Column by Dominic Johnson
Photo by Luke Nankivell, photo editor
Johnson is a senior marketing and advertising account management double major and can be reached at email@example.com
If you read my column last week about Drake’s search for a new head coach, you could probably tell I wasn’t exactly sold on the idea of Ray Giacoletti as the next head coach of the Drake Bulldogs. But I’ve done almost a complete 180 since writing that piece. Now you should know that at the time, I had only scraped the surface of Giacoletti’s record. All I saw was his final two years at Utah and only one 20-win season. As rumors began to heat up about Giacoletti being Drake’s top choice, I decided to give him a second look.
After spending more time researching Giacoletti and attending the press conference on Thursday afternoon, I’m excited to see what the former Gonzaga assistant can do with this program. Will he lead us to the NCAA tournament within five years? I’m not going to go so far as to make that prediction. We do have a lot of work to do after all, but I am confident that Drake has a better coach for the job than it did in the past five years.
First off, let’s clear up a few things about his last two years at Utah. The Utes were under recruiting sanctions from the NCAA during this time for actions that former coach Rick Majerus had committed. So could that have played a part in his lack of success? Definitely. Also, some coaches just aren’t cut out for success in Power Six conferences. For example, look at current Creighton head coach Greg McDermott. Before coming to Creighton, McDermott was the head coach at Iowa State, and his tenure in Ames was downright ugly. In his fourth year as head coach, the Cyclones finished 11th in the Big 12. But now look at his record with Creighton — a CBI Championship and two straight years in the NCAA tournament. If McDermott can bounce back to success so quickly, I’m confident that Giacoletti can be successful after a six-year hiatus spent at the nation’s top mid-major.
And let’s talk about those six years really quickly. For the past six years, Giacoletti has been an assistant coach under Mark Few at Gonzaga University. That can only be seen as a positive. The Zags have gone from very good basketball team to the best mid-major in the country. In fact, it’s hard to call them a mid-major anymore. Hopefully Giacoletti can take all the successful aspects he saw in Spokane, Wash., and emulate it here. In his press conference on March 28, he said he doesn’t want Drake to be Gonzaga or any other program, but the best Drake it can be. I liked the sound of that, and hopefully, the best Drake looks a lot like the best Gonzaga.
Next, I looked at Giacoletti’s work as the head coach at Eastern Washington. When he took over as the head coach of the Eagles, the program was in disarray. They had never gone to the NCAA tournament and never really excelled in the Big Sky Conference. Giacoletti’s work changed that.
In his third year as head coach, Eastern Washington finished with an 18-13 record and went to the NIT tournament. In his fourth year, Giacoletti was the Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year, as the team went 11-3 in the conference season and made its first NCAA tournament appearance in school history. Although Utah fans don’t have a lot of positives to say about Giacoletti, Eastern Washington fans are the exact opposite. They love this guy and wish they still had him as their head coach. Giacoletti’s experience building a successful program will definitely come into play as he leads the Bulldogs.
Finally, the national media believe this to be a great hire for the Bulldogs.
ESPN’s Andy Katz said his hiring was “a coup for the Valley” and that he “never got his due at Utah.”
ESPN’s Stephen Bardo said “he understands the Valley and can really coach.”
I think Giacoletti can be successful at Drake, but he has his work cut out for him. With the Bulldogs losing seniors Ben Simons and Jordan Clarke to graduation, they will be without their leading scorer and leading rebounder next season. Don’t expect Coach Giacoletti to revive the program overnight, but definitely keep an eye on this team in the next five years. I’ve got a good feeling on this one, folks.