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McGair: Fallout from PC’s decision to suspend freshmen can’t sit well with Cooley

January 7, 2014

Providence College head coach Ed Cooley, second from the right, tries to move the program he oversees forward following Brandon Austin’s decision to leave the school in which he was recruited to play. Losers of their first two Big East games and three straight overall, the Friars look to get back on the winning track when they host Georgetown tomorrow night. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

It’s time for Providence College basketball fans to put everything in proper perspective.

They’re an upset group due to the administration imposing a season-long suspension from game competition on two freshmen. They feel the sentence is a tad on the harsh side, especially in the wake of no reported legal wrongdoings.

Perhaps not totally surprising, one of those first-year Friars has opted to use his four years of eligibility at another school. To many members of the Friar Faithful, the departure of Brandon Austin without a single regular-season minute in a PC uniform under his belt represents the breaking point.

They are thirsty for answers and feel school officials are performing a great disservice by locking themselves up in a Black & White-tinted ivory tower covered in “Say absolutely nothing” memos.

Just like Austin responded in the fashion he did after learning of his fate, perhaps Providence fans, season-ticket holders and boosters need to band together and respond in a non-message board setting. If a response is what they so desperately seek, why not apply a little full-court pressure by gathering at the intersection of Eaton Street and River Ave. – please, no pitch forks and torches – before marching to the outside of either Harkins Hall or Dominic House?

Upon arriving at either building, make sure to clear a path for the one person who has been most affected by the saga of Msgrs. Austin and Bullock: Ed Cooley.

Unlike the followers and loyalists who pay their hard-earned money to root for the team he coaches, or the administrators and trustees who crave a basketball program that strikes a balance between the academic prestige of a Stanford and the on-court glory of a Kentucky, Cooley’s world rises and falls with everything that has to do with PC hoops. His job is to keep the charm turned on at all times and please everyone, and what a tough road to hoe it can prove when there are additional hurdles to clear.

Now that the “worst-case scenario” has come to fruition with Austin packing his bags, Cooley has to be thinking, “My job as the men’s basketball head coach here at PC just got a lot harder.”

By the same token, he also has to wonder if administration is truly on his side.

It’s one thing to have the NCAA’s dog-sniffers gallop into town and declare that a player is ineligible, or watch the starting point guard crumble into a heap 10 minutes into an exhibition game and later learn he needs yet another shoulder surgery. These are two examples in which Providence had no control.

The on-campus incident involving Austin and Bullock was thought to be a different beast given that this was a matter handled and addressed by PC people. While it’s perfectly right to question why it took so long for a final resolution to arrive – the two players were suspended on Nov. 6 with a decision not forth coming until two days before Christmas – it’s also within bounds to wonder what the reason was behind rendering such a stiff penalty, especially when – officially – no crime was reported to the authorities.

Rest assured Cooley is wrestling with the same conundrum. Weren’t the 12 games that Austin and Bullock missed prior to the Dec. 23 announcement of no Friar games in their immediate future enough punishment?

To those equipped with the power of judge, jury and executioner, no.

If it was PC’s intention to dismiss the myth that well-publicized Division I student-athletes do not get preferential treatment or are above reproach, then call what came to pass “Mission Accomplished.” A slap on the wrist would simply not do.

All of that is a prelude to the main point: Cooley’s dream of transforming PC into a glamour program continues to be marred by starts and stops in this, his third year at the helm.

For all the praise he’s earned as a tireless recruiter, one who has proven that he can get talented players to come to Providence, the perception of Cooley is tied to one concrete particular: How many games he wins. You can urge the crowd to get involved until your arms fall off and make promises about the heights you believe you can climb until you’re blue in the face, but if you’re not performing well, that rah-rah mentality is seen as nothing more than empty promises. At that point, the head coach becomes a piñata.

When that becomes the case, the head coach should turn to the higher-ups and say, “This is the hand you’ve dealt me. You want me to win, but when you take away two of my players that myself and my assistant coaches spent many hours pursuing before receiving a commitment, then what do you expect?”

Rest assured Cooley will not run for cover or lament the hand he’s been dealt. His bootstrap mentality will have none of that. He will press forward and continue to devote every possible waking minute to creating a product that falls in line with his grand vision.

Given all that has transpired recently, you have to wonder if Cooley feels as if he’s stranded on a deserted island, a lonely feeling that can only come when administrators don’t supply all the necessary resources to fight a fair fight.

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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