Sunday, May 13, 2001

The Domino Effect

Coaching moves take toll on others

By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When Skip Prosser learned Dave Odom had resigned as men's basketball coach at Wake Forest to take over at South Carolina, he gave it little thought.

        “It's surprising that it all worked out the way it did,” said Prosser, who coached Xavier University for seven years.

        Prosser is now the coach at Wake Forest. Thad Matta is Xavier's new coach. Todd Lickliter has taken over for Matta at Butler.

        The process all started two months ago Saturday, when Eddie Fogler resigned as South Carolina coach. Since then, roughly 100 lives — players, recruits, coaches, family members — have been directly affected by changes at South Carolina, Wake Forest, Xavier and Butler.

        “When you do relocate, it's not only a trickle-down effect across the coaching boards,” said Odom, who was Wake Forest's head coach for 12 years. “When I made the decision to leave, I was making the decision for all of my staff and all of their families, and you know it's not going to be a unanimous choice, because not everybody's going to want that.

        “The families and the universities and the communities are all affected. In most cases, things turn out right. But getting to that point can be really, really painful. You've got to really want what you ask for.”


        Matta was supposed to have left for Charleston, S.C., this weekend to vacation with his family. Instead, his wife and two daughters were going without him.

        When Barbara Matta returns, she will be primarily responsible for selling the Indianapolis house the family bought seven months ago and picking out a new home in Cincinnati. All the while, she'll be caring for 2-year-old Ali and 5-month-old Emily. Matta is trying to stay in Cincinnati during the week and in Indy on weekends.

        “I'm hoping it will be no longer than a month,” Matta said. “It's tough. I was fortunate enough last night that my 2-year-old was in a good mood to talk on the phone. I was able to talk to her for about three minutes. It kind of breaks my heart being away from them.”

        Matta has averaged 15-hour work days since coming to Xavier on May 3. Once, he was in the office from 7a.m. until 1a.m.

        “It's all kind of mind-boggling,” Matta said. “Thank God I have a supportive wife who has done this before.”

        Selling their home shouldn't be a problem. On May 2, when Matta came to visit Xavier's campus — when he would be offered, then accept the job — someone left a note in his mailbox: “Good luck. We'd love to buy your house.”

        Two days after he was announced as Wake Forest's head coach in Winston-Salem, N.C., Prosser flew back to Cincinnati. As soon as he got off the airplane at Lunken Airport, Prosser thought, “What did I do?”

        He has left a city where he lived for 15 of the past 16 years - eight as a Xavier assistant.

        “To leave a place where you feel very comfortable ... it was really, really hard,” Prosser said. “It still is hard. I haven't totally come to grips with that. Every time I come back, it just reinforces what a great city it is.

        “People have been so nice to me and my family and my sons that it really became home even though I grew up in Pittsburgh and love Pittsburgh.”

        Just a year ago, Dino Gaudio resigned as head coach at Loyola College in Baltimore and moved his family to Cincinnati. A Xavier assistant from 1987-93, he was returning to that role in a city he calls home and a school he calls “special” and working down the hall from his best friend, Prosser.

        “I thought that I could actually retire (from Xavier),” Gaudio said.

        Gaudio and his wife bought a house. His two daughters adjusted to new schools. Now he's at Wake Forest.

        “It tears at you emotionally,” Gaudio said. “On one side, you're excited about the challenge of the ACC ... but on the other side, you're really saddened to leave something that you're so close to.”


        After Mass on Xavier's campus last Sunday, Father Albert Bischoff spoke with Skip and Nancy Prosser. As he hugged Nancy, the coach's wife started to cry.

        Nancy Prosser has lived in Cincinnati for 17 years. Her family is one hour, 45 minutes away in Louisville and can listen to Xavier games on WLW-AM (700). She has worked the past 15 years as a flight nurse with Air Care at University Hospital Inc.

        About 1 1/2 years ago, the Prossers bought a Mount Lookout home and made it their own. When Skip was busy with work, Nancy had friends she could call to walk dogs together.

        Now she's faced with having to start over in Winston-Salem.

        “It's been kind of a roller coaster,” Nancy Prosser said. “I have some very dear friends here that I will truly, truly miss. I really feel like I've gone through the stages of grieving.

        “People are saying, "Oh, it's so exciting.' Yes, it is. And I'm sure once I get down there and I get to know people better, I'll make friends down there also. But I also value what I have here.”

        The Prossers' home is not for sale yet. Nancy has not given notice at work.

        “I'm probably still in denial a little bit,” she said.

        Since Jeff and Joyce Battle moved to Cincinnati in 1994, they had looked off and on for the right house, at the right price, in the right community. Last November, they bought their first home. Joyce got a job teaching elementary school. Their 7-year-old son, Jordan, in first grade, acclimated to his new school. “We thought, "This is awesome,'” said Battle, another Xavier assistant under Prosser. They were just starting to fix up the house.

        Like Gaudio, Battle has joined the Wake Forest coaching staff. So much for stability. Joyce will have to help sell the house, then find a new home and job in Winston-Salem.

        “It definitely adds some stress to your daily life,” Joyce Battle said. “It kind of shakes up everything. It's like starting all over again. You just have to go with the flow, I guess. It's much easier to say that.”

        Joyce is a former assistant coach at Delaware State. She has been patient, supportive and understanding, Battle said.

        “Your hands are tied,” Battle said. “If you have to move, you have to move. When people get into this business, you have to understand that what you do is not controlled by you, it's controlled by the head coach and what he does. I'm bummed out for Joyce and Jordan more than for myself. This was her first home, and she was really excited about it.”

        On Friday, Jo Prosser, Skip's mom, received a Mother's Day card in the mail from two Xavier fans. It's no wonder her son's move to Wake Forest has been an emotional time.

        “It is difficult because friendships are formed,” she said. “It's not because I don't want Skip to go. I probably would've been happy if Skip had stayed (at Xavier) until he retired. But that's not always the way it is. Our children chase their dreams, and that's what he needs to do.”

        Jo is 72 years old. She made the four-hour drive from St. Clairsville, Ohio, to Cincinnati with one of Prosser's sons, Scott, 24, to attend more than half of Xavier's home games. Now she plans to make the 6 1/2- to seven-hour ride to Winston-Salem.

        A few days after Prosser was named Wake Forest coach, Jo Prosser came home and found a bag on her porch with a Demon Deacons T-shirt and key chain. It came from a church member who attends Wake.

        “I wore the T-shirt to church last Sunday. ... But on my arm I wore little bracelets that said. "I love Xavier,'” Jo Prosser said. I will always be a Xavier fan. ... Hope I can get a ticket for that Crosstown Shootout.”


        Pawel Storozynski, a 6-foot-8 forward from Dodge City (Kan.) College, had verbally committed to attend South Carolina in January. After Fogler resigned as Gamecocks coach, Storozynski, a native of Dijon, France, started his recruiting process all over again. “He was devastated,” Dodge City coach Brian Hoberecht said. Storozynski eventually visited Texas Tech in March and chose to play for new coach Bob Knight.
        John Chappell, a 6-10 center from Fork Union Military Academy, had verbally committed to Wake Forest but is looking for another school after Prosser told his father and prep school coach that Wake already has a player at that age and position. “John wasn't really disappointed,” the player's father told the Winston-Salem Journal. “He's confused. He wants to find out who wants him.”

        Butler sophomore Mike Monserez, a Moeller High School graduate, was recruited to Notre Dame by John McLeod, ended up playing for Matt Doherty, who then left for North Carolina. Monserez transfered to Butler to play for Barry Collier, who left for Nebraska. Then Matta left for Xavier.

        Teammate Brandon Miller started his career at Southwest Missouri State, which he left when Steve Alford left to become coach at Iowa. Miller sat out at Butler when Collier was Bulldogs coach, then played one year for Matta. Now both will play for Lickliter.

        Mike Hayes, a 6-8 power forward from Cowley County Community College in Arkansas City, Kan., who verbally committed to Xavier last month, is now deciding between Xavier and Connecticut. He said after Prosser's departure: “I don't know what to think. I'm lost.”

        Vytas Danelius, a 6-7 forward from Indianapolis, had verbally committed to Wake Forest but is now also considering Xavier, among other schools. Park Tudor High School coach Ed Kelley said: “I think he thinks American coaches just play musical chairs. For an 18-year-old, it's a confusing situation.”

Administrators & staff

        Butler athletic director John Parry called a department staff meeting the morning of May 4 to say he was considering elevating assistant coach Lickliter to head coach. Interviews would be that day with a possible announcement the next day.

        That posed a problem for Jim McGrath, in his 20th year as Butler's sports information director. The oldest of his three children, Chad, was graduating from Indiana University on May5.

        Interviews with Lickliter lasted until 7p.m. May 4. Then Parry told McGrath it was time to schedule a news conference for May 5. He wanted it early. McGrath pushed for 4 p.m. and told Parry why.

        McGrath stayed at work until 1:30 a.m., alerting the media, writing the press release, getting everything prepared for the news conference.

        He woke up at 7 a.m., drove to Bloomington, attended Indiana's 10 a.m. graduation, took Chad out to lunch, left Bloomington just after 2 p.m. and arrived at Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse around 3:30 p.m. He had a suit and tie in his car and changed clothes in his office.

        A half-hour later, Lickliter was announced as head coach.

        “In normal circumstances, I would've said certainly we'll get somebody to cover (my) duties at Butler because my obligation is to be at that graduation,” McGrath said. “But the one area you probably can't say that is hiring a basketball coach; that's the supreme duty that you have to take care of. ... In the back of my mind, I felt that I should be here, and if there was any way that I could balance the two, I was going to do it.”

        Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski and his family moved into a new home in Mason on March 27. Three and a half weeks later, Prosser was on the verge of accepting the Wake Forest job.

        From the time Prosser and his wife returned from their visit to Winston-Salem, and through the Xavier coaching search, Bobinski spent an average of 14 hours a day at his office. At home, he was typically on the telephone until midnight.

        Most of his clothes remain in boxes. The newly planted lawn that required daily care probably will have to be reseeded in the fall (“On the plus side, I won't have to mow much,” Bobinski said). He missed eight baseball, volleyball or basketball games played by daughter Melissa and son Brian. He missed Xavier's student-athlete awards picnic.

        “From an all-around perspective, it was a tough time for it to happen,” Bobinski said. “Things (at home) have not been able to get done that should have been done.”

        Bobinski noted all the coaching changes occurring around the country as the college basketball season came to a close, and he felt badly for his peers having to engage in coaching searches.

        All of a sudden, it was his turn.

        “You go into this business knowing that you're going to have obligations during the school year where you're just going to miss things,” Bobinski said. “This is the time of the year when usually you start to become like a normal dad. We got waylaid a little bit as far as that was concerned.”

        St. Xavier High School and Xavier graduate Chris Mack, 31, the Musketeers' director basketball operations the past two years, was elevated to full-time assistant at Wake Forest under Prosser. “I couldn't be happier and I couldn't be more excited about how things worked out for me personally,” Mack said.


        The domino effect that started with Fogler ended essentially with Lickliter, 46, who was named head coach eight days ago. It's the advantage of hiring from within. He bought a house 10 minutes from the Butler campus last July. He has a wife and three sons.

        “I've been through a few things in this business,” Lickliter said. “We've come to feel like this is a part of it. Until a few days ago, we still had a few things boxed up.”

        Time for him — and many others — to unpack.


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