Tuesday, February 16, 1999

XU: Don't let Prosser skip town

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Every spring, schools danced with Pete Gillen, and he with them. Rumors of a job switch attached to Gillen like bugs to a lightbulb.

        The former Xavier coach didn't discourage the talk. Never say never, said Gillen, who never did. Gillen said yes to Providence, and yes again to Virginia.

        Gillen left. The rumors stayed, only now they're dancing with Skip Prosser, who's not interested.

        It's too bad Xavier is considered a bus stop on the road to bigger and better. But that's the way it is. It's a pleasant place in a pleasant town. The basketball team beats the odds to stay on the fringes of the top 25. Everybody graduates.

        But it's not the dream job for the bright and the ambitious.

        The University of Pittsburgh is rumored to be interested in Prosser. He won't go there, says one of Prosser's close coaching friends. It would be a lateral move. But Pitt isn't the first school to seek out Prosser, and it won't be the last.

Xavier is poor man's ND
        It could be hard to keep Prosser on Victory Parkway. Partly because Xavier will never be Duke. But also because Xavier is afflicted with a bit of the Notre Dame mentality:

        We're Xavier. You should feel privileged to work here. Why would you want to work anywhere else?

        It's not inconceivable that those making the big decisions would say to Prosser: “We like you. If you leave, we'll miss you. But we're Xavier, and we can find someone to replace you.”

        Sources say Athletic Director Mike Bobinski has already approached Prosser about a sweetened contract.

        Last week, after an upset loss at LaSalle, Prosser arrived in his office to find school president James E. Hoff already there. Hoff told Prosser to hang in there. The gesture touched the coach.

        Prosser is not impressed by dollars. But like it or not, money is a way of showing appreciation. It's a way of measuring yourself against your peers. I never doubt pro athletes who argue their contracts publicly by saying “it's not the money.” Even if, for most of them, it is.

        But I get what they're saying. Anyone who has ever had a salary discussion — anyone who has ever seen peers who aren't as good as he or she is making more money to do the same job — understands this. It's not the money; it's what the money represents.

        XU lost a good athletic director last year over this issue. Jeff Fogelson helped the Musketeers into the Atlantic 10. He helped with the drive for the new convocation center. He brought Prosser back. Fogelson is the A.D. at Seton Hall now, where he says only, “I feel appreciated.”

        A source said Prosser's “total package” — salary, shoe contract, radio and TV, summer camp — is just more than half what Oliver Purnell makes to coach the Dayton Flyers. Who coaches the better team?

It's the right thing
        Sometimes, the smart thing to do is also the right thing. Before the trickle becomes a flood and Prosser's head starts to turn, Xavier should offer him a long-term package comparable to other Top 25-caliber coaches. Include bonuses for academic achievement. Create an annuity, payable to Prosser if he stays a certain number of years. Bob Huggins has one. Prosser is as important to Xavier as Huggins is to UC.

        Do it because Prosser is a good coach. More than that, Prosser is a good man, as close to Mr. Chips as he is to blue chips. Unlike many of his peers, Prosser leaves room in his heart for matters beyond the bounce of a ball.

        Prosser would comment on none of this. He was Gillen's assistant when the rumor circus arrived every spring. He wants no part of it. Prosser will talk to you all day about basketball or Irish literature. When it comes to his job status, you'd have better luck reading his palm.

        He doesn't need to say a thing. It's already plain: “You have to protect your investment,” Jeff Fogelson said. Plain as that.

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.