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For Tim O’Shea, leading Bryant into Division I made plenty of sense

February 13, 2018 Columns No Comments

When Bryant University decided to make the move to Division I, the transition was going to be important. It was going to be challenging, to be sure – the jump in talent (although more so in length and athleticism), not being eligible for postseason play for a few years, having to schedule extra non-conference games before getting a full conference schedule all posed challenges.

All of that was a given, and all of it was known at the time. Then the coach at the time left to go out west. It meant the school had a big hire to make, to get someone to guide them in these early days of Division I.

Ten years later, it is as clear now as it was then that the program was fortunate to have a good coach – and a good man – want to come there and lead that transition.

Tim O’Shea, the first Division I head coach in Bryant’s history, is calling it a career at the end of the season. It’s been a great 34-year run as a college coach with a lot of success, and that included a stretch of his ten-year run in Smithfield. And in a sense, it’s a stop that one might not have expected, even if it makes sense at the end of the day.

O’Shea was a big key to the success that Al Skinner had at Rhode Island and Boston College. He had a big hand in recruiting many key players at both schools, and the success at Chestnut Hill was remarkable considering the many players the staff landed that didn’t register on many scouts’ radars as high-major players. He parlayed that and much more into a head coaching job at Ohio University, where he consistently won for seven years, including an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2005.

Even as the Bobcats won 79 games from 2004 to 2008, there was a question about what the endgame was. Would it involve becoming a high-major head coach after more success at a school like Ohio, or a good situation from other standpoints? He certainly could have made it to a high-major; he won at Ohio and could have stayed to win more, enough to get a high-major offer somewhere. If one decides that the latter makes more sense, at first glance going from one of the signature programs of a conference like the MAC to a new Division I school – with all of the surface disadvantages that come with it – seems like an odd move.

But for O’Shea, coming to Bryant meant coming home. It was where he wanted to be. So he came home, because that was of great importance. And it always felt right, because you could sense that there was nothing he would rather have done than lead this program from the comforts of Rhode Island.

He got to shepherd them into Division I, with plenty of great moments along the way. They had some buzzer-beating wins, they showed promise early on, then they did well enough in their first three years of being eligible for the Northeast Conference Tournament (and by extension, all postseason play) that they hosted quarterfinal games each year. They lost tough ones the first two times to Mount St. Mary’s and Saint Francis University, then won an absolute thriller in the third year over Sacred Heart to finally break through.

More than that, though, you got the feeling he enjoyed every moment of it, as well as every aspect of it. He knew what he signed up for, so the losing early on never seemed to wear on him as he took a long view. He enjoyed being where he was. He enjoyed the kids, the others on his staff, the media, and the entire situation. He loved that he was at a school whose academic offering is top-notch, even if it made recruiting a little more challenging.

You always sensed there was more than basketball that made this situation work for him. And he made it work for all involved. It became a nice little story in an area where college basketball is all too often buried by the Patriots and the Red Sox mainly, as well as the Celtics. He ran the program and represented the school in the best possible way.

After the success in their first years of being eligible for postseason play, the team was hit hard by players transferring up. That phenomenon has hit the NEC as a whole quite hard, but perhaps the Bulldogs as much as anyone. That has made the basketball part more challenging of late.

In all, though, O’Shea will leave having accomplished the basic goal that anyone can hope to do in this situation: leave the situation better than when he came in. Bryant is now a Division I program with some history and some accomplishments for the next coach to build on. It was a situation he was fortunate to have, and the school was fortunate to have him to be their man for the first decade in Division I. It’s a situation that ultimately made all the sense in the world.

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