been lucky to hold onto Watson this long. Nearly everything Watson has done here has been a huge success, including the recent turf fields project for the soccer, lacrosse and softball teams.

Mid-major schools often have trouble keeping people as successful as Watson. We’ve been fortunate to have him as long as we did.

In 30 days or so, Watson will begin his new job as AD at Loyola-Chicago, a Division I school competing in the Missouri Valley Conference. Until then he’ll continue leading Bonaventure’s athletics.

Once settled in Chicago, Watson will take a hard look at the university’s athletics department. You can bet he’ll again consider hiring a new men’s basketball coach — Porter Moser has gone 32-61 in his three seasons at the helm.

Bonaventure would have liked to have Watson running its athletic department for many years, but that’s the reality with mid-major schools. It’s hard to hold onto your best administrators and coaches. They often leave for more money and deeper assets.

Here’s to hoping Watson has as much luck at Loyola-Chicago as he did here.

After all, he’s a western New Yorker at heart. He may be leaving, but he’s still one of us.

We will be forever thankful for his part in restoring the men’s basketball program and setting up Bonaventure’s other sports for future success.

Gone are the days of basketball scandals (hopefully), and the lack of fan support for the program.

Local media members can now fondly look back on that March 2012 afternoon in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Schmidt cut down the nets while fans screamed, “We’re going dancing!” Guard Michael Davenport picked up president Sr. Margaret Carney and spun her around in celebration. Schmidt answered postgame questions about the program’s renaissance, not about its failures.

The memories of 2003-2007 will eventually fade away, but these ones won’t.

We have Watson to thank for that.

pinterjo11@bonaventure.edu

 

University president announces AD’s departure

watson

[Image courtesy of sbu.edu]

By Joseph Pinter, @JPinter93

ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. (Nov. 12) — St. Bonaventure University hired Steve Watson as its athletic director in 2006 to rebuild its basketball programs and bring more credibility to Bonaventure sports as a whole.

Since his hiring, the university has won Atlantic 10 Championships in swimming and men’s basketball, made an NCAA Tournament appearance by both the men’s and women’s basketball teams and has completed half a turf fields project for the soccer, lacrosse and softball teams.

Many accomplishments, indeed.

University president Sr. Margaret Carney announced in a press release this morning that Watson has accepted the same position at Loyola-Chicago.

“Steve’s success at St. Bonaventure has opened many doors for him,” Carney said “While it’s always difficult to say goodbye to a senior administrator, we do so with gratitude for his contributions here.”

Watson will remain at Bonaventure for the next 30 days until he formally hands in his resignation, Carney said.

The search for his successor hasn’t begun yet. Later this week, administrators will discuss plans for an interim athletic director and begin planning a search for a permanent one.

“We’ll do a national search, and if we have an internal candidate that person will be a candidate in that search,” Carney said. “But we’ll invite people from all over the country.”

“We’re committed to getting the best athletic director that we can for St. Bonaventure,” said Rick Trietley, vice president of Student Affairs.

Since Watson is a member of the president’s cabinet, Carney will hire the next athletic director, she said.

Until September 2013 Watson reported directly to Carney, but that has since changed. Watson has reported to Trietley, who reports to Carney.

Both administrators don’t expect a change in the structure.

In the university press release, Carney credited Watson with “strengthening our position” with alumni, even “healing some significant relationships.”

“Steve engendered confidence with our alumni, and that’s evidenced in his leadership of the successful campaigns we’ve had to upgrade some of our athletics facilities,” she said. “He also played an active and supportive role in athletics becoming a better partner with other divisions at the university.”

“Our athletics staff and coaches are second to none,” Watson said. “It has been a privilege to work side by side with some of the best in the business. Sr. Margaret gave me the opportunity to come home almost eight years ago and for that I will be forever grateful.”

“I also want to thank the community and alumni for all their support during my time at Bona’s. St. Bonaventure fans and alums have been amazingly supportive of me and my family. While Chicago will be our new home, our ties to this community will always remain strong.”

Athletic department officials were still coming to grips with the news.

“There’s no doubt we’re going to miss him,” said Steve Mest, associate athletic director for strategic communication. “He’s been a constant presence here for seven years. Students, student athletes, all of our staff, the rest of the university, we have become comfortable with him.”

Some of the athletic department’s employees have been at Bonaventure for a long time, so Mest is confident the department is “going to be able to keep things going” until Carney hires a new athletic director.

Watson’s successor will have one less problem to deal with — the men’s basketball program. Watson took over the athletic department three years after a scandal destroyed the program’s reputation and, ultimately, its success. In the four years before Watson came aboard, the men’s basketball team had a 24-88 record under Anthony Solomon.

One of Watson’s first moves was hiring head coach Mark Schmidt in 2007. Schmidt has revived the program, winning the A-10 Championship and making an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2012. He also oversaw the installation of a new basketball playing surface in 2007– Bob Lanier Court.

“I think as AD, (Watson) deserves the ultimate credit,” Mest said of the turnaround. “I mean he’s the captain of our ship here, so to speak. It was his call to hire (Schmidt). He hired him, he found him.”

Hiring Schmidt will most likely be Watson’s greatest achievement yet.

“Every AD wants to hire the right coach, and then give them the tools they need to be successful. Steve clearly has done that in this case.”

Watson also eyed turning around other programs. He co-chaired a committee to develop a strategic plan for Bonaventure athletics — one that included installing turf fields for the soccer, lacrosse and softball teams.

“(Watson and co-chair Trietley) formed a very strong partnership, worked in tandem together, submitted the plan and put the plan through a complete review by our board,” Carney said. “Our board was very pleased with it. The administration was very pleased with it. We’ve been doing all the work in athletics based on that ever since.”

So far, the soccer and lacrosse turf field has been installed and the women’s basketball locker rooms have been renovated.

Watson moves to Loyola-Chicago, which has competed in the Missouri Valley Conference since 2013. Mest said while Watson was extremely intelligent and funny, among other things, he will miss Watson’s personable side the most.

“I think (Watson) was just one of everybody else,” he said. “He’s a regular guy from Franklinville, New York, and that showed in the way he worked with everybody on a daily basis. He’s not a micromanager by any means.”

Watson grew up in Franklinville and attended Archbishop Walsh High School in Olean.

“He asked for and valued our opinions,” Mest said. “So I think as an employee, thats what you’d hope for in a boss.”

pinterjo11@bonaventure.edu

Source: AD Watson accepts position at Loyola Chicago

watson

[Image courtesy of gobonnies.com]

By Joseph Pinter, @JPinter93

St. Bonaventure University may have to begin looking for a new head of its athletic department.

According to a source, Athletic Director Steve Watson has accepted the same position at Loyola University Chicago.

Bonaventure athletic officials have declined comment.

Watson was named Bonaventure AD in 2006 after spending four years as an associate AD at Eastern Michigan. He had played professional basketball for six years in Europe and Asia after playing college basketball at Rutgers and Bowling Green.

Watson is currently the last member of his family employed by Bonaventure.

Watson’s late father, John, was a business professor, dean, and vice president for academic affairs. His late brother, also John, was a management professor.  And his mother, Suzanne, is a retired computer science professor.

pinterjo11@bonaventure.edu