Robert Morris held a press conference today to formally announce Andy Toole's three-year contract extension through the 2017-18 season, with Toole and Colonials athletic director Craig Coleman taking time to discuss the extension and give thanks, etc.
Here's a video of Toole talking about the contract, as well as a video of Coleman doing the same. I apologize if the video is a little shaky at times, guess I'm not used to shooting with my iPhone. I'll hope to make this a regular, and less nausea-inducing, thing.
Below are some notes and observations from the press conference today:
*** I talked to Toole about this on Thursday night, but the extension also includes raises for his assistant coaches and staff. Contract extensions typically include those sorts of all-encompassing raises, but figured it was worth clearing up.
*** It didn't get anywhere close to the sort of rage Toole shows when someone royally messes up in practice, but you can definitely tell he's not too happy about the circumstances surrounding Coron Williams' departure. It's not so much about Coron's decision (though some of the people I've talked to seem skeptical about his ability to excel in the ACC), but rather about the existence of the fifth-year transfer.
He referred to it as "a bad rule" and added: "I don't think there's any sense to it."
*** I talked some with Robert Morris president Greg Dell'Omo for an article I'm going to be doing and it's pretty evident that basketball is a big factor in his plans for growing that school.
Frankly, it's one that makes sense. Whether academia likes to acknowledge it or not, athletics are the most effective way for a university to gain increased visibility and for a school with limited resources like Robert Morris, basketball is the easiest sport to work toward that goal with. As opposed to football, in which you need many excellent recruiting classes at many different positions, a basketball team (and program) can be drastically improved with just a few impact guys.
It's something programs like Gonzaga, Virginia Commonwealth, Butler and others have done successfully, and while every mid-major program aspires to be the next to join that elite group, Robert Morris has taken some tangible steps toward that goal.
*** It's become clear that the Kentucky win still resonates strongly for Robert Morris. Many of these top mid-major programs have the kind of cache where people can point to a singular moment that defines that school. For Butler, it was nearly beating a heavily-favored Duke team on a half-court heave in the national championship. For VCU, it was riding its "Havoc" style of play to a Final Four. Others like George Mason and Wichita State have replicated that feat in recent years.
I don't think that beating an underachieving Kentucky team in the NIT is anywhere near as impressive as those other accomplishments, but it got people talking about Robert Morris basketball, something which is hardly even done here in Pittsburgh.
Toole mentioned recruits he's talked to identified his program by that win and that assistant Joe Gallo remarked to a coach that a Robert Morris recruit was looking at some higher-level programs. The coach responded by saying, "Higher level? You guys beat Kentucky. What's a higher level than that?" A few weeks ago at practice, he also said assistant Robby Pridgen, while at the Final Four in Atlanta wearing an RMU shirt, was pulled aside by some Louisville fans that wanted to take a picture with him.
Being "the school that beat Kentucky" certainly carries more weight than "the school that almost beat Villanova that one time" and smaller programs that want to take the next step forward need that kind of a win/moment on their resume.
*** There was definitely a certain giddiness to most of the people there, from players to coaches to adminstrators. You could tell this was something they wanted to get done for some time.
*** A lot of Toole's family was there, including his son Ryan who apparently is already a better dresser at seven months old than I am at 23 years old.
*** Going back to Williams, Toole said that there are definitely some holes on the roster they're looking to fill. It looks like a certainty at this point that one of the incoming freshmen will go to prep school for a year, which will open up a scholarship. A junior college player would seem like the most viable option for that spot, but even though he's not a fan of the rule, Toole could look for a potential fifth-year transfer.
The recruiting class has to be finalized by May 24, so we'll have more answers by then.
*** In the Keightley Classic, Robert Morris will play at Kentucky, Eastern Michigan and Cleveland State, while getting a home game against Texas-Arlington. When Toole was asked about the potential of playing Pitt, he said he'd be open to it, but he added that games against the Panthers are usually a little lethargic because the players are so used to going against one another from pick-up games and summer leagues like the one out in Green Tree.
A lot of the team's schedule is not finalized yet -- much to the chagrin of assistant coach Michael Byrnes -- but it looks like the team will play 31 games this season, 15 of which will come in non-conference play. Games under current contracts like Duquesne and Savannah State are already set.
*** As a final thing, from talking to Toole and Dell'Omo, it really sounds like a push is being made to allocate resources and find a new home to replace the Sewall Center. An ideal setup would be something similar to what Quinnipiac has, with one building housing both hockey and basketball, but on different sides of the building (so not a single multipurpose arena).
It's something to keep an eye on going forward, even if it may not be materializing any time way too soon.