'Shoes' finds Division I fit again at FDU

June, 10, 2009
Greg Vetrone was unofficially banished, sent away through a mutual understanding so UNLV could move on after violations emerged in the late 1990s.

Vetrone wasn't given any show-cause penalty. His violations were deemed secondary (mostly dealing with the recruitment of Lamar Odom in 1996-97) and focused on improper recruiting inducements and contact with Odom, including inadvertent phone calls and a manager that he said used his FedEx account to mail him gear.

So, Vetrone, known as "Shoes," was sent away to work with basketball grassroots guru Sonny Vaccaro and begin a 10-year climb back to relevance.

He finally got his shot to be a headline coaching performer again on Tuesday.

Fairleigh Dickinson athletic director David Langford gave Vetrone the team's interim coaching tag after he abruptly fired coach Tom Green, the coach who gave Vetrone his second chance at Division I when he hired him as an assistant last year. Green had been with the Knights for 26 years.

"The truth is I've learned, I've learned a lot,'' Vetrone said. "I'm 48 years old. I will never compromise my family. I have a 16-year old, a 13-year old, and I will never come close to compromising them. I've worked hard the last 10 years of my life on my image -- to do the right thing."

Vetrone added the UNLV staff was doomed at that time. "There was no way we were going to succeed at UNLV,'' said Vetrone.

He is not the only current head coach who came from that staff. Fellow assistant Barry Rohrssen is now the head man at Manhattan College.

"We were all young guys. The NCAA was always after UNLV, after Tark [Jerry Tarkanian] sued them and beat them. Lon Kruger was the perfect choice for them [after a myriad of coaches had come through, including Charlie Spoonhour]. We were all young guys. I was the only one who was married."

Langford said he normally handles any assistant interviews for Green. But in the case of Vetrone, he wanted to participate a year ago. Vetrone had been at FDU once before (from 1988 to 1991). He was also at UC Irvine from 1991 to 1995 before joining Bill Bayno at UNLV for four seasons.

"I had heard the rumors about everything that went on [at UNLV],'' Langford said of Vetrone's involvement. "I did a diligent search of what had transpired at UNLV and interviewed Greg personally. I had the heart-to-heart with him as two adults, and at the end of the research process, I was convinced that Greg deserved an opportunity to get back in coaching at Division I. Nothing that I've seen since has indicated it was the wrong decision."

Vetrone knew that if he was going to get back into Division I, he had to find a friendly face.

Green was his opening.

Vetrone was familiar with New Jersey basketball, having coached there and being from the New York area. He had to go where he was comfortable.

But he wasn't humbled until he was the head coach at Portchester High in New York, which forced him to deal with high school kids without the pop of college basketball. "Sometimes you lose sight of why you became a coach, and when you're not around pros or the college experience, you can see it better at the high school level,'' Vetrone said. "My life has changed drastically the last 10 years. My kids have played a big part. It was a factor for me [to get back to Division I]."

Langford said Vetrone's contract will change, and he will be paid as if he were a head coach for one season. He will be given a yearlong trial to audition for the head-coaching job -- a prospect that would have seemed to be out of reach when UNLV faced the NCAA Committee on Infractions in 2000.

Vetrone has some bitter feelings about getting the job at the expense of Green, however. He said he still has no clue why Green was fired.

"This all happened so quick,'' Vetrone said. "He was one of my dearest friends in coaching, and I don't know anything. It's one of the craziest things I've seen. But I've got to move forward and do the right thing."

Vetrone escaped having to go in front of the infractions committee with the Odom case and wasn't given a show-cause penalty. He served a nine-year penance, if you will, for being sullied in the affair before Green hired him back last season.

Now, he's the head coach at FDU.

Vetrone is yet another example of why, regardless of whether a coach is named in an NCAA report or has some role in one that ultimately leads to a dismissal, you can never count him out of coaching again at the Division I level.

There are second chances for everyone, and Vetrone is simply the latest person who is getting another shot.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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