PAWTUCKET — Just a few days after Andy Yosinoff earned his 700th career victory as the head coach of the Emmanuel College women's hoop team – it came Saturday afternoon, Jan. 26, courtesy of a 76-49 blowout victory over Lasell at the Jean Yawkey Center – he admitted the achievement was still sinking in.
“Can I believe it? I don't know,” the 64-year-old Pawtucket native chuckled via phone from his athletic department office. “If you do something long enough, I guess you can accomplish things you never thought you would. Longevity is the key.
“When you're coaching game by game, you never think about it,” he added. “When I was at 600, that meant something, and – actually – I'm at 701 now (after a 68-55 triumph over Vermont's Norwich University last Wednesday). As long as I'm still loving it, I'm going to keep on plugging. I'm definitely going to try to get my 800th.”
The moment his Saints rolled to the historic win couldn't have been scripted better, or more special.
“You know who came to see me get the 700th? (Pawtucket sports legend) George Patrick Duffy and his wife,” Yosinoff noted with pride. “He and I go way back. He was sitting next to my father (Louis), who's a legend himself. He's now 94, and he spent years as a teacher/guidance counselor at Central High (in Providence). He had all the really good basketball players in his classes when Central was really good.
“My dad's a sports fanatic, just like me,” he continued. “When we won that game, it was great! There were about 700 people there, and I've got to tell you, it was relief more than anything, because everyone had been talking about it. We thought we were going to do it at Tufts; we were winning at halftime, and (Tufts) was ranked fourth in the country (in NCAA Division III polls), but we lost it down the stretch.
“That (victory) was really, really nice. My dad and George Patrick were there, and other friends of mine, not to mention some former players. We took a lot of pictures. It was a special day.”
To put Yosinoff's milestone in perspective, he became just the third-ever NCAA Division III coach to reach the coveted 700-win mark; he now joins the ranks of Mike Strong of Scranton University (782) and former St. John Fisher College's Phil Kahler (757).
Likewise, he's the only D-III coach from a New England college or university to accomplish the feat, and now he's right there with Geno Auriemma of the University of Connecticut's women's basketball squad and Division II mentor Barbara Stevens of Bentley as the only New England coaches to glean 700 wins.
His career record (as of Wednesday, Jan. 30) is a remarkable 701-230, with all occurring at Emmanuel, where he's mentored players for 36 years. That tenure ranks him third all time in seasons coached at one school; he trails only Elizabethtown's Yvonne Kauffman (42 years) and the University of Tennessee's Pat Summit (38).
“It's been a tremendous experience working along side Andy for all these years,” offered Arthur Powell, who has spent 23 seasons as his assistant. “I'm very happy for him. Andy has a passion for winning, but it goes beyond winning for him. It's about the players, and Andy is truly to the Emmanuel student-athletes.
“He's a great guy and a great friend. I've enjoyed being a part of so many winning seasons.”
The tandem currently enjoys a remarkable 35-game, regular-season win streak in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference, one that dates back to the 2009-10 campaign. Under Yosinoff, the Saints once owned the D-III record for consecutive victories at 72 games, a mark that spanned 2000 to 2006.
It gets better. He also has led Emmanuel to 14 GNAC titles and 17 NCAA appearances, including a trip to the Final Four in 2001, the Elite Eight just last winter and the Sweet Sixteen in 2008.
Yosinoff grew up on Pleasant Street in this mill city, later graduating from Pawtucket West High in 1966 as a two-time All-State selection, not in basketball but tennis.
“I lived right near the Oak Hill Tennis Courts, and they were made of clay back then; they were beautiful,” he recalled fondly. “I used to stand and watch older guys play, and my father, who was not a tennis player, took me there to hit balls with me. I was about eight, so he led me on my way.
“I was lucky,” he added. “A couple of guys who were ahead of me, Frank Durao and Bruce Kiernan, played there, and they were ranked No. 1 and 2 in the state at Pawtucket West. They helped me get better.”
He also was involved with the Providence Little League back then, playing with local legends Billy Brooks and Joe Lopes, though just adored basketball.
“I played for our Jewish Community Center team in Providence; we were in the old New England JCC League,” he remembered. “We had a pretty good team, and I was a pretty good player at point guard. I played JV (at West) for one year, but was more involved at the JCC.”
While earning his Bachelor's in Education at the University of Rhode Island, Yosinoff represented the Rans' men's tennis teams all four years.
“I knew when I was 16 I wanted to be a teacher and coach,” he stated. “That's why I went to URI. It's a funny story how I became involved in coaching, though. When I went to Kingston, I was in a fraternity (Phi Mu Delta) and a friend of mine was John Scanlon (for decades a teacher, coach and athletic director at Tolman).
“I wanted to play basketball at school, too, but our frat team was almost as good as the varsity,” he continued. “A couple of guys knew I could handle people, so they asked me if I wanted to coach the frat team. I just said, 'Fellas, I'd be glad to!'
“We never lost a game in three years. In fact, Howie Catley (the now-retired Lincoln High varsity football coach and teacher) was one of my starters, and we also had Joe Lopes, John Jeannotte and Scanlon, who's a year younger than me.
“We were 35-0 in those three years, and we always beat Sigman Chi in the finals. You know who played for them? Larry Caswell and Frank Geiselman (both stupendous teachers and mentors at Tolman/Shea and Cumberland, respectively.”
With a laugh, he said, “I don't think they liked losing to us much!”
After gaining his degree in 1970, he moved on to the University of Miami of Ohio to achieve a Master's in Education; he claimed he did because it's famous for its athletics, as it's known as the “Cradle of Coaching Greats,” and also because his Rams' tennis coach, Ted Norris, hailed from nearby Hamilton.
At Miami, he spent a year as men's varsity assistant coach, then became the physical education director at the Highland Park Youth Men's Hebrew Association in New Brunswick, N.J.
After another 12 months there, Yosinoff brought his Master's back to Boston, and spent the next 34 years teaching and coaching in the public school system.
How he became the Saints' coach is a mammoth part of his lore; it's also a hysterical tale.
“In the fall of 1977, I saw an ad in the Globe and it said Emmanuel was looking for a women's tennis coach,” he said. “Back then, it was still an all-girl school, but I went for an interview. This woman told me the hours I'd need to be there for practice and matches, but I just couldn't, so I said, 'Do you have a head coach for women's basketball?'
“When she said, 'No,' I said, 'Well, you do now!' She just told me, 'OK, you've got the job.'”
When he began the job, he had a mere six players.
“There was no scoreboard in our tiny gym, and they had fan-shaped backboards,” he noted. “If you looked at it, it would've reminded you of the movie 'Hoosiers.' We had 400 seats on one side, and the ceiling was only 20 feet high. With the sidelines, you only had three or four feet before you'd hit a wall.
“That year, we finished 4-6, and there was a good reason for it: The Blizzard of '78 hit that February, and 10 of our games were canceled. I hate losing, so I knew I had to start recruiting good players. That's how I started to change the program.”
Over the years, he's built his Saints into the renowned squad it is today. It's the only D-III team throughout the Northeast region ever to record 20-plus triumphs for 12 consecutive years.
“Why is is so successful? The work ethic I learned from my dad and mom (the late Freda Yosinoff),” he indicated. “They always told me the only way to accomplish something in life was to outwork the other guy, but be loyal to everyone.
“I'd also like to think I'm one of the most persistent recruiters in the United States; I just don't take 'No' for an answer,” he added with a giggle. “I think I'm pretty good at developing relationships with the student-athletes' parents. I let them know if anything goes wrong on or off the court, I'll be there for their kids.
“I've also developed a system that I've used ever since I got here, and it has to do with the way I competed against bigger guys in tennis. I was only 5-8, so I had to battle my opponents; I had to be more aggressive and outrun them, just wear them down.
“We use full-court pressure, use all 94 feet to pressure their offenses. We want to be the aggressor, and every chance we get to fast-break, we'll take it. We'll do it!”
When asked about his most memorable contests, Yosinoff didn't hesitate.
“In 2001, we made the NCAA (Division III) Final Four; it was in Danbury,” he stated. “The way we got there, we had to beat New York University in the quarters, and it was ranked No. 1 in the nation. Here's tiny Emmanuel, with maybe 500 kids, and NYU, which had (an enrollment) of 49,000. Nobody gave us a chance, but we ended up winning in overtime
“What equals that was last year, when we made the Elite Eight,” he continued. “We had to beat Rhode Island College in its own gym, and we did. That was unbelievable, because my father had graduated from RIC in 1938, and I was from Pawtucket; we had a lot of friends in the area. We won that by four, too. Just incredible!”
It's been quite a career for Yosinoff, as his list of accomplishments is longer than his new gym floor.
In 2003, he was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame, and – five years later – he received the Heights Award, given by the Massachusetts State Lottery and Boston College Athletic Department to the person who has made great contributions to women's sports.
After the Saints' appearance at last year's NCAA Elite Eight, he captured the 2012 Red Auerbach Award for being the national Jewish Coach of the Year (he beat out two D-I mentors in the process).
In addition, he was selected to coach the U.S. women's hoop contingent at the 2005 Maccabiah Games in Israel, and helped Team USA to its first-ever gold medal.
Finally, this Friday night, he will be inducted into the URI Athletic Hall of Fame.
“Like I said, it's been quite a ride,” he offered, “but I'm not going anywhere yet. I still have more goals for me, for our team. Where would we be without goals?”