Focus This Season Should Be on Fordham Basketball, Not Tom Pecora's Job

Charles CostelloContributor ISeptember 22, 2014

Feb. 6, 2013; Bronx, NY, USA; Fordham Rams head coach Tom Pecora stands on the sidelines against the Saint Louis Billikens during the second half at Rose Hill Gym. St. Louis won 90-73. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Twelve-year-old Sean Pecora started at the foul line, took a couple of dribbles and, in stride, let go of the ball.

There were no defenders, no one was keeping score, and the only person watching was Tom Pecora, Sean's father and the head coach of the Fordham Rams.

As Sean went in for the layup, his father turned for a quick second or two to watch a kid with a future ahead of him. When he did, his eyes momentarily left a program with a future that starts now.

Sean's ball went in. Fordham's ball is still up in the air.

Since he was hired in March 2010, Pecora has tried to transform the Rams from perennial losers into winners, something Fordham had been trying to do for its first 15 years in the Atlantic 10.

With the arrival of fall providing a signal that we're that much closer to the start of the college basketball campaign, we're left to ponder if after 19 seasons—most ending in frustration and doubt—could this finally be the year that the program turns the corner for good?

So much of this upcoming season is going to be about the future, even though the future is now for Fordham basketball. It's not just going to be about the future of the Rams. It will also be about the future of Pecora, whose fifth year at the school has all the makings of being the most important one yet.

The first four haven't been great, producing only 34 wins against 85 losses. As we moved into this past offseason, questions about Pecora's job status popped up from time to time.

Pecora was asked. Fordham athletic director David Roach was asked. I'm sure others were asked as well. Everyone seems to have an opinion, and most think Pecora has to win this year.

But what exactly that means is unclear, creating a murky picture that could lead to months of innuendo, rumor and pure speculation.

For his part, Roach told Bleacher Report"I never put numbers on it, but we want to see significant improvement. I can’t put a number on it, but I can feel it."

That's where it could get interesting. Fordham will be expected to win a good portion of its nonconference games. Heading into A-10 play with an 8-3 record is a realistic goal. But once January comes and the conference schedule begins, the level of competition and degree of difficulty will increase dramatically. Yes, Fordham has added significant talent, but it'll be tested on a nightly basis by a conference that sent six teams to the NCAA tournament last year.

Pecora isn't one to back down from a challenge. He proved that just by taking the Fordham job in the first place. He's tried to instill in his players that same mentality.

"I always tell kids, 'You can't play scared.' You can't coach scared either," Pecora told Bleacher Report. "I know how to do this. We're going to stick to our guns, be patient with it, be positive and keep moving forward."

"I don't feel like my job's on the line," he added. "You can't coach scared. No one pushes coaches harder than themselves."

Building a basketball program is tough. Building one at a place where it's never been done before at this level is even tougher. No one wants to win more than Pecora. It's what he did at Hofstra when he won 155 games in nine seasons. It's what drove him to accept the Fordham job—believing he could accomplish what no one else before him was able to do.

"I obviously didn't come here to not win basketball games," Pecora said. "We had great success prior to coming here, but so have other coaches and it hasn't worked here. We think the approach we've taken, although it might have taken longer, I think we've built a pretty solid foundation in the process of doing it. 

"I do believe we can have a year this year, if the ball bounces the right way, especially in conference, where we can turn the corner," he added. "Does it mean 16-15 is a good year and 15-16 isn't? That's yet to be seen."

Pecora has been coaching for 30 years. This is his greatest challenge. After four years at Rose Hill, he understands the realities of his situation—at Fordham, in the A-10 and within the landscape of college basketball.

"It's a business about wins and losses," Pecora said. "I get it.

"We're going to be the best Fordham we can be. For us to be compared to other schools, whether they're A-10 schools or other schools in college basketball, I don't get caught up in that nonsense. We're Fordham. We're a unique place, and we have to find a unique way to put together a winning basketball program. I think we're doing that."

If you ask Pecora whether he thinks he's on the hot seat, he'll tell you that he's been on the hot seat his entire life. If you ask him what he thinks when he hears people speculate about what he needs to do this year to keep his job, he'll say what you'd expect someone who's been around the game this long would say.

"I think it means we have to get better than last year," Pecora said. "I agree with it. I don't think there's a hard number out there because it's such a fragile equation. You're a rolled ankle away from things changing drastically. Go lose a point guard that's playing 35 minutes a game in the middle of A-10 play and see how things play out."

This season cannot be all about Pecora. In many ways, it's the first step in a brand-new process that began with an infusion of talent the likes of which the program was in desperate need of. Fordham needed a star— it got just that with Eric Paschall. The Rams needed a point guard—they found Nemanja Zarkovic. They needed help in the frontcourt—they got that, and more, with Christian Sengfelder.

Give it time. If it doesn't work now, it never will.

"If you're going to do this the right way, there are no shortcuts," Pecora said. "I can't coach this team in a way where this is the only year that matters. Because then next year they won't develop the way they should to take us to the next step.

"I know we're doing it the right way here," he added. "I know we're representing Fordham on and off the court in the right way. The last step in the process is winning some games. But people who think you come in, turn it around and win 20 gamesthey don't have a clue as to what it takes to do it the right way."

You know what question they ought to be asking around Fordham these days? Not the one that's been asked several times since the Rams' season ended in March, the one about whether or not Pecora is on the hot seat.

The question they should be asking is what is Fordham going to do to keep Pecora around beyond this year? Because if the Rams get it going in 2014-15, get eight wins in nonconference games, pick up a few more in Atlantic 10 play and make some noise at the Barclays Center in March, then it's not going to matter whether Fordham wants him back or not. It's going to be about other schools airlifting him right out of the Rose Hill Gym.

Barring a meltdown, which no one anticipates happening, there shouldn't be any questions about Pecora's job. It might be hard to imagine coming off a 10-win season, but the ball may very soon be in his court.

In fact, if the call is made to let Pecora go, then you could argue that maybe the next call should be to A-10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade, opening a dialogue about where the school is going after 20 years in the conference.

This season shouldn't be about Pecora's future. It has more to do with Fordham's.

 

Quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.

Charles Costello covers the Fordham Rams for Bleacher Report. A full archive of his articles can be found hereTwitter: @CFCostello