That history — along with the community support and financial commitment to basketball — led to Patsos’ leaving Loyola on Tuesday after nine seasons.
In his first interview since accepting the job, Patsos said he was “sad” to leave Loyola and Baltimore after nearly a decade.
“I love Loyola, I love Baltimore,” Patsos said Tuesday night. “This is a great sports town. It’s a great university. I’m really proud of what we accomplished at Loyola. Siena is a tremendous basketball job. The bottom line is that I was surprised by the level of interest, not only at the school but in the Capital region. That’s impressive for a guy like me.”
Patsos, who had signed a five-year contract after taking the Greyhounds to the NCAA tournament last season, said he is appreciative of the near-decade he spent at Loyola, and the support he received from school president Father Brian Linnane and executive vice president Susan Donovan.
“I had a few bumps in the road early on. They let me grow as a coach,” said Patsos, who inherited a 1-27 team and ultimately led the Greyhounds to consecutive seasons of 20 wins or more the past two years, the first time the program had accomplished that feat at the Division I level.
Terms of the deal at Siena have not been announced, but former coach Fran McCaffery, now at Iowa, was reportedly making in excess of $500,000 annually.
Patsos said he is looking forward to “the challenge” of rebuilding a Saints program that has gone to the NCAA tournament six times and the National Invitation Tournament five times since 1989 but had endured three straight losing seasons under Mitch Buonaguro, who was fired this year after the team finished 8-24.
Asked whether his move to Siena was precipitated by Loyola’s decision to move next fall from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to the Patriot League, Patsos said: “The Patriot League is a great move for the school, but it’s a different type of recruit. I enjoy coaching all kinds of kids. Everything with the Patriot League is good, but I think at Siena you can recruit different kinds of kids.”
Aside from the fact that the team plays in a 15,000-seat arena downtown that typically attracts between 6,000 and 8,000 fans — getting as many as 12,000 for local rival Albany — Patsos said he was particularly impressed with the future on-campus facilities.
Patsos said he was told of plans to build a practice facility and spend $15 million on renovations to the current athletic complex.
Though there has been speculation that Siena will be moving from the MAAC to the Atlantic 10 in the near future, Patsos said: “I love the MAAC. The MAAC’s a great basketball league. This is a unique opportunity. Dean Smith always said, ‘Take one of the best jobs in the conference, and Siena is one of the best jobs in the conference.’”
Patsos’ former boss at Maryland for 14 years said Tuesday night that playing in Albany shouldn’t be overlooked.
“I coached in Columbus, a state capital, when I was at Ohio State, and it’s very important to the people at Siena that they have a good program there,” former Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “Jimmy’s personality and his ability to get people involved in the program, as he did at Loyola, was very important to who they hired there.”
Williams said Siena is a “very good Eastern basketball school regardless of the league they play in” and called it a “very good opportunity for Jimmy.” Williams added that it’s important for a coach to be able to move when his name has marquee value. Before coaching his last 22 years at Maryland, his alma mater, Williams never spent more than four years in one place.
“You look around the country and you see [Andy] Enfield going to Southern Cal after two years at Florida Gulf Coast and Steve Alford leaving a good program [at New Mexico] to go to UCLA,” Williams said. “It’s the same idea. You don’t know when you’ll get opportunity or you’ll always have that opportunity. When you do have that opportunity, you have to take advantage of that situation.”
It is unclear what Loyola plans to do to fill its opening, though a person familiar with the situation said athletic director Jim Paquette will likely go through an outside firm to conduct a national search. An athletic department source said current assistant coach G.G. Smith, the son of new Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith, will likely get the most serious consideration among those on Patsos’ staff.
Through a spokesman, Paquette declined to comment before the news became official Tuesday night.