For 17 years, from 1981 to 1998, Joe Mihalich was an assistant coach at La Salle, wondering if he would ever get a chance to be a head coach.
“There were many nights I put my head on that pillow thinking, ‘You now what? It’s just not going to happen,’” Mihalich said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I was the finalist at Siena, I was the finalist at Manhattan, I was the finalist at Loyola, interviewed at a bunch of other places and it just never happened. You start to wonder. But when you least expect it, it happens. I never thought it would be at a place like Niagara, but boy, was I lucky. Great place. They gave me a chance.”
Mihalich, 59, spent 15 years at Niagara. He led the Purple Eagles to two NCAA Tournament appearances and was named MAAC Coach of the Year three times.
Then he left for Hofstra in 2013.
“Other than when my mom and dad passed away, (leaving Niagara) was one of the most emotional times of my life,” Mihalich said. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. I loved those guys and I loved it there. It was a great place. For a lot of reasons, this was the right thing to do at the right time. But I’ll tell you: It was an emotional, emotional time. . . . I’ll forever be indebted to them. I have a special place in my heart for those people. Now I feel the same way for the people at Hofstra. Fortunately we’ve been able to repay them with some good things happening last year and this year.”
Hofstra went 20-14 last year and made the CBI. This year, the Pride are 22-8 (14-4), won the Colonial and are a 1-seed entering the conference tournament.
Not bad for a program that had only four players on scholarship when Mihalich arrived in New York three years ago.
“We went to work and it was 24/7, turning over every rock we could to find some players,” Mihalich said. “We came up with a bunch of good ones. But it was a bonus too because you could get your guys. I’ll always be indebted to the four guys that were here because they did a great job, but we were able to go out and get guys that we recruited and that we knew and that we wanted to build a program with. So it was both. It was a detriment only having four guys, but it was a bonus being able to build your own team.”
Hofstra started 6-4 this year but has won 16 of its last 20 games, including six straight. Five Pride players are averaging double figures, including Juan-ya Green, who followed Mihalich from Niagara to Hofstra and was named Colonial Player of the Year. Green is averaging 17.7 points, 7.2 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals.
The Colonial Tournament kicks off this weekend. The Pride will play the winner of Elon versus Drexel in the Colonial Quarterfinals this Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.
Hofstra went 4-0 against those two teams this year, but the average margin of victory was just five points.
“Whoever wins this (tournament) is going to have to play very well for three games,” Mihalich said.
Hofstra is seeking its NCAA Tournament bid since 2001.