Tim Cluess' Hiring As Head Coach Is the Key to Iona Basketball's Great Season

Andrew JordanSenior Writer IMarch 7, 2011

Ever since they made the NCAA tournament in 2006, the Iona Gaels basketball team has been on a real adventure.

Iona started this roller coaster adventure with a massive drop in 2007 after making the tournament the year before. Iona finished the season with an abysmal 2-28 record to finish last overall in the MAAC.

After Jeff Ruland was dismissed from his job in 2007, Iona started to rebound under Kevin Willard during his first two seasons as head coach.

In Willard's third and final season, the Gaels were able to get a bye to the quarterfinals of the MAAC tournament, and Willard was named coach of the year in the MAAC.

However, Willard left Iona to become the head coach of Seton Hall University and forced Iona to make another choice for the head coaching position.

But just a week later, Iona decided to go to Long Island to choose its next head coach, and Tim Cluess was hired as the 12th head coach in the history of Iona College.

Even though he never coached a game in Division I basketball, Cluess had an amazing career on Long Island as the head coach of Division II C.W. Post.

With C.W. Post, Cluess was able to claim two East Coast Conference titles in five years on the job. Cluess was also able to help C.W. Post reach the Elite Eight in 2009 after winning the first 30 games for the Pioneers.

For Iona, this move made a whole lot of sense. Cluess was able to have success at every stop he has been at in both the high school and collegiate levels on Long Island.

Cluess also was not a big-name coach, but instead was suited to coach a small school.

With an enrollment number just over 4,000, Iona is one of the smallest schools that could make the 2011 NCAA tournament.

Iona has registered only one win in the NCAA tournament. That win happened under the legendary Jim Valvano in 1980 when Iona beat Holy Cross, 84-78 before losing to Georgetown, 73-71 in the second round.

With a collegiate community that small, having a coach such as Cluess, who is from the local area and has mainly dealt with small schools throughout his coaching history, is a massive benefit for the Gaels basketball program.

Cluess has done a fantastic job and has gotten help from two key upperclassmen in Mike Glover (a.k.a Optimus Prime) and Scott Machado (the nation's leader in assists).

Iona has also been the highest-scoring team in the MAAC and could be a potential bracket buster should they reach the NCAA tournament.

Earlier in the season, Iona hung tough against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, when the Orange were still undefeated.

And considering how well Iona played at the end of the season, should the Gaels reach the tournament, they will cause a buzz at the very least.

But without question, Iona would not be in this situation without the signing of Cluess last April.

And with Siena experiencing a coaching change last season and the loss of several key seniors this season, the MAAC will be wide open for any team in the conference to take a strangle hold of for the next several seasons.

If Iona is able to beat Saint Peter's College tonight in the MAAC Championship Game, it could potentially begin a dynasty over the MAAC, just like when the Gaels reached the NCAA tournament in three of four seasons between 1997-98 and 2000-01.