Northwestern coaching candidates: La Salle's John Giannini?

Gregory Shamus

La Salle's John Giannini is a successful mid-major coach with ties to Chicago who won an NCAA Tournament game last night. Well, he's kind of a successful coach.

One of the names you're going to hear a lot in the Northwestern coaching search - especially after La Salle won an NCAA Tournament game Wednesday night - is John Giannini of La Salle.

Last night, the Explorers won their play-in game in the First Four, 80-71 over Boise State. He's built a really strong backcourt with Ramon Galloway and Tyreek Duren, and the Explorers managed a fourth-place finish in the stacked Atlantic 10, although they lost to Butler in the A-10 Tournament. But in a tough league, that was enough. They earned an at-large bid, and last night, those guards were killing it, and although Duren played poorly - four points on six shots - Sam Mills picked up his slack, drilling five threes to help La Salle (French: the room) to the win.

And as a result of their bubble team status this year, we've seen him mentioned in coaching search articles. In a Sun-Times article right after Carmody was fired, he was one of only two names mentioned, alongside Chris Collins.

Now, before we go any further with this, I don't want to disparage. Dr. Giannini (yes, this one is also a Dr.) as a coach. It's clear that he knows what he's doing - he won a D-III national championship, and he's had success at two difficult jobs, Maine and La Salle. But let's be clear about the type of success we're talking about. From La Salle:

Giannini is a proven, experienced coach with a winning pedigree. He's won at the Division I level in what are very tough basketball jobs at both La Salle and Maine.

Last season he led the Explorers to 21 wins and a NIT berth, the program's first postseason appearance in over 20 years. He's followed that up with another 21-win season, an 11-5 record in the tough Atlantic 10 and a potential NCAA Tournament berth this year. Under Giannini, La Salle's team APR (Academic Progress Rate) has improved each of his nine seasons with 100 percent of seniors recruited by the head coach having graduated.

While at Maine, Giannini compiled the best record of any coach in school history and recorded the program's only two 20-win seasons.

Notice two words that aren't in those three paragraphs: NCAA Tournament. As we all know, Maine has never been, even after Giannini's eight years in charge. But hey, the only 20-win season in school history! Except Maine only finished above fourth place once in an eight-team league with Giannini at the helm, and they finished second that year. So, yeah.

And he's experienced success recently at La Salle with an NIT berth and NCAA berth in back-to-back years, it took him seven years to get the Explorers to the postseason. In fact, the two years before these two postseason trips, he had a losing record in conference play - in his sixth and seventh years in charge at La Salle.

I really don't understand how Giannini is considered a candidate for the Northwestern job. Yes, his time at Maine and La Salle proves he's experienced at schools where there isn't much basketball tradition - well, actually, La Salle won a national title in the 50's and was consistently successful even through the 80's before they switched from the MAAC to the A-10 - which means he understands the challenges of recruiting and graduating athletes in difficult environments.

However, it also means he has a lot of experience losing at those schools. Between Maine and La Salle, Giannini has coached at the Division I level for 17 years, and this is his first NCAA Tournament. Imagine if we were talking about Bill Carmody making his first NIT after 16 years at Northwestern. Although Maine and La Salle are clearly tough jobs, I can almost guarantee Northwestern is going to be tougher. He's a smart guy, relatively old for the people Northwestern is looking at, but he wouldn't bring the excitability or potential for major change that other candidates promise. He's not a program changer.

I haven't said this yet about any of the candidates, but I would be somewhat disappointed if Northwestern hired John Giannini. Sure, there's some connections - he's from Chicago, he was an assistant at U of I, while Jim Phillips worked with the team - but that doesn't outweigh the fact that he's underperformed Bill Carmody at mid-major schools. If Northwestern is looking for a successful mid-major coach, they should look for a successful mid-major coach, not one who has found a sliver of success after nearly 20 years of coaching at Maine and La Salle.

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