Let's talk about Matt Driscoll

by Dave Morus

When Matt Driscoll's name came out as a possible candidate for the Duquesne head coaching position,  the reaction of Duquesne fans can best be described as "underwhelmed." At first glance, it's pretty easy to see why. With a record at North Florida of 43-53, he doesn't look like anything special. His best year was this last year, and even then he was 16-16. How can this be an improvement over Ron Everhart? How can this guy bring the program above what it was these past six years?

I think that, if you look deeper, there is more to the situation than his record. Let's delve into the career of Matt Driscoll and decide if he's a little more exciting than at first glance.

Matt Driscoll was considered one of the top 10 assistant coaches in basketball in a poll of his peers in 2008. This is no small accomplishment considering that, in 2008, Baylor was only a few years removed from the murder and scandal that decimated the program. Driscoll's role in the resurgence of Baylor was a significant one. That 2007-2008 season saw not only the completion of a dramatic turnaround for Baylor - it was also the best record that Baylor had ever had in the Big 12. Even further, it was the first time that Baylor had been nationally ranked in 39 years.

Not only was Driscoll a part of rebuilding a team from tragedy and scandal, he was a part of bringing a program that had few accomplishments to name into national prominence.

Surely we'd feel different about him if we were hiring him in 2008. He wasn't too dissimilar from Orlando Antigua right now.

Driscoll's first Division I head coaching position was a challenge. I'd argue that it's pretty difficult to look good when taking the helm of a program that has only just completed its transition to D-I - and was a paltry 20-96 during the four year transition period under the previous coach. It's even harder to look good when the school has only had a program at all since 1992-93.

His first season, the team finished 13-18. Hardly impressive until you consider that the school had never been better than that at Divison 1, and that the school hadn't won 13 games in the past two seasons combined. The non-conference schedule featured difficult opponents like Notre Dame, Alabama and Marquette.

His second season built on the first. While the Ospreys finished 15-19, they went deep into the Atlantic Sun playoffs, losing the title game to Belmont. That 15-19 season also featured losses to seven BCS programs, (three in their first four games) including five that were in the top 25 when they faced them:
  • Florida State
  • #4 Pitt
  • #14 Missouri
  • #18 Purdue
  • #25 Texas
  • Maryland
  • #17 Kansas State
All of those games were, of course, on the road. Eliminate those losses from consideration and the record was 15-12.

This year, the Ospreys were 16-16. A mediocre record by any standard except that it is the BEST record in the school's entire basketball history. This time, the team faced a veritable gauntlet of BCS competition. Four BCS teams in their first five games, and three of those teams were ranked. All told, the school played seven BCS teams, all on the road:
  • #17 Alabama
  • #8 Florida
  • Miami
  • #3 Ohio State
  • Kansas State
  • Auburn
  • Virginia Tech
North Florida not only faced that insane schedule, they also took Kansas State to overtime before the Wildcats eventually prevailed. All in all, the team was 16-9 if you discount those games.

Were there "bad" losses within that schedule as well? Sure. Keep in mind, however, we're also talking about a school that has only had a program at all for 19 years. That has only been Division I for a handful of years. A school for whom 16 - 16 is the best season that they have ever had in basketball. We're also talking about a conference that had only five top-50 wins over the past five years. 

This is a program that was ranked #332 by the Sagarin system a year before the coach arrived on campus. Three years later, they've catapulted nearly 150 spots to 187. That is no small feat.

If Duquesne was to hire Matt Driscoll, the school will likely take a PR hit. That's nothing new as the Pittsburgh media is quite good at taking only a superficial look at Duquesne basketball when they bother to look at all. No doubt they'd take a superficial look at this coach's background as well. I wouldn't count him out though. He's fought against tough odds at his Division I posts and has found success. He may be someone who can do the same at Duquesne University.