Tavaras Hardy was back home in Chicago and working for Morgan Stanley, his short-lived professional career in Finland over after a couple of years. Basketball, which had taken Hardy from nearby Joliet to Northwestern University, was still in his blood.
One day, Hardy received a telephone call from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, asking the former first-team all-conference player if he was interested in coaching the Illinois Defenders Amateur Athletic Union team since Delany didn’t want to coach his own son.
Hardy took the team to Las Vegas for one of the premier AAU events in the summer of 2003, winning seven straight games and knocking off well-known programs such as Albany (N.Y.) City Rocks and Houston Hoops en route to a national title.
“We had one kid actually ended up going [Division I] to Northwestern,” Hardy recalled Wednesday. “It was just a group of good guys that played hard and we were able to execute our philosophy and we won a lot of games.”
It is the same philosophy that Hardy, 38, will take into his first Division I head coaching job at Loyola Maryland. Hired last week, Hardy was the main attraction at a Reitz Arena introductory news conference Wednesday morning.
Having spent the past 12 years as an assistant coach at three schools— the first seven at his alma mater, followed by three at Georgetown and the last two at Georgia Tech — Hardy has been tasked with reviving a program that never had a winning record in five years under G.G. Smith.
Hardy understands that the job he takes over is much different than the one Smith inherited when he was promoted after Jimmy Patsos left for Siena. The local landscape has changed dramatically in the past couple of years, with the hiring last spring of former Maryland star Juan Dixon at Coppin State and UMBC’s historic NCAA tournament win last month.
“One-hundred percent looking forward to the competition,” Hardy said. “Those are all great institutions with great coaches that are rising in this business as well. But what I think about is Loyola is unique in how we do things. For better or worse, we’re going to take our product and put our best foot forward and showcase it.
“I just think we have a tremendous opportunity to put forth an environment where it’s going to be fun to play, people are really going to get behind us and really get a true student-athlete experience in the process. We just want to make sure locally and getting outside the region … wherever we need to get the best players who want to come here, we’re going to do so. Certainly Baltimore is a key for us.”
Hardy doesn’t think his inexperience as a Division I coach will hurt him. His most recent head coaching gig involved the oldest of his four children, 10-year-old Mariah’s fifth-grade team in Atlanta called the Athletics of Tomorrow “Lady Rebels.”
“I'm confident in my ability to coach. I’ve had a chance to work with great coaches at great institutions, I’ve coached in three great leagues,” he said. “I’ve coached against teams from all over the country in various situations.
“I feel pretty good, especially what we’re going to do offensively and defensively. My press conference demeanor will be different than my game demeanor. The guys will be fired up to go. and good things will happen.”
Though Hardy’s name was unfamiliar in Baltimore, athletic director Donna Woodruff said Wednesday that he quickly “went to the top of the list and stayed there.” Woodruff is confident Hardy can quickly turn around the Greyhounds and will have the support from the administration to accomplish that.
Woodruff doesn’t think the fact that the 2,100-seat Reitz Arena is tiny compared with Coppin’s 4,100-seat Physical Education Complex, Towson’s 5,200-seat SECU Arena or UMBC’s Event Center, which can hold 5,000, will be a deterrent in the team’s potential turnaround.
“I think it’s a real nice place to play within the Patriot League, and if you can get it full, which is what we intend to do,” she said. “But the most important thing is that you have the right person leading the program and the right players on the floor. As Coach Hardy said, ‘Looking at our talent, we’ve got an opportunity to make a dent quickly.’ ”
Hardy has an appreciation for the level of competition in the Patriot League that Smith acknowledged after his first season that he and his staff might have lacked have when Loyola switched over from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Bill Carmody, who coached Hardy at Northwestern, is at Holy Cross. Mike Brennan, with whom Hardy served as an assistant at Georgetown, is at American.
“I’ve always been a fan of the Patriot League, I think they’re a lot of great coaches in this league, so I’ve watched from afar,” Hardy said. “I’ve always been attracted to places that have a strong academic presence, play in a great league and are near a major city. So that’s what Loyola offer. I know the product here is ready-made. I know they’ve had success in the past. It’s time to sustain it.”