Tavaras Hardy’s transition from being a two-time all-Big Ten player at Northwestern to a first-time Division I head coach at Loyola Maryland took 16 years and three stops as an assistant.
If there’s a common thread between the Greyhounds and the programs where the now-38-year-old Hardy has coached, it’s the balance between what is often a hyphenated oxymoron of student-athlete.
Having spent the first seven years of his coaching career at his alma mater, and the past five split between Georgetown and Georgia Tech, Hardy believes Loyola is also a place where athletes are also expected to be students.
I've always been a fan of the Patriot League. ... This is a dream job for me. It’s a great institutional fit.
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“I’ve always been a fan of the Patriot League,” said Hardy, who was named Loyola’s coach Wednesday. “As soon as I saw they were in the process of looking for a head coach, I let coach [Josh] Pastner [at Georgia Tech] know. This is a dream job for me. It’s a great institutional fit.
“It’s a model that I believe wholeheartedly in, because I experienced it both as a player and as a coach. It’s one of the main reasons why I was so attracted to this place because it is a true student-athlete experience. I look at that as an opportunity. I sought this job because of that, because I think it gives us a competitive advantage.”
In an interview Wednesday, Pastner said Hardy’s resume should give Loyola confidence that he can turn the struggling program around.
“Think of where’s he been at,” Pastner said. “He’s been at Northwestern. He’s been on Wall Street [after a brief stint playing professionally in Europe]. He’s been at Georgetown. He’s been at Georgia Tech. He understands the academic scene and people like that and the recruiting territory at those type of [schools].”
The past week has been a whirlwind for Hardy.
Hardy spoke with Loyola athletic director Donna Woodruff last Thursday for 45 minutes by phone, then was told the following day that university officials wanted to him to meet with the search committee in Baltimore. He was invited back to campus Tuesday for interviews and offered the job Wednesday morning.
Hardy will be formally introduced at a news conference April 4.
Aware of Loyola’s inability to sustain success over the years — the Greyhounds have gone to just two NCAA tournaments since 1994, and have just five winning seasons in that stretch — Hardy said that “my focus is going to be building this program the right way and locking in on providing a true student-athlete experience for these guys. That mirrors the university’s mission.”
“When you look at all the things that Loyola offers — that means being a great school academically, having a chance to compete in a great league like the Patriot League athletically and just being in a city like Baltimore and being down the street from D.C. — we’ll be able to tell the story and attract a lot of great players who want to come here and be a part of it. Through that, with a fun style of play, we’ll be able to experience success on the court. I hope we can get some good players to stay home and help turn this place around.”
Hardy, who spent the past two seasons at Georgia Tech, replaces G.G. Smith, who stepped down this month after five straight losing seasons. Smith had worked as an assistant at Loyola and took over when Jimmy Patsos left for Siena.
Patsos, a former longtime assistant under Gary Williams at Maryland, had five winning seasons in nine years, including going 24-9 and making the NCAA tournament in 2011-12. Smith, the son of longtime college coach Tubby Smith, went 56-98, including 9-22 in 2017-18.
In a statement released by the university Wednesday, Woodruff said: “I am thrilled to welcome Tavaras Hardy to the Greyhound family as our men’s basketball coach. During a thorough and exhaustive search process, he clearly demonstrated himself to be a talented coach with the knowledge and experience to not only build our men’s basketball program into a perennial contender within the Patriot League, but one who will help us prepare the young men in his program for life after basketball as both scholars and citizens. Loyola men’s basketball is in great hands with Tavaras moving forward.”
Asked what kind of coaching style he will bring to Loyola, Hardy said it will be a compilation from those he played for at Northwestern, Kevin O’Neill and Bill Carmody, and later worked under — Carmody, John Thompson III and Pastner.
Though Carmody, currently the head coach at Patriot League member Holy Cross, and Thompson are disciples of the legendary Pete Carril at Princeton, Hardy said: “There’s a premium on versatility, obviously there’s a premium on being able to shoot the ball. I just want ball movement and player movement. I don’t want to define us by putting us in a system.”
Said Pastner: “This is going to be a tremendous fit. He’s a future star in the business, it’s a home-run hire. He’s highly, highly intelligent. Tremendous intelligence, not just in society, but also on the basketball floor. Sees the game, really good evaluator. Great with people, he can go into any demographic and relate to people. … He’s going to do really well. People are going to like him. He’s going to upgrade the talent. They're going to be a program to be reckoned with in that league.”