Skinner still bringing it

You probably missed it, but conference tournament play began on Monday night in the Atlantic Sun Conference.

One of the winners--advancing to the semifinal round--was Kennesaw State, which came away with an 80-78 win over South Carolina UpState.

The coach of Kennesaw is Al Skinner.

Remember the name?

If you were or are a college basketball fan in the ACC, the Big East or the Atlantic 10 you absolutely know about Al Skinner.

Al Skinner came out of New York, played basketball at UMass with a guy named Julius Erving. He had a long career as a player in the ABA and NBA.

He went into coaching, starting his head coaching journey at Rhode Island, where he became the second winningest coach in school history. He was also named the Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year.

He went to Boston College and revived that program. He was named NATIONAL coach of the year. BC won a Big East regular season title. He was also named the Big East Coach of the Year during his tenure He left that program as the winningest men's basketball coach in school history.

When BC left the Big East, Skinner guided the Eagles to the ACC tournament title game in his first season in the league. During his final 5 seasons at BC, the Eagles AVERAGED 20 wins a season.

But that wasn't good enough for former BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo, who wanted more from Skinner.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

That was 7 years ago. BC has been tumbling ever since. In the past four seasons, BC's record in the ACC is 10-60. A year ago the Eagles went through a winless cycle in ACC football and basketball.

They haven't been to the NCAA tournament in this decade.

Getting fired was bad enough, but when Skinner left BC, he carried with him tags that his work ethic wasn't what it should be. His offenses were too boring. His success was based on his assistants.

Skinner tried to get back into coaching, but the search firms hired by schools looking for boosts for falling programs wouldn't listen. Plus, he was now too old.

So when schools such as St. John's, Rutgers, DePaul and South Florida had openings, Skinner was treated like a retread. St. John's rejected him twice. So did Rutgers.

Check the standings and see how those schools are doing.

Kennesaw State athletic director Vaughn Willliams didn't pay attention to any of that two years ago when he was looking for a new basketball coach. He hired Skinner and the Owls went .500 in the league.

Skinner did what he has always done. He came in, talked to people, made evaluations and then started to fix things. The Owls are getting better. They were again .500 in the ASun, and will now face No.1 seed Florida Gulf Coast on Thursday night in a semifinal game .

I have known Al Skinner for more than 25 years. I talked to him on Monday before the game against South Carolina Upstate and he talked about the progress he was making.

"Little steps,'' he said, laughing. "But we're getting better. ''

Anyone who spends any time around Skinner can clearly see the quality of the man. What is less obvious is the competitive fire that he still carries as he approaches 65.

A year after Skinner was fired by BC, I talked to him for a story I was doing at the Boston Globe. He talked about what he had done and what had been done to him.

""I ran a good program,'' Skinner told me. "I graduated my kids. Everybody has problems, but we addressed them and handled them in a matter that satisfied everyone.''

He bristled at the "not working hard enough'' charges. ""If I can do all of that (win games) and not work, they should hire me anyway,'' he said.

It was a funny line about a subject that still stings. Just like the nonsense about his coaching staff at BC as the reason behind his success. As one of his former assistants, Tim O'Shea, who is now running the program at Bryant University said, "Who hired those assistants?''

Skinner's coaching tree includes O'Shea, Billy Coen at Northeastern, Ed Cooley at Providence and Pat Duquette at UMass-Lowell. All have displayed Skinner's instinct for building.

Skinner, with a new staff at Kennesaw, is again building and teaching.

And all the ADs out there who are now looking to improve their programs and could be contemplating changes, places like USF, and back in New England where BC continues to flounder under Jim Christian and perhaps at UMass, where the Minutemen do not seem to be getting any better, you could do much worse than calling Al Skinner.

At BC, where the mantra is that the school can not succeed because of tight academic restrictions and poor facilities, check the record books: Skinner did WIN there with the same restrictions at the same level of competition.

And when the coaching carousel begins in a few weeks with several openings expected, there will be more chatter about who is hot, there will be more search firms hired, firms that will spit out the same list of names.

The press conferences will be filled with hope. And in most cases, they will be repeated in a few years with new faces.

And Al Skinner will be on no one's list because he is yesterday's news and he is too old and he can't recruit and he doesn't work hard enough.

The chances are his season will end on Thursday against Florida Gulf Coast, but you never know. As Skinner texted me after the win over South Carolina Upstate, ""It's the first step.''

Yes it was. But there will be many more bigger steps taken by Skinner and Kennesaw State, as long as he remains.

And as far as what Skinner can't do?

As it was seven years ago, and as now, it will all be popycock and horse feathers and pure BS.

Skinner will sit back and smile, content with what he is doing, knowing what everyone else should have known for years, or was too arrogant or blind or ignorant to notice.

Al Skinner has game. Always has and still does.[/membership]