New Faces, New Places: Paul Cormier

Paul Cormier realizes -- and is quick to point out -- that there are no quick fixes for what ails his Dartmouth basketball team.

Which is a wise attitude when you’re in charge of a team that hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since Eisenhower was president.

But if anyone can add perspective to the subtle changes breezing through the leaves in Hanover, N.H., it is Cormier.

In 1984, he started his college basketball head-coaching career at Dartmouth, taking over in the height of the Princeton-Penn dominance. He put together unprecedented success, but unprecedented success still only got the Big Green back-to-back second-place finishes in the Ivy League.

Back for a second go-round, Cormier knows the ledger doesn’t show dramatic changes. Dartmouth hasn’t had a winning season since 1999.

But he senses a change -- a change that you can’t see in a box score, but one that is equally critical.

The Dartmouth administration, like others around the Ivy League, has had its eyes opened by the excitement and attention Cornell basketball brought to its campus with its recent success and Sweet 16 run.

“Before, no one was on the same page,’’ Cormier said. “The president would say one thing but it wasn’t relayed to admissions or the financial aid office. Now they’ve seen the notoriety and benefits from what Cornell has done, from an admissions standpoint, from giving, everywhere. That makes it easier to rationalize making sure athletics are as excellent as academics here.’’

The new administrative attitude only has served to fuel Cormier more. He has been out of the college circuit for 12 years, jumping to the NBA after seven years at Dartmouth and seven more at Fairfield.

More, he’s been off the bench for three seasons, spending the bulk of his time in the pros as an advance scout.

The return has invigorated him.

“I missed coaching. I missed being connected with a team,’’ Cormier said. “When you’re a scout, you’re connected with an organization. You’re removed from the daily in and out, going through the pluses and minuses.’’

For now, the cynics will be quick to remind him there are more minuses at Dartmouth than pluses. Cormier returns to a Big Green team in all sorts of shambles. Coach Terry Dunn quit Jan. 8 amid rumors of a team mutiny. Dartmouth averaged just 54 points per game, dead last of the 334 teams ranked at the Division I level, connected on only 3.6 3-pointers per game, won just five games and a mere one in the Ivy League. Not surprisingly, no player managed to average double figures.

The good news/bad news: Four of the players from that team are back and Cormier hopes, a more concerted effort on defense will make up for whatever his players lack on the offensive end.

To get better, Cormier knows he needs better players, but the Ivy League is not the place for shortcuts. Transfers are a rarity and junior college additions are practically nonexistent.

He will play the hand he’s been dealt for now.

“Over the past several years it hasn’t been special to be a Dartmouth basketball player,’’ Cormier said. “That’s something you have to work on. Getting a new coach is going to get you respect. You have to earn respect. You earn your notoriety. It’s not just talking about it. It’s getting in the weight room and having other people say, there’s something different about the way they’re going about it.’’

If there ever was anything close to resembling a heyday at Dartmouth, Cormier led it. In 1987-88, his Big Green team finished 18-8 and 10-4 in the Ivy League, missing a chance at a share of the Ivy League title with a one-point loss in the final game of the regular season. A year later, Dartmouth went 17-9, finishing second again. Those still rank as two of the winningest seasons at Dartmouth in the past 50 years.

This is not some stopover on the way to something bigger and better for Cormier. Dartmouth offered him his first head-coaching job, and if the 58-year-old Cormier has his way, it will be his last.

“I want to be here,’’ he said. “I’m very loyal to this place and I want it to succeed. We’re not embarrassed to say our ultimate goal over the next four or five years is to win an Ivy League championship. People will say, ‘but you haven’t won it in 52 years. What’s changed?’ Well all I can say is I wouldn’t have taken the job if I didn’t think it was possible.’’

On the surface, it might look as if Dartmouth has gone backward with Cormier, turning back the clock instead of racing forward.

But make no mistake: Cormier represents change. A change in attitude.