Kyle Neptune had a vision to rebuild the Fordham Men’s basketball program when he was hired to be their head coach last March with a five-year contract. Then, the Fordham hierarchy believed they had a long term commitment.
He came from Villanova. Wednesday evening, Neptune returned to Villanova and succeeded Jay Wright as their head coach. It was only a matter of time because Neptune was that hot commodity that goes along with success.
Regardless, Wright leaving and Neptune succeeding was a sudden sting to those at Villanova and more so at Fordham.
But Neptune in one year got the Rams back on track. Fordham displayed a defense that finished third in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Neptune brought in recruits that made a difference. The Rams finished 16-16, advanced to the quarterfinals of the conference tournament as an 8th seed and lost to top seed Davidson.
They never showed quit and came close to defeating Davidson in January at the Rose Hill Gym.
“Once A Ram….Always a Ram! Thank You!,” Neptune wrote on his Twitter feed Thursday. The coach returned to Villanova where he was an assistant for eight years under Wright.
Again, and much too often, Fordham, after a season of success, begins the process of hiring a new head coach, thus another transition for a basketball program that believed Neptune would continue the resurgence.
Then again, it was a matter of time. Neptune, as with any winning first year coach, would become a hot commodity. I heard the talk an hour or so after Neptune and the Rams lost to Davidson last month at the Capital One Center in Washington D.C.
Then, I asked Neptune about the success and progress they made. I commended the coach on his first year and how Fordham was the talk of New York along with St. Johns and Iona. And every year in March, how Fordham was the underdog and could not compete with the perennial and top schools that comprise the A-10.
At his virtual and introductory press conference on the Rams’ home court up at Rose Hill, Neptune said his philosophy from the beginning was to forget about the past and move forward. His players responded.
The one year at Rose Hill resulted with Neptune as a finalist for the Joe B. Hall Award that is presented to the top first year head coach in Division 1 men’s basketball.
“ The program is on the right track and getting closer with each day that passes,” Neptune said Thursday. “We completely scrubbed the past. We didn’t talk about it. We didn’t address it. It was a completely different team, a completely different vibe.”
Neptune turned around a program that went 2-11 in the conference the prior year, and 16 wins were their most since their 17-14 record in 2015-16. Fordham finished conference play as a top six in points allowed, three point percentage, turnovers, and fourth in steals.
So one can’t fault Neptune for taking an opportunity and his familiarity with a successful Villanova program did not hurt his cause. Wright always said, his former 37-year old assistant had head coach written all over him.
The Big East is a premier conference, though the A-10 is not far behind. I am sure the contract is much more lucrative than the one Neptune had at Fordham, but top college basketball programs and Villanova, a Big East school with lucrative television network contracts, have the ability to offer seven figure deals to a sought after coach.
Though, this is another setback at Rose Hill as a national search begins to hire their fifth head coach since 2009. In the meantime, Keith Urgo, an assistant under Neptune, takes on an interim head role.
Sources at Fordham informed me that a search criteria will include similar or almost the same qualities that Neptune brought to the table when he interviewed as the successor to Jeff Neubauer, who stepped down with five games remaining in a COVID short 2000-21 season.
Officials at Fordham are in the process. Neptune and Neubauer were assistant coaches and prior to their hires, Tom Pecora had a successful head coaching run at Hofstra. So, with limited and experienced names available it is assumed Fordham will once again seek an assistant from a well known Division 1 school to succeed Neptune .
So the Rams are back to ground zero. Neptune had a brief and successful run that saw Josh Colon Navarro, Darius Quisenberry, and Chuba Ohans, all in their final year, become impact players.
Antrell Charton, Kyle Rose, and Abdou Tsimbila credit their increased playing time and development to their belief in the Kyle Neptune philosophy.
Fordham is not that far away from making an impact again in the conference and becoming one of those 64 Division 1 schools to be a part of March Madness, though, the new coach has some tough shoes to fill after one year of Kyle Neptune.
As Neptune said, Fordham is in the right direction. Too brief was his tenure and as they say a good coach is hard to find.
Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso