Pat Skerry has quite a task at Towson

May, 11, 2011
The most coveted assistant coaching job in the Big East might be on Jamie Dixon's staff at Pitt.

Get on that bench and suddenly your chances of landing a head-coaching job increase dramatically.

Mike Rice arrived from Saint Joseph's and landed a head-coaching gig at Robert Morris and then at Rutgers.

Tom Herrion arrived from the unemployment line and is now the head coach at Marshall.

Barry Rohrssen was a carryover from Ben Howland's staff and spent three years as Dixon's associate head coach before landing the Manhattan job.

Pat Skerry came for one season after being a longtime assistant for Herrion at Charleston, for Jim Baron at Rhode Island and then for Keno Davis at Providence.

Now Skerry is the head coach at Towson.

"Why wouldn't an administration want a coach who works for him?" Skerry said of Dixon. "He's incredibly focused. He's incredibly consistent. The way [his teams] play, he gives a team a chance to win every night. The focus is on defense, rebounding."

Herrion was on Dixon's bench when the Panthers lost to Villanova on a last-second basket in the 2009 Elite Eight. He coached Marshall to a 22-12 record in his first season with the Thundering Herd.

"I believe that people across the country truly appreciate and respect the level of success that Jamie and the Pitt program have established and, more importantly, the integrity with which Jamie lives and coaches," Herrion said.

Rice, who is recruiting well at Rutgers and just secured transfer Wally Judge from Kansas State, said "everyone wants to copy the success Pitt has had."

"Jamie does it right on and off the floor, and everyone wants to emulate what he has created," Rice said. "The quickest way to do that is by hiring his assistants. I never thought I'd be there one year. But I jumped at the chance to go to Robert Morris in my hometown. He's consistent with who he's hired. He has an eye for talent."

Rice and Herrion aren't only from Dixon's family tree. Rice worked for Phil Martelli; Herrion for Pete Gillen. They have formed their own identities. So, too, has Skerry. But Dixon seems to have given them the final push into head coaching. So far Rice and Herrion are off to solid starts in their new gigs.

Can Skerry do the same?

"He's a relentless worker," Dixon said. "He's bright. He went to Tufts. He's determined and a good fit in terms of the job. There are resources there. And there's nowhere to go but up."

That's because Towson finished winless (0-18) in the Colonial Athletic Association last season, Pat Kennedy's final year at the Baltimore school. The Tigers were 4-26 overall, one of the worst teams in Division I last season. They lost 144 games in Kennedy's seven seasons.

In a league like the Colonial, which put three teams in the NCAA tournament and one in the Final Four, Skerry has one heck of a challenge.

For all his ties to the Northeast -- from his native Medford, Mass.; to Tufts; to being the head coach at Division III Curry College (Mass.); to being an assistant at Stonehill College, Northeastern and then URI, Providence and Pitt -- Skerry did spend time in the CAA as an assistant at William & Mary under Rick Boyages and also coached in the South under Herrion at Charleston.

"Pat has paid his dues through his coaching career," Herrion said. "He has proven his worth as a recruiter at every stop, but he has a terrific basketball mind and is an excellent teacher. He will pump new life into the Towson basketball program."

Skerry started by hiring Rhode Island assistant Kevin Clark, who was once the interim coach at St. John's.

Towson is also showing a commitment to basketball now with the groundbreaking for a new $68 million, 5,200-seat arena that will open in two years.

Towson hasn't had relevance locally or in the CAA. But it appears all the postseason success at the top of the league has motivated the bottom to get serious about the sport.

"The situation reminds me a lot of what we had at Rhode Island, where we were coming off a six-win season and then had to flip the roster and three years later we were in the Top 25," Skerry said. "This is a great campus, a great location and they're pumping money into the program. They've had some bad luck here, some injuries, but why not try to catch some kids' eyes and get this thing going?"

Skerry said he wasn't the first choice to be on Dixon's staff to replace Herrion. He was convinced that an older or more experienced coach would get the job. He's also not sure he was the first choice at Towson. Princeton coach Sydney Johnson was a viable candidate, but opted to go to Fairfield.

But Skerry worked the gig, had plenty of support from the Dixon tree and ended up landing his first D-I head-coaching job.

"There's no question that working for a guy like Coach Dixon helps," Skerry said. "I'm going to recruit like an assistant here. This league isn't getting worse; it's getting better. I don't have any illusions of grandeur. There is a commitment here to athletics. It can be done here. [But] the profile of the league is improving. We've got a lot of work ahead of us."

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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