Jeff Neubauer tried to build a men’s basketball program at Fordham University for six seasons. Tuesday, Neubauer and Fordham parted ways and joined five other coaches that also did not have much success in their attempt to put Fordham back on the NYC college basketball landscape.
So similarities to Tom Pecora, Dereck Whittenburg, Bob Hill, and Nick Macarchuk, begin with the fact that the mission failed. Neubauer was in the final season of a contract and it was a mutual parting of the ways.
You can’t blame Neubauer or, for that matter, those who preceded him up at Rose Hill for the failures of one losing season after another. Part of the issue is that the Rams play in the Atlantic-10 Conference. They were criticized when they made the move from the Patriot League to the A-10 in 1995 and it became more than they could chew.
Neubauer compiled a 61-104 record during his stretch. Overall, Neubauer is 249-238 in 16 seasons as a head coach.
The issue at hand is the Rams and their continued affiliation with the A-10. The conference provides exposure with a lucrative national television contract and that draws revenue to the school. The MAAC Conference, to a much lesser extent, includes locals Iona and Manhattan. There was a time when Fordham built rivalries and dominated with NCAA and NIT postseason tournament bids.
But Fordham has not been able to build those rivalries with LaSalle, Dayton, St. Joe’s, St. Bonaventure, St. Louis, Davidson, VCU, GW, George Mason. UMass, Richmond, Rhode Island, and Duquesne. They have not been able to draw in the recruits, as their counterparts do.
Recruits look at winning programs as well as the academics as part of an opportunity to play with a NCAA Division 1 program.
The A-10 sees an average of three or four schools qualify for the 64-team field of March Madness, but Fordham can hardly get past the first round of the conference tournament.
Last March, though, the Rams advanced past the first round with a commanding win over George Washington at the Barclays Center but they never took to the court again as COVID-19 put a halt to the tournament and shut down the sports world.
At the time, Neubauer saw his Rams playing their best basketball of the season as Fordham finished 8-22 overall with another dismal 2-16 conference record.
Some of the few recruits, with ability to turn around the Fordham program, would transfer and sacrifice eligibility to be with winning programs around the country, and more than one under Neubauer opted to do that.
Losing student-athletes as transfers should not be attributed to Neubauer. The players loved his mentality, care, and ability to teach the game. They want to win and Fordham does not appear to be close to what others are achieving in the conference, not to mention other NCAA Division 1 schools.
Fordham has always been considered a top 10 school when it comes to academics. Part of the allure of recruitment to Rose Hill has been the history of academic success and prominent alumni in all fields, but when it comes to a once proud men’s basketball program, it’s unfortunate that Fordham has failed.
Wednesday night, Duquesne, another of those elite A-10 schools, visited Rose Hill. Fordham, 1-6, on a six-game losing streak, had another coaching transition. Associate head coach Mike DePaoli assumed the responsibility as the interim for the remainder of the season.
DePaoli got a quick reminder that the Rams have a long way to go and a lot to learn after never being in this one, as they went down with an 86-62 loss.
Duquesne posted a season-high 25 assists and scored a season-high 48 points in the second half. Chris Austin had 19 points for the Rams and Ty Perry added 13 points. Leading scorer Joel Soriano had 10 points and 10 rebounds as Fordham lost both regular season conference games to the Dukes.
“They handled it as good as they can,” DePaoli said. “We are focused at what’s at hand. Me taking over is not how I drew it up at first either. Last 36 hours been through adversity and had some effects on them. “
He added the transition of coaches to the players is in that adjustment period.
“They handled it as best they can. We need to do a better job as a coaching staff just in terms in trying to keep them focused and stay at the task that is at hand. We need to be locked in. We need to be better.”
The Rams’ scoring 60 points was the high point of the season in what has turned out to be an all conference game schedule.
However, the defense needs a major upgrade. The shot selection and ability to stand tall against these conference opponents is a difficult task.. Again this is part of competing in the Atlantic 10 conference and what every coach has experienced up at Rose Hill.
Any thoughts about Fordham leaving the A-10 is out of the question. They will continue their efforts to improve with or without the interim coach. Unfortunately, Fordham could go winless the remainder of the way and that would not add cause for DePaoli to take over as the permanent coach. Fordham is in the process of a national search for a new coach.
The challenge at hand will continue to be difficult. All you have to do is look at the task Neubauer and other coaches have had to confront, though there is always a chance.
One day the Fordham Rams will hope to join that once glorious landscape of NYC college basketball and be prominent again..
Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso Watch Sports With Rich YouTube. Like, Comment, Subscribe.