Toole talks player transfers, state of the program.

Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole answers some questions regarding
player departures during his tenure (photo: rmucolonials.com)

By Chris Mueller, contributor

Editor’s note: Chris Mueller of DKPittsburghSports.com sat down with Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole regarding the growth of his program. You can read his article for DK Sports here
Below is the transcript of the 43 minute sit-down between Mueller and Toole. It’s a little lengthy, but well worth your time.

“The List”

Players
1. Elijah Minnie (Quit after indefinite suspension)
2. Joe Hugley (Transferred without game appearance)
3. Stephan Bennett (Quit prior to senior season)
4. Lionel Gomis (Quit prior to senior season for family reasons)
5. Marcquise Reed (Transferred to Clemson after freshman season)
6. Jafar Kinsey (Quit, transferred to JUCO)
7. Charles Oliver (Quit mid-season [2014-15])
8. Ryan Skovranko (Quit, transferred to Community College of Beaver County )
9. Jairus Lyles (Transferred without game appearance)
10. Mike McFadden (Quit because of injuries)
11. Desjuan Newton (Quit mid-season [2013-14])
12. Evan Grey (Transferred after university suspension)
13. Shaire Tolson-Ford (Transferred after university suspension)
14. Britton Lee (Transferred after university suspension)
15. Jeremiah Worthem (Transferred after university suspension)
16. Jervon Pressley (Transferred without game appearance)
17. Keith Armstrong (Transferred to East Carolina)
18. Lijah Thompson (Didn’t pursue final season of eligibility after injuries)
19. Coron Williams (Graduate transfer to Wake Forrest for final season of eligibility)
20. Vaughn Morgan (Left team for personal reasons)
21. Karon Abraham (Dismissed after multiple suspensions/legal trouble)
22. Darren Washington (Transferred to Division II after freshman season)
23. Brandon Herman (Transferred after freshman season
24. Deion Turman (Transferred to Division II after freshman season)
25. Elton Roy (Quit mid-season [2010-11])
26. Yann Charles (Transferred after freshman season)
Mueller: You look at that list and the number is high. There’s been 23 scholarship players and three walk-ons to leave the program. Obviously, not all were for the same reason. Some guys transferred up, which happens all the time in college basketball, but some were for negative reasons. What about this list jumps out to you? We (the media) see that list, but what don’t we see?
Toole: First off, it’s too many. You’re right. I’ll be the first to admit it. We’ve tried to do a lot to evaluate why, and evaluate decisions that were made in each of these situations. As we look at these things, we look at them on an individual, case-by-case basis. Obviously, when you put them in a list like this it jumps off the page a little bit more. Myself and our staff, and even [Athletic Director] Dr. Craig Coleman and a lot of the people in the administration, we’ve had conversations about why this has happened and what we can do to make it better. We want to make it better, but the thing that we’re not going to do to make it better is to compromise our standards, and not allow things to occur and go on that really shouldn’t happen. 

Toole: Some of these guys were for disciplinary stuff. Some of these guys, we knew after not too long that it wasn’t going to have a good ending because of their consistency, their work ethic, and what their role might be. You have a group of guys on this list that didn’t like what their role was, and left. They didn’t like the playing time they got, and left. That speaks a little bit to me about their work ethic. If you don’t like your playing time, can you figure out how to play more? Or is it not that important to you so you just leave? Everybody who is on this list had numerous conversations with the coaching staff, with their parents and the coaching staff, and even with their high school coaches and the coaching staff to say this is what you need to do in order to play more and have a better experience. Here are the issues that the coaches have, and here are the issues that you have; can we get on the same page? Those things happened and occurred all the time. 
Toole: But also, at the same time I think there’s an element of it that guys have free will. When you start recruiting conversations with kids and parents and coaches and you say, “There’s going to be a lot of days you’re not going to like me,” and everybody laughs. And then you say, “No, I’m being serious. There’s going to be a lot of days you’re not going to like me.” Then, you get into your first workout and you get into your first practice, and it’s intense and it’s hard. People are throwing tons of directions at you, and they’re giving you details, and they’re doing this and doing that. All of a sudden, your head is spinning. You knew what you were getting into. 

Toole: I had of one of the guys on the list, and I won’t go into any complete specifics of who it was, but who came and watched practice with his parents.

            Parent: You’re a tough coach, but you’re a fair coach. I like that. That’s what my son needs.

Toole: Then, 365 days later, that same parent called me.
            Parent: It’s too hard for my son.
           Toole: Well, you were at our practice last year…
Toole: That wasn’t well received. But what guys knowing what they are getting into and then their inability to continue to follow through with it is what I think sometimes creates some of these issues. 
Mueller: You mentioned earlier this season that today’s college basketball contains more players that need to be babied, and that the atmosphere isn’t the same as when you played. How different is it today coaching these players as opposed to when you were playing at Penn for Fran Dunphy? Or when you were getting into your initial coaching start and breaking into the profession under Mike Rice? Have you had to adjust your personal style?
Toole: Yeah, definitely. I think everyone has to adapt. In whatever line of work you’re in, you have to adapt and adjust as you face different things. But again, you also go back to that you can’t adapt to the point that now you’re not who you are as a program, and not who you are as a coach. 

Photo credit: rmucolonials.com
Toole: I think, in some ways, we’ve adapted to the point to where we’re not the same team and program that we were in terms of our on-court performance, right? I think some of that is because you start to worry about the perception of people saying, “We don’t want this guy.” Well, when this guy can’t do what we need him to, and he’s not willing to do it…not even that he can’t, that he’s just not willing… what are you (as coaches) supposed to do? Just sit on our hands and wait until everyone graduates and then start all over again? I don’t think that’s fair to the university. I don’t think it’s fair to other guys that are on the roster. I don’t think it’s fair to anybody. You definitely have to adapt.
Toole: I’ve talked to a number of guys that are young head coaches, like myself, that played within 15 years or less of college basketball today. We all laugh and joke about how, outside of games and practices, we didn’t want to talk to our coaches. We didn’t want to talk to our coaches, and we didn’t need them to do everything for us. We could go and fill out a housing form, or go and stop at the financial aid office. Or go and deal with our meal card. That’s not just guys that played in the Ivy League. That’s guys that played in the Colonial, guys that played in the NEC, guys that played in the MAC. Guys that played at every level…top to bottom, and east coast to west coast. That’s how it went. That’s different today. 
Mueller: So, if this is the nature everywhere in college basketball today, why are more players leaving here than at other places? The transfer rate here is 13 points higher than the national average (53 percent to 40 percent). Why are players not tough enough here? Is it the high standards you specifically hold?  
Toole: I think that’s some of it. We’re brutally honest. And, if a kid comes in here and he wants to know why he’s not playing or how he can play more, we’re going to be brutally honest and tell them, “This is what you need to do or not do.”
Toole: I know a lot of coaches that will just say, “Oh, just keep doing what you’re doing your time will come.” No it won’t. That guy sitting there is telling him something that’s not true. He should be saying, “Your time’s not going to come. Or, your time will come in a year from now when these guys graduate. Or, your time might come in the framework of playing six minutes a game.” If you told a kid that, do you think he’d be happy with that? Probably not. But I also don’t think it’s fair to not tell him that.
A player sat right in that chair over there said this:
              Player: Am I behind this guy and this guy?”
             Toole: Yes, you are
             Player: That’s all I needed to hear, I’m out of here.
What am I supposed to do? Run, grab him and say, “No, you’re not really behind those guys!…..No, no, no I’m just kidding. You’re not really behind those guys! We need you to stay here.”

“Guardian of the program”

Toole: Part of this whole thing too is the ability to have free will. We talk to guys when they come on their visit, and we tell them that our program is like reality television. The way we’re going to interact with you off the court is how we’re going to interact with you off the court. But when you watch us work out, when you watch us practice or you watch us in the weight room, that’s how we’re going to interact with our guys on the court. And, we don’t want there to be difference. We want you to see it. I want guys that come here to know exactly what they’re getting into. I want them to be excited about what they’re getting into because what we have here is a really good program at a really good university, and it gets marred sometimes by the fact that some people have left more here than the amount of people that leave other places.
Toole: I consider myself, in a lot of ways, to be the guardian of this program at this point in time. I have to protect it. A lot of these guys leave in their own volition…A lot of these guys leave in their own volition because they’re not getting what they want out of it. They’re not getting to do whatever they want. They’re not getting the minutes they deserve. We’ve had guys leave who don’t want to come and work hard in practice everyday. I think, if you’re on the team and you’re receiving a scholarship, or if you’re not receiving a scholarship and you’re a walk-on, you agree to be a part of the team. In my mind, that means you’ve committed to this program to work as hard as you can and do what’s asked of you on an everyday basis. Regardless of what I get on gameday, that’s really not the mentality that a lot of players have. Players will work harder all of a sudden if they think they’re going to get more. To me, that’s fraudulent. I’ve had this conversation with teams in the past. One of the things that I can’t stand more than anything is people being fraudulent. 

When you start recruiting conversations with kids and parents and coaches and you say, “There’s going to be a lot of days you’re not going to like me,” and everybody laughs. And then you say, “No, I’m being serious. There’s going to be a lot of days you’re not going to like me.”

-Andy Toole 

Mueller: Holding those types of expectations on your players, do you think that’s been a key pillar to this program’s success and what it’s been built on under you?
Toole: You have to be mentally and physically tough to win anywhere in college basketball. This year’s team isn’t as mentally, or physically tough as teams we’ve had in the past. That’s why our record is what it is. In some ways, I blame myself because you become less… Instead of maybe pushing and challenging guys more, you become a little more hesitant to do that because of situations in the past. Again, a lot of it goes back to selecting well. Urban Meyer always says the first thing in your program you have to do is select well. Well, when you’re at Ohio State, you can select virtually anyone you want. You can’t always do that at Robert Morris University. And yeah, we’ve taken some risks on some guys that we felt like, “Hey, maybe we could influence enough to where they could really excel.” That’s on us.
Mueller: And you’ve had players in the past that you took chances on and they did excel. Players that may have been highly talented but had low grades, or lower character. But they came in and were influenced positively. It goes both ways. 
Toole: Right, and guys have become much better people and students for it. That’s part of the fun of the job, actually, when you get to do that. But maybe, we just have to be a little more intelligent about some of the ones we take. Everybody’s different. I think you sit there and you say to yourself, “Look at this kid’s circumstance and back story. This looks just like so-and-so’s circumstance and back story, and we can turn this kid into who that kid was.” Well sometimes, there’s something deep inside Player A that’s not inside of Player B. Or maybe, Player B doesn’t want it as bad as Player A did. 

Photo credit: CBS Pittsburgh
Toole: One of the other things is that, as a young coach, you feel like you can change people. You feel like you can will people to do what you need them to do. I think you learn as you go that yeah, you can influence people, you can really modify certain behaviors. But instinctually, a lot of people go back to what they know best. When they’re faced with adversity, or when they’re challenged, if they’ll rise to that challenge they’ll grow and improve. Whether it’s Gary Wallace, or Velton Jones, or Russell Johnson, or Anthony Myers-Pate, or Karvel Anderson. All those guys are as loyal and as proud of being a part of this program as anyone that’s ever played here, and are on me about what’s going on with this group in our last couple seasons. 

Toole: Even though last year we had a nice end of the season, there were a lot of frustrations and struggles during that year. It comes down to that these guys don’t respond as well to a challenge, or don’t have that desire and passion to really win. Or they want to win, but they’re not willing to do what it takes to win on a regular basis. It’s hard. A lot of guys come to Robert Morris because of the success we’ve had, and then they find out how hard you have to work to have that success and say, “Hold on, I don’t know if this is what I was planning on.” 

“That’s not going to be good enough.”

Mueller: You’re actually addressing some of my questions before I’ve even asked them. That was my next one. Right now, people are wrapped up in the amount of guys that have left. But with those mentioned players in Gary Wallace, Velton, Russell, Karvel and Ant Myers-Pate. Those are some of the notable players that understood how to work hard, sometimes weather the storm and play for you. What did they have in them that some of these current players lack?
Toole: I don’t have any problems with players that compete and work hard. That group can give you a glimpse of guys that compete and play hard. I’ll ask players this:
Toole: Are you competitive?
Player: Yeah coach, I hate to lose.
Toole: No, are you competitive 365 days a year?
Like when we’re in John Jay gym in June, and we’re doing a ball-handling drill. Are you trying to beat the guy next to you to do the drill better than him? We’ve got to sprint in the middle of July in a workout. Are you trying to win the sprint on the football field during our weight session versus just barely getting by? Or, are you going to complain and whine because it’s July, it’s hot out and someone’s asking you to run a sprint on the football field. Everyone says, “yeah, that’s me coach.” Then they get here, and you see what they’re about. My question is, once guys get here and maybe don’t fit what you thought they were, or they don’t want to work as hard, then what do you do?
Here’s an example:
Parent: My son was only there 11 months. How does Coach Toole know he doesn’t work hard?
Dr. Coleman:How long does it take for someone to discover that you work hard?
Toole: It should be that, maybe on day one, you don’t know how hard you need to work and a coach goes to you and says, “That’s not going to be good enough.” By month 11, hopefully you’ve figured it out. 
That’s, again, one of the things that’s frustrating for me. The way that I was raised, for one, my parents would never be calling the athletic director to stick up for me if someone told them I didn’t work hard. And two, a lot of times, the parents are the ones that are driving some of these guys leaving. We’ve had guys that haven’t played in a couple games, and their parents text and say they’re no longer on the team. How about, ask your son to come in and have a conversation with the coaching staff. Their reply will be, “Oh, well he doesn’t trust you guys.” Well, that doesn’t matter. 

Toole: In 15 years from now, you’re going to have a job and you may not trust your boss. But you’re going to need to stay in that job and be able to have a conversation with a superior that maybe you disagree with. Maybe, at the end of that conversation, you quit. But if you can’t have it, how functional are you going to be in the world? To me, I think that’s also part of our responsibility as coaches….To help these guys learn accountability and communication and not just cut and run if things aren’t going their way. But you don’t always get that support from the other end. 

Cappella: Elijah Minnie, player problems and forming a backbone

Mueller: You talked about how when players are facing adversity, as a coach, you expect them to rise to the occasion. This season has provided you with some adversity, as well. A 20-loss season hasn’t occurred here with you. And now, with 26 total players have left and people starting to give you some heat about it. Is this a situation of adversity for you? 
Toole: Of course. There’s adversity every year for me. That’s what I think some people don’t understand. When you go and beat Kentucky in the NIT, there’s adversity to figure out how you’re going to do something as good, if not better, the next year. So we go to the NIT again and we beat St. John’s, then people start to say, “Well, you can’t go to the NCAA tournament. Or your program hasn’t gone to the NCAA tournament with you as a head coach.” Well okay, now we’ve got to figure out how to get to the NCAA tournament. Then it’s, can you continue to have the success? Can you continue to win games? There’s always adversity and challenges from your opponents, from the officials, from everybody. There’s always adversity for the coaches. 
A young(er) Andy Toole celebrates an Ivy League
championship at Penn (photo: Penn Gazette)

Toole: There’s always great challenges, and that’s what makes this job fun. Trying to build guys into the team that you need them to be, and thinking about it and figuring out. Watching film, and talking to people and trying to figure out how to be the best team you can be. That’s what is exciting about our job. The competition of it is something that’s great about our job. There’s very few professions in the world to where you can have this kind of competition on a semi-regular basis. Whether it’s the 31 games you play a year, or the practice settings. That’s one of the things that I love about it; the competition factor. Sometimes, I think that’s hard on our players because they’re not as competitive as I am. I don’t always understand not trying to win at whatever you’re doing. That can make people uncomfortable. If you are a guy who is always talked about how you love the game and your identity as a basketball player. You are always at home, at your high school, or on your AAU team. That’s your identity. That’s who you are. You’re a basketball player. 
Toole: Now, you come to Robert Morris and you’ve got a guy telling you you’re not competitive enough. You’ve got a guy telling you that you don’t work hard enough. You’ve got a guy telling you that you don’t shoot it well enough. You’ve got a guy telling you that he needs you to defend better if you want to play more. That’s sometimes a personal attack to a lot of players. If I say, “Hey man, that’s not a good shot, you’re not shooting it at a high percentage.” That becomes a personal attack. And then if you say you shoot this percentage, he spends time defending himself on that he only shoots it once a game. It’s missing the point. If you have somebody who is a high-intensity, high-energy coach in practice everyday demanding you bring that same thing, it’s hard. 

Toole: I think it becomes uncomfortable for guys because they claim to be passionate, or want to work, or do whatever, and then all of a sudden they get exposed. That’s not our plan. Our plan isn’t to expose you. Our plan is to take the guy who was the recruit who said he worked really hard and loved to be in the gym and wanted to work out, bring that guy here and help him get better and help him improve. Help him really take off as a player and become the best player he can be, the best student he can be and the best person he can be. That also requires a lot of hard work, and there’s not a lot of hard working people out there today. Period. That’s where some of the frustration comes in for players. Guys will go in the gym at night and hang out, and take some shots and stop when they’re tired. 
Toole provided an example of a listed player that told the coaching staff he didn’t want to participate in spring team workouts because he worked out on his own:
Player: I don’t need to do spring workouts because I work out on my own.
Toole: Well, you’re not in very good shape so how good are your workouts? Ok, I”ll meet you at John Jay Gym on Monday morning at 8 AM and I’ll watch your workout. If your workout is good enough, you don’t have to do spring workouts.”
Toole: We went in there, and for ten minutes, he did every drill that we do in our team workouts, but he did it in half the time. In our workout, we said you have to make 20 shots in 30 seconds so you’ve got to work. And if you don’t make it, you’ve got to run down the court and back. There’s accountability to that. You assume some responsibility that you’ll be able to do this. There’s some built in consequence so that you add a little bit of pressure to it. So when we go to this Monday morning workout, he starts out just as we do in our workout, but shoots about eight of them at slow speed. That’s not getting him better for the game. And then after about 10 minutes, he says to me,
Player: Well, can you come and rebound for me?
Toole No, this is the workout you do by yourself. You told me you don’t have anybody here.
Player: Well, I’d be able to do a lot more if I had someone rebound for me.
Toole: So when do you actually do this great workout on your own?

Toole: Sometimes, that’s what you’re dealing with. Even with Velton, one of the toughest players, we used to count the number of dribbles you would take in a ball-handling drill in a minute. We’d say, “Ok, you’ve have two balls and you’ve got to get 90 dribbles in a minute. They would go bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. Then, we’d come back the next week and say they’ve got to get 95. Velton would be like, “Why do we have to get 95?” Because we’re trying to get better each and every time we get out on the floor, and put things in place, tangible goals, that you guys can reach so that you push yourself to improve. If you can get 90 in week one, why not after week two, raise it up and work a little bit harder and push a little bit faster. That’s not always comfortable for people. I think it’s the best thing for people if you’re willing to buy into it and work through that kind of adversity, challenges and frustrations. 

Photo credit: Asbury Park Press 
Mueller: Do you think that everybody’s really starting to harp on all of the players leaving now because you’re on the verge of a 20-loss season? That it’s a bit more magnified because you’re probably not going to the NCAA or NIT tournament this year? That now, it’s coming up more than ever?
Toole: Yeah, for sure. You look at the guys on this list, and some of them are very talented players. Some of them have gone on to other places and had some success. A lot of them have gone to other places at a lower level. But, if you don’t have the right mentality and you’re not bought into the program and willing to do what you need to do on a regular basis… Like, if some of these guys were here, I’m not sure if we’d have a better record anyway. If your heart’s not in it, and if you’re not wiling to give everything you can to the team, program and university, you’re going to come up short. I think the key is trying to find those guys that are willing to give whatever it takes. And then, even if you are unsuccessful, you know that everyone’s still on the same page. Everyone’s fighting and everyone’s working. 

Kunkel: The final stretch is what it’s all about


Toole: I think about 2013 when we lost our first two league games. As a program, the expectation we had was to march through the NEC and go to the NCAA tournament. Even though we lost those two games and we had some hard days and some hard conversations and some hard practices, I never walked out of a locker room saying these guys aren’t going to respond. These guys aren’t going to fight back. There’s days in the last couple of seasons where I walk out of the locker room and go, “I hope everyone’s there tomorrow.” That’s one of the frustrating things. 

“There were ups and downs”

Mueller: The RMU men’s basketball transfer rate is 53 percent. The NCAA men’s basketball transfer rate is 40 percent. With this number, you have people that bring up your connection to Mike Rice and players leaving his program and his known track record. Do you think that’s fair speculation because you were his top assistant? 
Toole: Here’s the thing…..Mike Rice was here for three years and who left? Bas Rozendaal left after his first year, Will Royal left the next year, and I think Khalif Foster left. Because, for one, we had some leadership. That’s a big component in the all this. If you have some guys at the top of your program that, when a player walks in the locker room and he’s frustrated, will sit there and say “It’ll be alright. Coach is getting on you for a reason. This is why we’ve got to do things in a certain way because this is what it takes to win.” In the last two years, we haven’t had very good leadership. 
All of our practices are open. I invite anybody to come to our practices at any time they want and watch what we do and watch how we coach. I have guys that graduated last year like Dave Appolon. He used to tell me that I’m soft now. So I don’t know… I think, obviously, guys don’t like to be yelled and screamed at. But guys also don’t like to be told the truth. One of the things that I’m probably worse at than Mike is sitting in conversations in rooms like this, and not yelling and screaming, but being incredibly blunt. 
Mueller: You’re more blunt than he was?
Toole: Maybe, in some ways. Like, “This is what you need to do to be better.” I could go into stories about all these guys. One of the players on the list, we had a two-hour phone conversation with his parents on the phone. He’s in the office with his parents on the phone for two hours. The conversation started with me being on trial.
Parent: Why doesn’t he do this? Why doesn’t he get this? Why doesn’t he get more playing time here?
Toole: I simply just spoke to the kid.
Toole: Do we do this drill everyday?
Player: Yes
Toole: Do you ever do anything in that drill that would lead you to be a three-man? 
Player: No.
Toole: By the end of the conversation, the kid was getting yelled at by his parents. But a lot of times, it takes getting everybody on the same page communication-wise to have those kind of talks. There’s a lot of times that, when kids go and call their parents after practice, they don’t tell them the truth. I had another parent call.
Parent: My son needs to play more.
Toole: Why?
Parent: This that and the other.
Toole: Well in practice, through 31 practices, he has 36 assists and 70 turnovers.
Parent: I didn’t know that.
Toole: Ok, well that makes it hard for me as the coach to entrust your son to do more with the ball because in our practice setting, he’s turning the ball over two times more than he’s getting an assist.
Parent: Well, he doesn’t turn it over that much in the game.
Toole: Exactly, because we don’t entrust him to certain things with the ball in the game because of what we watch in practice.
Toole: But when Velton Jones and I would get into an argument, and he would call home and his mom would call me, she would say “coach, whatever you need to do to him, whatever punishment he needs to take, I have your back”
Mueller: Is that part of the reason to why Velton was so successful?
Toole: Yeah. Believe me, there were ups and downs. There were days where he didn’t want to practice. There were days where he wanted to do this, but when you call home and have the conversation, his parents would say, “We’ve got your back. We’re not letting him leave. That’s the best place for him. That’s what he needs to become a better human being, person, player, etc.” You don’t get that kind of support from a lot of the parents, or sometimes even a lot of their previous coaches. 
Toole described a scenario in which a listed player told the coaching staff he had to go home for a weekend because of a doctors appointment.
Toole: We said, “Okay, he needs to go home to go to the doctor. It was fine. It was a weekend and we didn’t have anything planned. One of my assistants called his house to see how the appointment was. That’s the nice thing to do, right?
Parent: Oh, he doesn’t have a doctors appointment this weekend. That’s next weekend.
Coaching staff:So then, we say to the mom, “Hey we’ve got to get on the same page. The best thing for your son is to be able to have communication, keep everybody on the same page so that he gets held accountable do doing the right stuff.
Parent: Coach, you’re right.

Toole: She calls back a week later and said her son hadn’t returned her calls since our last conversation.
Parent: I can’t be in communication with you guys anymore because I need to have a relationship with my son.
Toole: So then as a coach, you sit there and go like, “Ok, so you’d rather have him not being truthful, scamming, scheming so you guys can have a relationship instead of trying to help him become a productive member of society.” I think, at times, some of this stuff goes on at a lot of other places where guys are behaving in certain ways. I don’t know if it’s always addressed the same. 
Mueller: More of sweeping it under the rug? 
Toole: Yeah. Maybe instead of suspending a guy for a game, you have him run a couple extra sprints. Is that teaching them a lesson? One of the things I think that’s important is when I always got in trouble when I was little, there was always something done by my parents that I remembered. Something that hurt you. A lot of guys love to play in games. A lot of guys can run for days. They run five sprints and it doesn’t bother them. But when they miss a game, and they have to sit on the bench and people know about it and ask them why they’re not playing. I think sometimes that has more effect than other stuff, but that’s the way we choose to run our program. 

“Like, if some of these guys were here, I’m not sure if we’d have a better record anyway. If your heart’s not in it, and if you’re not wiling to give everything you can to the team, program and university, you’re going to come up short.”

-Andy Toole 


Toole: We don’t necessarily beg people to stay. If you’re not happy, you deserve to go and find some happiness. A lot of guys don’t ever find it. A lot of times, they’re the ones that aren’t happy. It’s not Robert Morris. It’s not the next school. It’s the way that their attitude is, or the way that they look at the world. I’ve had players that leave and will text me a month after they left saying they knew I was just trying to help them out. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. You came here and learned how we do what we do, it wasn’t for you, you moved on and maybe you learned from it. You learn a little bit more about yourself and what is important to you. And you go on your way. 
I think that’s how a majority of the world works. You come to Robert Morris as a general student. You’re here for a year, you don’t like something about the school and you go on your way to find what’s the course for you. I think, in a lot of ways, athletics is the same thing. My brother is the only person I know who’s had the same job since he graduated college. He’s had the same job for 17 years.
Mueller: What’s he do?
Toole: He works for Thomson Reuters in New York City. He’s worked at the same company. Everyone else I know has worked at four, five or six different companies in a decade. So like, the transient behavior is everywhere. A lot of these kids have gone to multiple high schools before they’ve gone to multiple colleges. If you get guys who spent four years at the same high school, that’s saying something. Here are some of the guys:
Player A: Three high schools
Player B: Two high schools
Player C: Two high schools
Player D: Three high schools
Player E: Two high schools
Player F: Two high schools
Player G: Two high schools
Player H: Three high schools
Player I: Two high schools
Player J: Two high schools
Toole: It’s not like it just started as soon as they walked on campus. Again, we have to do a better job of vetting. We have to do a better job of strategically putting certain people in places, and selecting well. We’re trying to do that. Like I said, 26 players is too many. I think when you’re trying to continue to have success and trying to win games, and guys aren’t going to necessarily help at that or don’t like what they’re role is in doing that, what are you supposed to do? Start kidnapping people? You can’t leave, we’re going to chain you to your locker so you can’t go and try and find a place you think is better? That’s the way it is. 

“We’re never going to solve it”

Mueller: That leads into my final question How do you approach this problem moving forward? You, the coaching staff, and even Dr. Coleman and the administration? You said vetting and selecting better. As a program, how do you improve the situation while continuing to hold the same high standards?
Photo credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Toole: We’re never going to solve it. It’s still going to be a part of college basketball. But I think, being a little bit more careful about some of the risks your take. That’s first and foremost and the easiest one. Part of it is maturity. You can’t change people. You can only influence them. Can we influence this guy to do what we need him to be doing for four or five years? Yes or no? And saying, “This guy reminds me of so-and-so, and that didn’t work out real well. Maybe we can’t go down this road.” 
Toole: Putting some different systems in place to understand and evaluate who people are. We’ve tried to brainstorm some different strategies to get a little more in depth with how they’re going to respond to certain situations, or some better questions that we really need to have answers to. Some of these things are interconnected too. Charles Oliver and Juanie Newton are probably never here if Coron Williams doesn’t transfer to Wake Forrest. And, if Marcquise Reed doesn’t leave, maybe there are certain guys that aren’t on our roster today.

“A lot of guys can run for days. They run five sprints and it doesn’t bother them. But when they miss a game, and they have to sit on the bench and people know about it and ask them why they’re not playing. I think sometimes that has more effect than other stuff, but that’s the way we choose to run our program.”

-Andy Toole 

Toole: But, when you lose guys in the spring time, there’s not always a lot of easy pickings out there. If you look at this list, a lot of these guys are spring signees. This comes from being more mature and confident in what you’re doing, instead of saying, “We’ve got to have 13 guys on scholarship.” It’s saying maybe we’ll pass, and save this scholarship for next year. If you’re going to get burned for giving the kids the opportunity to come and be a Division I player, maybe you say, “No, we’ll wait. We’ve got 10 guys and a couple walk-ons. These 10 might be happier.” Instead of thinking a guy has a chance to develop, but having him be upset all year because he thinks he should play more. No one else really recruited him, no one else really was after him and we get him on our team and give him the opportunity. And then we become the bad guys because he’s not scoring 40 points a game, or playing 40 minutes a game. Maybe now you learn to say we don’t need that. We’ve got a couple guys at every position, a couple guys that can play multiple positions. We’ve got some hard working walk-ons. Let’s just stay with what we got.
Toole: Bobby Cremins used to say you need eight really good players, and six really good cheerleaders. I don’t know. Maybe you start to think about how to make that work. It’s harder to make that work here because depth is something that helps keep people’s feet to the fire. You’ve got to make sure that guys understand that there’s someone who can come in and play in their minutes, but it’s all stuff that you learn as you continue to grow as a coach and figure stuff out. Maybe in some situations, we valued talent over some other characteristics that we should of value. Like maybe, we take someone not as talented, but more consistent and slightly better in character who will pay much more dividend for you than that talented guy that plays well nine games a year. Again, as a coach you’ve got to be comfortable and confident with that.

Cappella: Vintage Rodney Pryor showed up Saturday night

Toole: Early as a head coach, you’re saying we just need the most talented guys we can and we’ll make it work. It doesn’t really happen that way. You look at schools like Villanova who have all these guys that just have great chemistry, and play together and play hard and are probably very similar everyday in how they act. It makes them a good team. Now, they lose last year to N.C. State, and those guys were an 8 or 9 or 10 seed in the NCAA tournament, and Villanova was a No. 2 seed. Everybody says Villanova had a crappy year. Well, they won 29 games. That’s the other thing. You’re never really going to make everybody happy. If guys leave and you continue to win, it’s great. If everybody stays and you lose, then you’re a jerk. It’s like what do you do?
Toole: I think the answer to that is that we continue to keep the same standard and values that we’ve had for the nine years that I’ve been here, and make sure we do a better job of finding people who will fit into that. We need to make sure we’re being open and honest with everybody that comes in here. Make sure that we are being consistent in our own actions as a staff, and then what happens from there happens from there. You can’t really predict much more than that. 
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