DEKALB, Ill. – In today’s college basketball world, a newly-named coach is given less time than ever to turn around a program.
The stakes are especially high at the bigger schools. Iowa coach Todd Lickliter was given three years at Iowa before being fired after last season. Dino Gaudio’s time expired after three seasons at Wake Forest.
But even at the mid-major level and lower, the expectations have risen. Holy Cross removed Sean Kearney as head coach after one disappointing season. Even locally, Benjy Taylor was replaced after three seasons at Chicago State.
In some eyes, Northern Illinois coach Ricardo Patton is approaching those same crossroads. His upcoming fourth season in DeKalb could be vital following three losing seasons. His Huskies’ teams have gone 26-62 overall and a 14-33 in the MAC during his tenure.
But Patton doesn’t see it that way. At this week’s Northern Illinois basketball media day, Patton said he was pleased with where he is program was at and where it was headed. He was confident his players were achieving in what really matters in life.
“We haven’t won on the court, but we’ve won in a lot of areas,” Patton said. “You don’t hear our kids’ names on police blotters. You don’t hear about our kids flunking out. We have some solid kids in our program.
“[I’m not feeling] more pressure than any other year. We always want to win. It doesn’t matter if it’s year one, two, three or four. You still want to win. But I just know, we’re doing the right things. We’re teaching the right lessons to kids, and at the end of the day, that’s what’s important to me, that we’re doing the right things with these young men. When they leave here, they’ll leave here, one, with a degree, and, two, with a better sense of purpose of how to be a productive citizen.”
Patton is also aware of today’s realities. He’s seen plenty of his colleagues have their stays at schools cut short due to the emphasis on winning immediately.
“That’s the unfortunate part I think of college athletics today -- that no one is patient,” Patton said. “When we bring in freshmen, which we did the first year we got here, we brought in all young guys, we are expected as coaches to be patient with freshmen, but unfortunately sometimes people aren’t patient with the coach. The coach has to be patient. As a coach, you have to be confident in yourself and your mission to just stick to the things that you know work.”
Patton also acknowledged he realizes that his fate will ultimately be determined by the amount of wins his team produces. All those other areas are great, but athletic directors, fans, recruits and alums usually look at a team’s on-the-court success.
“We understand that,” Patton said. “We’re only judged on one category. For me, the judgment that is more important is when I look in the mirror and the judgment my supreme being places on me at the end. That’s the most important judgment. Man’s always going to judge man pretty harshly.”
Patton and his players are optimistic about this season. Patton believes that this year’s Huskies will be more consistent defensively and is more likely to resemble the team that won six consecutive games during January of last season rather than the one that dropped 10 consecutive toward the end of their campaign.
“When we went on a six-game winning streak last year, we were one or two in every defensive category,” Patton said. “When we went on a 10-game losing streak, we were 11th or 12th in every defensive category. I think sometimes particularly with the youth, with young kids, they forget what got them there. We have to be able to hang our hat on defense. That’s what we’ve done early on.”
The MAC’s preseason voters weren’t as high on Northern Illinois. The Huskies were voted to finish fifth out of six teams in the MAC West.
The Huskies were originally expected to be among the conference’s contenders this year. They were set to return a bulk of their team from last season, but four players who started a combined 76 games last season opted to leave the program for various reasons in the offseason.
Xavier Silas, one of the MAC’s premier players, does return for the Huskies. Silas averaged 19.7 points and 5.3 rebounds last year. Silas put his name into the NBA draft in the spring and later pulled it out. He could be among the nation’s top scorers this season.
The Huskies will be looking for their other returnees to step up. Tony Nixon (4.3 points last season), Lee Fisher (4.0 points), Michael Patton (3.8 points), Bryan Hall (2.8 points), Tyler Storm (2.2 points) and Jeremy Landers (1.4 points) are expected to have larger roles. Northern Illinois also welcomes in six newcomers.
“Bryan Hall we brought in as freshman,” Patton said. “Michael Patton was a freshman. Jeremy Landers was a freshman. Tyler Storm was a freshman. Lee Fisher was a freshman. When you think about it, those guys are juniors and seniors. That’s the typical development process when you try to do it with freshmen as opposed to quick fixing it with junior college players.
“We also have some maturity in our program. … We have a team that has gone through all the bumps, bruises, ups and down. Now as juniors, I think they understand. They finally get it.”