Why Fairfield fans can breathe a sigh of relief
That remains true today, since with Boston College's decision to hire Cornell's Steve Donahue, Ed Cooley is almost certain to return for a fifth season.
Cooley had been one of three reported finalists for the job -- vacated when Al Skinner was fired last week -- along with Donahue and Northeastern coach Bill Coen, who, along with Cooley, was a long-time assistant under Skinner.
If Fairfield lives up to expectations next year -- especially if the Stags make it to the NCAA tournament -- the odds Cooley will be back in 2011-12 are slim.
But great as the BC job would have been for Cooley, his departure would have come at the least opportune time for Fairfield.
The Stags' program is the healthiest its been since the mid-90s, when it won MAAC regular season and tournament titles in back-to-back years. That's almost entirely because of Cooley, and even if Gene Doris hit it out of the park again on Cooley's replacement, there's no guarantee the new coach would have been able to pick up where Cooley left off.
Worst of all, though, would have been the impact on Fairfield's roster. Had Cooley left it's entirely possible Derek Needham would have left as well, depriving the Stags of arguably the best player in the MAAC at a time when his presence makes Fairfield the team to beat in the league.
Boston College wanted someone who could energize a dormant fan base and quickly restore a program that has slipped in the ACC pecking order over the past several years. Cooley fits that description almost perfectly. From that standpoint, Fairfield fans may actually be lucky that Colin Nickerson's 15-footer at the buzzer didn't fall in the MAAC title game.
Donahue's credentials -- taking a bottom-tier Ivy League program and eventually leading it to the Sweet 16 -- are hard to match, but if Cooley had added an NCAA tournament experience to his resume, he may have landed the BC job or been in the mix for several other jobs at power conferences.
There's enough balance in the top half of the MAAC to make the races for the MAAC's one or two NCAA tournament spots (assuming the tournament expands to 96 teams) extremely competitive.
Fairfield, though, has the best shot of any school. If the Stags make it back to the Big Dance, their program will be in infinitely better shape than it was on April 11, 2006, when they introduced Cooley as their new coach.
And if that's the case, Cooley can leave for greener pastures knowing he left a significant mark on the program.