Patsos hungry to sustain success at Loyola
BALTIMORE -- Sitting in the corner of a popular restaurant near Loyola College, Jimmy Patsos digs his fork into a chopped salad and eagerly takes a bite.
In less than four hours, hundreds of students at the small Jesuit school will be chanting the basketball coach's name before the Greyhounds face Canisius in an important Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference game.
Now, however, no one approaches Patsos for an autograph or even asks to shake his hand -- even though his green-and-white Loyola warmup suit is difficult to overlook in a restaurant filled to capacity.
"It's not like at Maryland," said Patsos, who received a national championship ring and plenty of exposure in 2002 as an assistant to Gary Williams.
Patsos took a huge risk by leaving Maryland to coach at Loyola, which had just concluded a 1-27 season before he signed a five-year contract on April 1, 2004. The Greyhounds were awful, but that wasn't even his biggest concern.
"This is a lacrosse school. I got nervous because there was zero tradition here," Patsos recalls. "If I don't make it, then I'm out of here and no one will remember me."
The 40-year-old Patsos may not be recognized by everyone in and around the college, but he probably deserves to have hundreds of people slap him on the back for the job he's done. After guiding the Greyhounds to six victories in his first year, Patsos last season led Loyola to its first winning record (15-13) since 1993-94.
The progression has continued this season. Loyola (14-11, 10-5) is only one game out of first place in the MAAC and is receiving national attention because the league winner earns an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
"I'd say we're a little ahead of schedule," Patsos said. "I'm getting calls from around the country from guys doing the bracketology."
It's hard to imagine Loyola, with an enrollment of 3,400 students, in this position. Before Patsos arrived, the Greyhounds had successive seasons of 5-23, 4-24 and the dreadful 1-27 that got the kind of attention the program could have done without.
"It seems like a long time ago," said athletic director Joe Boylan, who lured Patsos from Maryland. "Back then, we had about 10 students show up at the games."
Shane James, now a senior, was part of that one-victory team.
"I wouldn't say it was embarrassing, but it was a real tough year," he said. "As the years went on, things have really changed. It's been a relief. It's great to be part of a winning team. Having the students here, the gym is packed, it's just a different feeling."
Thanks to Patsos, who does everything from recruiting (while wearing his championship ring, of course) to handing out T-shirts to incoming freshman.
"He's just done an unbelievable job. He knows how to build a total program, and we're lucky to have him," Boylan said. "When the job opened, Jimmy was a guy I thought would be perfect. I remember telling Gary Williams, my biggest fear is Jimmy would put his head on the pillow and go, 'Wait a minute. I'm not doing this. What am I, nuts?"
Patsos may not be crazy, but his style is anything but conventional. Before Loyola started to win, the best part about going to Greyhounds games was watching the animated coach jump and yell on the sideline. Patsos has since toned down his act, but has nevertheless been called for 10 technical fouls this season -- each of which he has promised to turn into a $100 donation to charity.
His off-the-court habits are also open for interpretation. During a recent road trip to New York, he took the players to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Dakota building, where John Lennon lived and was murdered.
"You do something like that in the ACC, visit those places on a day off, and people go, 'You should have been practicing or watching tape," Patsos said. "But being a coach is more than just basketball."
Which is why Patsos is having dinner with a reporter and sports information director Joe DelBalso four hours before tip-off.
"Gary Williams did this at American U.," Patsos said. "He would do whatever it takes to promote his team. Besides, you got to eat."
And Patsos has to coach. He loves it at Loyola, and has no desire to move on.
"This is a perfect job for me," he said. "I would like to stay here for a very long time, if they'll have me."
That won't be a problem as long as Boylan is in charge.
"We want him here, obviously, as long as he wants to be here," said Boylan, who last year gave Patsos an extension on his original contract. "He knows a lot of people and is comfortable in the area. But that doesn't mean someone from the Big Ten won't pick up the phone, call him and say, 'Hey, we need someone to revive the program.' So as long as he's here, we're going to enjoy it."
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Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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