Fordham's Tom Pecora: The Kid from Queens Trying to Make It Happen in the Bronx

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Fordham's Tom Pecora: The Kid from Queens Trying to Make It Happen in the Bronx
Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

If I'm a fan of Fordham basketball, I'm rooting like heck for Tom Pecora.

It's not that the Rams haven't had good coaches in the past, but there's something about Pecora that makes you want to believe he's the one who's destined to turn this thing around.

Maybe it's the fact he's been a New Yorker from the start.

Or perhaps it's just that you like to see good guys win, whether they grew up in your backyard or not.

In four years at Fordham, Pecora has a record of 34-85. Yet, there are high hopes for 2014-15. There's more talent, and with that talent comes higher expectations.

Pecora understands that better than anyone, and perhaps that's one reason why you might have hope that after 20-plus years of some pretty bad basketball, Fordham might finally be ready to turn the corner.

With that said, there's still that "monster," as Pecora calls it, looming. It's been Fordham's bugaboo for 19 years: the Atlantic 10 Conference. Maybe in its 20th anniversary season, better luck will arrive on the steps of the Rose Hill Gym.

"The A-10 is the difference," Pecora said when asked what's made rebuilding the Fordham program so difficult. "We've gotten better every year, but so has the league."

For proof, Pecora points to the fact the league's NCAA tournament bids have increased each year he's been at Fordham: three in 2010-11, four in 2011-12, five in 2012-13 and an unprecedented six this past season.

"If you plop us in the MAAC or the Patriot League, we're pretty good," Pecora said. "But those days are behind us. We're in the Atlantic 10."

In 19 seasons in the conference, Fordham is 72-232 against A-10 opponents. Consider last season the Rams beat Manhattan. The Jaspers went on to become MAAC champions.

There are other issues as well. For example, in 2012-13, Pecora's third year at Fordham, the Rams played 20 of 31 games away from the Rose Hill Gym. While Pecora won't use that, or anything else, as an excuse, the reality is that a schedule like that has the potential to set a program back. It did. That year Fordham won seven games. The Rams won 10 games this past season.

"I think that there's a reason why those numbers are what they are," Pecora said when Fordham's A-10 record was pointed out to him. "It's my job to be creative enough to fix it, and to find ways to do it. Obviously it's a challenging job, but you don't live life with a rear view mirror."

For that reason, and for so many others, Pecora is looking ahead, very much looking forward to next season when the Rams will welcome Eric Paschall, Nemanja Zarkovic and Christian Sengfelder to town, while also bringing Antwoine Anderson and Manny Suarez into the fold. That's five new players, and with additional scholarships available, the Rams might not be done.

"It's our job to find Atlantic-10 level players that are willing to come here first and foremost to get a Fordham education," Pecora said.

Given the school's recent recruits—including Jon Severe, who will be a sophomore next season—the Rams appear to be doing just that. But there's still a lot of work that needs to be done, something Pecora doesn't shy away from.

"We're moving in the right direction," he said. "The last step in this process is winning basketball games, and we're well aware of that.

"As I've said more than once, a very smart coach once said the most important thing is recruiting, second most important thing is scheduling and then coaching is third. All three are challenges in different ways."

You really don't know much about Pecora if you have doubts about his willingness or ability to take on challenges. He could have easily stayed at Hofstra, where he won 155 games and made it to three National Invitation Tournaments in nine seasons.

Instead, he chose to come to Fordham, which over the years has proven to be one of the most challenging jobs in the country.

"I believed in the people here," Pecora said about Fordham. "I believed in (Fordham President) Father McShane. I believed in (then Athletic Director) Frank McLaughlin. I believed in the vision that they had. I believed when they said to me we are going to do business like the top teams in this league. That's why I came.

"Of course we haven't fulfilled our goals on the court," he added. "There were a lot of areas that needed a lot of attention when I took this job that were not directly related to basketball, but they are directly related to running a program the way Fordham University deserves for its program to be run. And we've addressed all of those."

Pecora pointed to the upgraded basketball offices, film room, locker room, arena and, of course, the academics, as examples of improvements that have been made.

He also talked about a recent phone conversation he had with Tom Sullivan, the captain of the 1971-72 Fordham team that won 18 games.

Pecora said Sullivan has told people close to the program that "the runway to takeoff is a lot longer than they thought it was." Indeed, it has proven to be just that.

"That is directly related to the level of competition," Pecora said. "When you get into this monster that is the A-10, you need to have players worthy of that league. That has always been the issue."

That's been Pecora's issue for the last four years. Though wins continue to elude the Rams, Pecora thinks they're making progress.

"Are there things we still need to work on? You bet. Are there things we need to do to start leapfrogging people in this league? You bet. But I still believe they can happen here at Fordham," he said.

It should surprise no one that Pecora, a New Yorker through and through, hasn't lost an ounce of confidence in himself or his team.

"I know I'm a good basketball coach," he said. "Other people might disagree, but that's OK. That comes with the territory."

Expectations also come with the territory. Pecora has embraced that part of the job, too.

"The challenge is still what drives me," he said. "There are people saying I told you so. There are people saying he's not the guy. There are people saying the players aren't good enough. All of these different issues.

"That just motivates me and drives me more."

The kid from Queens trying to do the unthinkable in the Bronx.

 

Quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.

Charles Costello covers the Fordham Rams for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @CFCostello.

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