Hofstra hires Niagara's Joe Mihalich

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Hofstra welcomed a new basketball coach, and ushered in a new era, on Wednesday.

Joe Mihalich, who spent the past 15 years as the head coach at Niagara, is the new man in charge of the Pride.

"We are absolutely thrilled that we were able to get the coach who we thought would be perfect for this kind of position," Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz said at a news conference on campus.

"I talked to hundreds of people over the last three weeks about basketball coaches," athletic director Jeff Hathaway said. "And the common denominator brought me back to a person, as the president said, that was on my initial short list, Joe Mihalich."

Hofstra fired coach Mo Cassara on March 22 after a 7-25 season marred by the arrests of four players on charges related to several on-campus burglaries.

Mihalich's Niagara team went 19-14 and won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Association regular-season championship. He led the Purple Eagles to two NCAA tournaments and three NITs, and he had a winning record in 12 of his 15 seasons. Niagara's top five scorers were all underclassmen expected to return next season.

"I have to be honest with you, I wasn't looking so much to leave," Mihalich said. "When I recruited players up at Niagara, I would say to them, 'I would never leave here unless it was for a really special place, unless it was for something that was really a new challenge, a new chance to do something, a new beginning, a new life.' And that's what we're gonna get right here. I can't wait to get going."

Hathaway admitted he was looking for a veteran head coach, as opposed to giving a young assistant a chance. Hofstra did that with Cassara, who was 36 years old when he was hired, after serving as an assistant at Boston College.

Mihalich, 56, is a three-time MAAC Coach of the Year and also received the Skip Prosser Man of the Year award at the Final Four last weekend, established in 2008 "to honor those who not only achieve success on the basketball court but who display moral integrity off of it as well."

"I heard from many of these people -- and it might have been the thing that resonated most with me -- that players work hard for him, players respect him and players are proud to be part of his team," Hathaway said. "And given some of the things that we've seen recently, and given some of the things we've seen in past years, to know that the players play hard, respect, do the right thing, and that they want to be on his team, really resonated with me."

Mihalich has his work cut out for him. Three more players, including leading scorer Taran Buie, elected to leave the program after Cassara's dismissal. There are only seven players on the roster, and none averaged more than 6.8 points per game.

"We're hoping to have an up-tempo-type team. I hope we can be high-scoring," Mihalich said. "But again, we're an incomplete picture right now. We've got some more pieces to put in the puzzle."

He's already begun the process of trying to reel in new players, including those who verbally had committed to attend Hofstra while Cassara was in charge. He's trying to finalize his coaching staff. And he also met with the returning players for the first time Wednesday morning, prior to the news conference

"You're able to read somebody off their first impression, and I feel like he gave me a very, very great first impression," junior forward Stephen Nwaukoni said. "He's a very, first of all, passionate guy about the sport. I feel like he's not here just for the (pay) checks, I feel like he's here more for us."

The Pride play in the highly competitive Colonial Athletic Association -- one of the things that attracted Mihalich to the job. But Hofstra finished in 10th place out of 11 schools last season, and hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 2001.

Mihalich was given a six-year contract, with the understanding that there's much work to be done.

"Jeff Hathaway convinced me that he wants to do this the right way," Mihalich said. "He knows it's gonna be brick by brick. Sometimes when you go for the quick fix, take chances, they don't work out. We'll be very careful about doing this the right way."