Hobart Head Coach Mike Neer was recently included in an article in the New York Times for having given former Villanova Head Basketball Coach Jay Wright his first coaching job, at University of Rochester.
The article notes, “Neer liked the young man’s sense of humor, his enthusiasm…He thought it all might translate to an ability to sell high school prospects on a four-year career at Rochester, a Division III program in upstate New York, 70 miles east of Buffalo.”
It goes on to state, “Wright seemed to have been born with an ability to sell, but it was Neer who set him on a coaching path, teaching him methods of organization, motivation and scheduling in his two seasons with the Yellowjackets. The two men still speak often; Neer, now at Hobart, is one of the 14 coaches who have won 600 games at the Division III level.”
“I hope there’s a lot of him in me,” Wright was quoted.
In his third season in Geneva, Neer earned his 600th career victory and guided Hobart to its fourth consecutive Liberty League regular season championship with a 13-3 record and second straight conference tournament title thanks to overtime victories against Clarkson 78-69 and Vassar 75-74 (in 2OT). The Statesmen made their third straight NCAA Championship appearance this year.
Neer and his assistants shared the Coaching Staff of the Year award with the league’s runner-up, Vassar. This is the second time in three years that he and assistants have earned the league’s Coaching Staff of the Year award. Neer is 65-19 (.774) with the Statesmen and 628-345 (.645) overall.
The full article follows.
New York Times
Trip Upstate Takes Coach Back to Roots
Villanova’s Jay Wright Relives Rochester Years
Zach Schonbrun • March 21, 2014
BUFFALO – In 1984, Mike Neer, then the coach at the University of Rochester, needed a full-time assistant, somebody to get out on the road and recruit, but the 23-year-old sitting in the interview had experience with neither.
The interviewee, Jay Wright, had spent the previous year hawking season tickets for the Philadelphia Stars of the now-defunct United States Football League, looking at a lifetime in sales. His coach at Bucknell, Charlie Woollum, had given him a nice recommendation, but Neer still had his doubts.
“When I sat down, I said, ‘Jay, you have no experience,’ ” Neer said in a telephone interview Friday. ” ‘The only thing you’ve got on your résumé is part-time selling season tickets. You’re out there, selling. Tell me you’ve made some sales.’
“He said, ‘Yeah,’ ” Neer continued. ” ‘I just sold four to a family in Wilkes-Barre.'”
Neer liked the young man’s sense of humor, his enthusiasm and, yes, even his ability to sell tickets to a family of four in Wilkes-Barre. He thought it all might translate to an ability to sell high school prospects on a four-year career at Rochester, a Division III program in upstate New York, 70 miles east of Buffalo.
Wright coaching Villanova during its second-round game against Milwaukee.
This was before the dapper suits, the commercials and the N.C.A.A. tournament appearances with Villanova that have piled up on Wright’s résumé. Thirty years ago, he was just another wide-eyed assistant pulling long hours in his car, crisscrossing the Finger Lakes region. A trip into Buffalo was a good one because the chicken wings were cheap.
Wright seemed to have been born with an ability to sell, but it was Neer who set him on a coaching path, teaching him methods of organization, motivation and scheduling in his two seasons with the Yellowjackets. The two men still speak often; Neer, now at Hobart, is one of the 14 coaches who have won 600 games at the Division III level.
“I hope there’s a lot of him in me,” said Wright, whose second-seeded Wildcats face seventh-seeded Connecticut here on Saturday.
What he lacked in experience, Wright made up for in gusto, Neer said; he called Wright a “tsunami of enthusiasm.” Wright went into that first interview talking a mile a minute, but even that meeting had been set up by a stroke of providence.
Neer was planning to hire Pat Flannery, then a Drexel assistant, but Flannery stayed in Philadelphia. In 1986, he recommended that the Dragons hire Wright, bringing him back to his hometown. By then, Wright was already prepared to move up.
“Mike was the first guy that gave me a job,” Wright said. “I didn’t know anything about coaching, nothing. Until I got with him.”
Wright recalled the first prospect he was sent to sway, Rick Wnuk, who ended up going to Canisius. Wright would not have many misses after that.
“He loves people,” Neer said. “Whoever he’s with at that particular moment or two, that person has his full attention.”
Wright soaked in everything he could from Neer, whom he called a “basketball genius.” Jane Possee, Rochester’s field hockey coach at the time, said she remembered Wright’s liveliness on the sideline and his ability to connect with the players.
“Mostly I remember his eagerness to hang on every word of Coach Neer and take as much information as he could,” said Possee, now an associate athletic director at Rochester. “He was obviously willing and eager to do whatever was necessary to learn and promote the Rochester experience and get as much out of it as he could. He was young and willing to do just about everything.”
Wright said the level of basketball talent in upstate New York was often underestimated, with Division I programs like Syracuse, Canisius, Niagara and St. Bonaventure all within a couple of hundred miles. In those days, players tended to stay close to home. In the early 1980s, Rochester became a fixture in the N.C.A.A. Division III playoffs, and the Yellowjackets won a national title in 1990.
Wright has more recent memories of upstate New York, too. He traveled to Buffalo in 2000 while he was the coach of Hofstra. It was his first N.C.A.A. tournament appearance, and the Pride were pounded as a No. 14 seed, 86-66, by Oklahoma State. Wright said he was happy just to be there.
There were many more trips to the tournament in his future – 10 more, in fact, in 20 seasons as a head coach, including nine in the last 10 years with Villanova. How has he changed as a coach since that first trip?
“I wouldn’t have been happy if we lost yesterday,” Wright said.