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An update on Andy Toole and Siena

Written by Craig Meyer on .

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The discussion surrounding Andy Toole and the head coaching vacancy at Siena has shifted from premature speculation to a far more concrete state over the last few days.

As was first reported by Mark Singelais of the Albany Times Union, Toole was on the Siena campus yesterday for an interview. This development came after Toole met with unspecified school officials off campus last week.

According to numerous reports, Toole is one of three finalists for the position, along with Loyola (Maryland) coach Jimmy Patsos and Virginia Commonwealth assistant coach Mike Rhoades, both of whom are scheduled to interview with the school early next week. The school is said to want to make a final decision before the Final Four next weekend.

To push things further, SNY’s Adam Zagoria tweeted that both Toole and Patsos are “battling hard” for the Siena position.

A tweet like that, if true, leads me to believe that this isn’t a matter of whether or not Toole wants the job – it comes down to whether he is offered it and if the money on the offer is enough to persuade him to leave what is largely a comfortable position as the beloved head coach at a smaller school.

As far as money goes, tax records from Siena indicated that former coach Fran McCaffery made north of $500,000 in his final year at the school, benefits and everything else included. In his first season, Mitch Buonaguro, who was fired Mar. 12, made a little over $266,000.

From people I’ve talked to, it looks like Siena may be willing to offer as much as $500,000 a year, which for Toole, would represent a significant pay raise.

The question now becomes this: if Toole is offered the position, would Robert Morris be able to match with a counter-offer? Having talked to athletic director Craig Coleman today, it sounds like the school is willing to do anything within its power to keep Toole, who is in the third year of a five-year contract.

But will that be enough? As Robert Morris is a private school, its employees’ salaries are not public record, but tax records show that Toole was not among the school’s highest paid employees in 2011, a list that bottomed out with someone that was paid $152,000 per year.

The school showed in the past that it is willing to keep coaches, as it signed former coach Mike Rice to an extension (and a raise on a salary that was already near $270,000) right before he left for Rutgers, where he makes about $650,000/year.

There has been confusion from some people as to why Toole would take this job, as some don’t see it as a definitive step up the proverbial coaching ladder. In some respects, that opinion makes sense as Siena plays in the one-bid MAAC, which isn’t a drastic improvement from the NEC.

However, the Saints play in a 15,000-seat downtown arena before large crowds when the team is doing well. That stands in sharp contrast to a successful Robert Morris program that struggles to fill the 3,000-seat Sewall Center when it’s not playing in a conference tournament or against a marquee opponent.

Let’s also not forget this is a program that went to three consecutive NCAA tournaments under McCaffery, with the Saints winning a game in each of their first two appearances (2008, 2009). It’s also proven to be a launching point for coaches to get major conference jobs, as McCaffery landed at Iowa and before him, Paul Hewitt went to Georgia Tech after a successful stint at Siena.

Quite a few people around college basketball that I’ve talked to undoubtedly believe that Siena is a better job and that if the offer is right, Toole should accept the position there.

There is also a difference in the basketball commitment of the two schools. According to figures from Basketball State, 19 percent of Siena’s athletic expenses went to basketball ($2.29 million) while 10 percent of Robert Morris’ went to basketball ($1.36 million).

I won’t speculate at this point whether or not Toole will take the job, but from everything I’ve gathered, he’s serious about the Siena opening. There’s not a whole lot Robert Morris can do at this point except wait for Toole to return to campus (he’s taken this week off, as the season just ended) and see if he’s offered the job.

I’ll keep things updated both on the blog and on Twitter as news develops, but I wouldn’t expect things to progress until early next week.

Meanwhile, here’s some of what Coleman had to say from our conversation earlier today:

On what the process becomes if Toole is offered the position at Siena: “Every one of these situations is completely different. We love Andy Toole. We think he’s a great coach, we think he’s a great person, we think he’s very smart, we think he’s very wise beyond his years. We have nothing but positive feelings about him and we’re going to do what we think is the right thing to do for him, whether he gets another offer or not.”

“We want him to stay. We’re going to do what we think we need to do to try to keep him.”

On what the school’s limits are in negotiations: “Every school has its limits – that would be true of any school in the country. Not everybody has the same limits, but everybody has resources and everybody’s got limits. I can’t really tell you what our negotiating points are or what our offer is going to be. I don’t talk about that publicly.”

On if retaining talented coaches is a key piece of helping build a strong mid-major program: “When you’re talking about schools in the power conferences, schools that have seemingly unlimited resources in their athletic department, obviously it’s difficult to compete with that. I think that money is the only factor in anyone’s decision. I don’t really want to get into specifics. Obviously, if you’re recruiting an athlete at a mid-major school and then a power-conference school begins recruiting that athlete, you’ve got an uphill battle on your hands, right? It really isn’t any different for coaches. It’s obvious that the more resources you have, the more you can bring to bear in terms of trying to attract someone, whether it’s a recruit or a coach or whatever. We also think there are some non-monetary things that are important to many coaches and many folks that we also feel like are factors in the equation.”

On the idea that this is a good problem to have (an in-demand coach): “I would not want to have a coach nobody else wanted. With the fact that we have a coach and have had other coaches that have attracted interest by other schools is, I think, a very positive thing in that we have a quality coach that’s running a quality program.”

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