Hiring Matt Langel won’t necessarily make David Roach popular among his former co-workers.
Before he became athletic director at Colgate, Roach served in the same role at Brown. His Ivy League catbird seat afforded Roach a pretty good view of the Penn basketball team. Back then, the Quakers offered a pretty bleak picture for the rest of the members of the Ancient Eight, their success so overwhelming that the rest of the conference members were left trying to make any inroads.
But now? Now those Penn connections are providing a pretty bright future for Colgate. Roach recently handed the head-coaching reins to Langel, who won two Ivy titles as a player while Roach was at Brown, and most recently served alongside Fran Dunphy as an assistant coach at Temple.
“I think my old buddies might be a little upset with me,’’ Roach laughed. “But obviously Fran Dunphy is someone I always admired and Matt has worked alongside Fran and played for Fran. Matt is the same. He’s a very sincere person and that comes through when you’re around him. It’s already rubbing off on people here at Colgate.’’
Only 33, Langel already is a head coach, ascending to a spot plenty of coaches spend their whole lives working to reach. Langel, though, never had a grand plan or a how-to guide to become a head coach. He chose Penn because of its combination of academic and athletic excellence and as his college career wound down, realized he wasn’t ready to give up the game.
“I wasn’t a guy who wanted to coach; I wanted to keep playing,’’ Langel said.
Encouraged by Dunphy to chase his playing career, Langel played four years in France and Switzerland. But when an opportunity fell through, Langel stood at a crossroads.
And there was Dunphy.
Langel had the blessing of both good timing and good fortune, winding up his playing career just as a spot opened on the Penn bench. Two years later, when Dunphy moved across Philadelphia, from Penn to Temple, he brought Langel along.
“There is not a finer coach nor a finer man in this profession than Fran Dunphy and that’s why I was able to get this opportunity,’’ Langel said.
In a lot of ways, it’s an opportunity tailor-made for Langel. Colgate, like Penn, has a strong academic reputation and asks its student-athletes to fill that mold. Langel not only is accustomed to recruiting those sorts of players, he was one. He can relate to the academic demands and rigors his players will face because he carried the same load at Penn.
And Langel purposefully made sure his assistants were cut of the same cloth. He hired Terrell Ivory, the former director of basketball operations at Davidson who previously worked at Blair Academy; Michael McGarvey, an assistant at Division III Ursinus College and his former Penn teammate, and David Klatsky, who had been working as a volunteer assistant at Stevens Institute of Technology while holding down a lucrative trading job in New York City.
“I told Klatsky to get evaluated in the psych ward,’’ Langel joked.
It’s a young staff but it is, Langel believes, the right staff for the job.
“We’re not going to get kids because our assistants have deep roots with an AAU team,’’ Langel said. “This is an academic place and we need guys who can relate to that.’’
There is plenty for everyone to do at Colgate. The Raiders went 7-23 last season and aside from an appearance in the Patriot League title game in 2008, things have been pretty bleak. In the three years before that '07-08 season and the three years after, Colgate has averaged just under 10 wins a season. The only two NCAA tournament appearances in school history came in back-to-back years in the mid-90s.
“In the sport of basketball, it doesn’t take a lot to turn a program around,’’ Roach said. “The first step is to become competitive in the Ivy League and after that, anything is possible. As mid-major teams have proven throughout the country now, you never can tell. Look at what Penn did. Cornell did it a year ago, so any school like us can do it, too.’’