A year after taking the helm of the University’s athletic department, Patrick Nero changed the leadership of its two flagship programs.
Mike Lonergan replaced Karl Hobbs as head coach of the men’s basketball team in May 2011. A little less than a year later, Jonathan Tsipis took over the women’s basketball program following the firing of Mike Bozeman.
The circumstances were different – one hiring decision came rapidly after Nero himself joined the athletic department, and the other was
a year in the making. The major transition of the men’s team, Nero said, served well to prepare him for a leadership change in the women’s program.
“It’s helped a lot. I’ve had a lot of conversations with Jonathan that are a reflection back on my experiences working with Mike [Lonergan] last year. The first is, you know, to have patience,” Nero said. “I’ve had very similar conversations with Michael and with Jonathan that this is long term. This is growing the program in every way that we look at it – in what GW expects in the program.”
When speaking about their programs, Lonergan and Tsipis echo each
other’s priorities, making it seem as if they’re working together on a coaching staff, rather than heading two different teams. Their shared value system emphasizes academics, encourages student-athletes to represent the program well off the court and places special importance on recruiting locally.
Those similarities are no coincidence, Nero said. They represent the larger themes he’s striving to bring into the athletic department, and the second-year athletic director’s highest-profile coaches exemplify his ideals.
“Those are the same things – a lot of those same things, that’s what our athletes are focused on. That’s where our administration is focused,” Nero said. “I don’t think it’s coincidental that they have similar views of what GW’s basketball programs should look like. Whether it’s men’s basketball [or] women’s basketball, it should translate.”
Something else that will translate, Nero said, are his expectations.
Nero preaches patience as he thinks about the two teams’ futures. While he expects that both Lonergan and Tsipis will eventually carry their programs to the top slots in the Atlantic 10, he cautions that it’s a rebuilding process that will be years in the making.
And after guiding Lonergan through an inaugural season that saw his team earn a 10-21 overall record, Nero said he’s also more prepared to aid Tsipis’ transition from a standout Notre Dame program to rehabilitating GW’s team.
“The most important thing that will translate in my year, coming in with Jonathan [Tsipis] his first year, is remaining calm, steady and patient. Because for coach Lonergan, it really was a roller coaster for him last year, from an emotional standpoint. He’d never experienced losing. I think that was very difficult,” Nero said. “The whole season long, when he’d come in and he’d really be upset with himself, which any good coach is, it was just really my job to continually reinforce, ‘Listen, we knew this was going to be a five-year plan.’ ”
And as Nero prepares to enter his second basketball season at GW, he’s struck by how many experiences are still new. On the men’s side of the equation, he said, the six new faces on the roster, combined with the reinforced comfort level of the Colonials’ returning players, should translate into a program more prepared to take the court together.
Nero’s still preaching patience – noting that GW will rely heavily on relatively inexperienced freshmen this year – but he also said he expects to see a “brand new” team “that will be exciting to watch, and hopefully ready to go when the Atlantic 10 comes around.”
“It’s going to take time for them to get ready. My hope is that, come January, they’re ready,” Nero said. “As you go into year two, everything’s not new. Last year, everything was completely different for them. And at times, that could be overwhelming – when you’re so used to being a certain way every single day and then all of sudden, you have a program that’s changed so much.”
Now, the new leadership of the women’s program intact, Nero thinks it will also be a more relaxed season. He looks forward to watching the Colonials grow without having a hiring decision hanging over his head.
“Last year was really difficult, because I felt like a decision was hanging there in balance all year. I really tried to provide as much guidance to coach Bozeman as I could, but with an understanding that if we didn’t see success on the court, we were going to have to make a change,” Nero said. “Last year wasn’t enjoyable. This year, I’m really excited, for our team, for coach Tsipis and his staff.”