Fordham's Tom Pecora Hasn't Lost His Resolve

Charles CostelloContributor IApril 3, 2014

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora is seen on the sidelines during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Saint Louis Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora doesn't rest. When you're in charge of what might be the most difficult rebuilding job in college basketball, there's no time for that.

And so last Thursday, exactly two weeks after Fordham played its final game of the 2013-14 season, Pecora was on the go. There was a meeting in the morning, a media interview right after that and then a television appearance later in the day.

All of that was in between the recruiting and everything else that fills Pecora's time. There's no offseason for a college basketball coach, especially one trying to resuscitate a program that's been down for two decades.

"I get a kick out of people that, at times, think that myself and my staff are comfortable, or that losing doesn't bother us," Pecora said during an interview last week in his office just outside the Rose Hill Gym on Fordham's Bronx campus. "We're the ones that are literally losing sleep over it."

Pecora hasn't gotten much sleep of late. How can you when you're the face of a program that hasn't had a winning season since 2006-07, or when you're out on the road recruiting, doing everything you can to change a school's fortune?

"You can't work harder at it than we do as a staff," Pecora said. 

Pecora insists things are getting better, pointing to an influx of talent as the reason why the Rams are ready to turn the corner. Four years into his Fordham tenure, the coach hasn't lost hope.

"It's a challenging job and that's obvious when you look at the history of Fordham," Pecora said. "What lured me here was the tremendous potential that it had. That's still there. Are we still having growing pains? Yes, in a lot of ways. We continue to grow and push and move forward in the way we do business day to day. We still continue to try to change certain things."

It's proven to be quite the task.

"If we were in the 15th-ranked league in the country we would have turned the corner already," Pecora said. "If we were a CAA (Colonial Athletic Association) team we would have turned the corner already. If we were in the MAAC (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) we would have turned the corner already. But we're not. We're in the Atlantic 10. And I want to be in the Atlantic 10. I came here to coach in the Atlantic 10. That's why it has become such a great challenge."

Spend time with Pecora these days, and you'll hear him mention that one word—challenge—a lot. It comes with the territory. 

"It was the greatest challenge of my coaching career," he said about the decision to come to Fordham after 16 years at Hofstra. "I didn't want to be seduced by the idea of doing it quickly and not having it sustained. If you want to sustain and build something long-term, like we did at Hofstra, you have to do it with good players and quality people who are willing to work hard to become better players. That's kind of where we are as we move forward."

Pecora doesn't lack confidence, and he doesn't lack motivation. He knows what he needs to do to turn this around.

"A very smart coach once said, 'It's about recruiting, it's about scheduling and then it's about coaching.' We continue to try to get better at all three of those things."

Pecora's knowledge of Fordham basketball is impressive. It's not just the current squad. He'll go back a long way and talk to you about the history of basketball at the school. He talks about Fordham's proud tradition, and you know it means something to him. He's also realistic.

"Is Fordham still a very challenging job? You bet it is. One of the most challenging jobs not only in the A-10, but anywhere. I knew that when I came here," he said. "That's why when we have our success it's going to be that much more exciting."

Pecora is 34-85 in his four years at Rose Hill. After going 10-21 this past season, he was asked during a radio interview about whether or not he thought his job was in jeopardy. Pecora said it wasn't the first time the topic was brought up.

"Somebody [asked me], 'Are you on the hot seat?' I said I've been on the hot seat my whole life," Pecora said when I asked him if that kind of talk bothered him. "I'm a kid from Queens. I'm living the dream. I'm doing what I've always dreamt of doing. I got very lucky over the course of my career and the harder I work the luckier I get. I know we're doing it the right way. I have great faith in my staff and the people around us. We're continuing to just stay the course with it.

"I came here to stay here. My loyalty is to Fordham. I know there's work that's undone here and I want to do that. I'm not wavering from the challenges put ahead of me and believing that we can get this done."

Pecora was being modest when he said he's been lucky. He won 155 games in nine seasons as the head coach at Hofstra, took the Pride to the National Invitation Tournament three times and is well-respected throughout college basketball, especially in the New York area. You could make the argument that he's Fordham's last, best hope to turn this thing around.

"If Fordham is going to be successful in men's basketball, they have to understand that—and when I say they I mean the basketball community that supports the program—they have to understand that it's a process," he said, "and the worst thing you can do in college athletics, whether they let me go or they don't...if we go 5-20 next year and they let me go so be it. I had a five-year run here. I'll go to sleep at night knowing I did everything in my power to help us win basketball games. But it will set the program back again.

"Because I love Fordham and because I love coaching, I want us to have success so we can stay here for the next 10 years and win basketball games. The alumni deserve it. The alumni at this university have been so supportive for the most part. I'm talking about the people who invest in this program—with their time, with their hard-earned dollars, with their support at home games—they deserve it. They deserve to have a winning team here. That drives me. I've never been around a better group of alumni when it comes to supporting a basketball program. They've done their job and some."

So has Pecora. If you're part of that group of alumni he talked about—the ones who have been waiting and waiting, the ones who deserve a winner and the ones who have become more and more frustrated through the years—you should admire his resolve.

Pecora isn't about to give up. That's not who he is. He believes in his heart that he can get it done at Fordham.

"If I didn't, I would have walked in and said I can't get it done here at Fordham," he said. "We're all competitors. I'm in this to compete. I'm in this to turn this thing around and to get this thing up and running smoothly long-term."

"We still have things to fix. The commitment here is greater than it's ever been, but so is the commitment at every other A-10 school. So that's the challenge."

There's that word, again. It keeps popping up. It's a popular one at Fordham these days.

All quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.