Robert Morris men’s hockey players Scott Jacklin, David Rigatti, Cody Wydo and Tyson Wilson pose with the Atlantic Hockey regular-season trophy this March at the Island Sports Center. (Photo: Jenn Hoffman/RMU Athletics)
MG: In terms of some of the sports that have had success this past year, you have coach Derek Schooley (men’s hockey), Andy Toole (men’s basketball), Katy Phillips (women’s lacrosse), Sal Buscaglia (women’s basketball), Dale Starr (volleyball), yourself, all of whom have been here for several years at least. What advantages are there to having coaches who have run programs for that long?
CC: Collegiate coaching is a learning experience. With the exception of Sal, this was the first head-coaching job in college for that group. No matter how good you are as a brand-new coach, there’s a learning curve that you’re going to go through. So to be able to attract and keep high-quality coaches is a real advantage.
There are programs where every two or three years a coach is gone. There are athletes who will have three coaches in a four-year career. Not uncommon. The stability we’ve had here is something we’re really proud of, and it’s something that benefits the athletes and the programs as well.
MG: Just locally, where do you think RMU fits in with a pretty vibrant college scene in the area? What’s the next step that it can take?
CC: At the D-I level, across the region, West Virginia and Pitt are sort of in a different classification, because they’re FBS football programs in power conferences. What you’re left with are us and Duquesne, and that’s a rivalry that is very strong.
Certainly the flagship rivalry there is in men’s basketball, and we’ve beaten them a few times in a row. Our other sports also compete with Duquesne. Traditionally, if you ask a Pittsburgh sports fan, Pitt has been the No. 1 school in town, Duquesne’s been second and we’ve been third. But I think you could make a case that we and Duquesne are closer now than has ever been the case, in terms of our athletic programs.
My biased opinion is that we are 2A and 2B, and it’s up to the fans to decide who’s A and who’s B. I think that, even though they’re not in our conference except for football, that’s a local benchmark that we use to judge how we’re doing on the local scene.
They have a real advantage in terms of media coverage and so on, in part because their number of alumni is so much greater than our alumni base. And let’s face it, newspapers are there to make money first, and they need to cater to what the population is most interested in, so if there are a lot more Duquesne alums in the area, that’s who they’re going to devote more coverage to.
But at this point, it’s hard to make the case that there’s a big separation between us.
Q: Last thing, with the outgoing president [Dr. Gregory Dell’Omo] being so supportive of athletics, how much easier did that make your job? He frequently referred to sports as the “front porch” of the university.
A: To have a president who was that supportive of athletics, who understands the importance of athletics to a university, just made my job so much easier over the past 10 years. Just to know that we have that backing.
When we have had our successes, whether it’s NCAA tournament appearances for our teams, or hosting the Frozen Four [in 2013], he totally appreciated that and supported it. We think we’ve contributed significantly to making this a much better university over the past 10 years.
Obviously with a new president coming in, you’re holding your breath. You’re hoping that president will have the same perspective on athletics that the outgoing president has. It’s been great working with [Dell’Omo] over the last 10 years.