Nine-year Notre Dame assistant coach Jonathan Tsipis will take the helm of the Colonials, the University announced Friday, becoming the ninth head coach in women’s basketball program history.
Tsipis, who served as the associate head coach of the Fighting Irish for the past four seasons, boasts significant collegiate coaching experience – a qualification athletic director Patrick Nero said was a key aspect of the search. At Notre Dame, Tsipis saw the team earn a 228-77 record over nine seasons, and helped the program to five NCAA Sweet 16 appearances, including back-to-back championship games over the past two seasons.
“My feeling really was we needed to get somebody in here that had been at a premier program and knew how those type of programs do things every single day,” Nero said. “Those programs aren’t made overnight, they are daily habits, and I just wanted to make sure we had somebody that had lived that for many years.”
Nero, who began a search for the new women’s head coach following Mike Bozeman’s dismissal in March, was also drawn to Tsipis’ commitment to student-athlete success off the court. The new head coach boasts a 100 percent graduation rate for student-athletes, and underlined the importance of education throughout his introductory press conference Friday.
“I wanted to be in a situation where it was a program and a university that really valued student-athletes,” Tsipis said. “And I think there are very few places in the country that put those things together well, and a program where women’s basketball is supported at a high level. And there’s been a tradition of championships without sacrificing anything at the academic side.”
Off-court student success is quickly becoming a mandate for GW coaches. Nero boasted about men’s basketball head coach Mike Lonergan’s 100 percent graduation rate upon his hire last May, and the recently released department review stressed the need for athletic and academic players.
At Notre Dame, Tsipis honed his scouting and recruiting abilities, working to craft strategies that carried the team to victories over multiple nationally-ranked opponents. Most important to his coaching style, he said, is ensuring his players have a grasp of fundamentals, and control over their play.
“I don’t think there’s a specific style. I think if people watched our Notre Dame teams play, they saw a certain amount of discipline, and they saw kids that were fundamentally sound," Tsipis said.
Tsipis also spoke to the importance of building a strong program with solid recruiting, and underlined his desire to build "unbelievable team chemistry." He’s already met with all four of the recruits that signed National Letters of Intent under Bozeman, Tsipis said, and he sat down with the current Colonials roster. As of yet, no recruits or current GW players have announced plans to leave the team.
“I plan on spending a lot of time in individual meetings with [the current players] and I talked a little bit to them at the meeting about my goals for not only the team, but for them individually,” Tsipis said. “That this isn’t a question of being good in a couple of years, I’m not ready to wait. I’m ready to get this thing going.”
His hire comes as the athletics department implements the results of a yearlong review designed to overhaul the direction of athletics programs at GW. The review underlines the need for improvements to facilities, resources and personnel in wide-spread efforts to raise teams’ levels of competition.
The women’s basketball team finished 11-18 overall on the 2011-12 season, after a four-year program slide that saw GW compile a 42-75 record and fail to advance past the first round of the A-10 tournament. Nero, University President Steven Knapp and Tsipis all see the new head coach’s vast range of experience as the quality that will enable him to instrument a program turn-around.
“You name it at Notre Dame, I’ve had experience in it. I’ve done scheduling, I’ve been the recruiting coordinator since the day I stepped onto campus,” Tsipis said. “ [Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw] is a Hall of Famer for a lot of reasons, and I think one is her ability to groom assistants to be successful head coaches.”
Another key decision that Tsipis will need to make in the coming days is rounding out his coaching staff. While Kristin Cole, an assistant coach under Bozeman and former Notre Dame player, was in attendance at the reception Friday, Tsipis said his hiring decisions are still pending. He added that while he has yet to officially decide on a staff, he intends for it to have Notre Dame ties.
“I do know that I want to make sure I have a diverse staff that understands the importance of recruiting to the George Washington University. It’s going to be a staff that has expertise in different areas. I was a point guard – I won’t have four point guards. Former players, playing experience is very important to me,” Tsipis said. “There will be some Notre Dame ties to my staff. Those people – whether they’ve played with me, worked with me – know me the best.”
Senior center Sara Mostafa and senior forward Tara Booker, both of whom will return to the Colonials for their fifth year with the team, said Tsipis’ evident passion will motivate GW as it makes the transition into a new coaching staff. In his initial meeting with the team Friday, Booker said, their new coach handed out a sheet that broke down the Colonials' day into 22- and two-hour segments: the “two” representing basketball, and the 22 “emphasizes being a student, and enjoying D.C. It’s about the academics and the social, not just about basketball,” Booker said.
“We could see that he’s passionate about everything that he’s saying, and it really, for me, it made me excited to get on the court and get ready and have the whole staff and start practice,” Mostafa said. “It just made me really excited to start next season and be successful, finally.”
Tsipis was one of CollegeInsider.com’s Top 10 active assistant coaches in the nation in 2011, and is a former recipient of BasketballScoop.com’s Assistant Coach of the Year Award, which has five recipients each season. Among the players he has mentored are four All-Americans, two WNBA draft picks and a Big East Conference Player of the Year.
Tsipis logged stints on the staffs of the men’s basketball program at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, two seasons as an assistant men’s coach at Elon and one year as an assistant coach at LeMoyne College. He also spent three seasons on the men’s basketball staff at Cornell and a year on the men’s basketball staff at Duke.