La Salle athletic director Bill Bradshaw was specific when he said he wanted to “thank those 1,892 individuals who emailed, left voice messages, visited my office, visited my home, offering unsolicited advice on who should be the next basketball coach at La Salle.”
That’s not the kind of number that a guy comes up with if he’s just trying to be funny.
From an assistant plumber to a security guard to the assistant pastor of St. Katherine of Siena Parish in Wayne who talked to him after confession, Bradshaw thanked them all because to him it showed just how much interest there is in the La Salle community concerning what he called “the most important hire” he’s made in his 37-year career as a Division I athletic director.
“They said, ‘Get it right, Bill,’ ” Bradshaw said. “If you don’t, we’ll miss you.”
Bradshaw was confident he got it right when he formally introduced Villanova lead assistant and Philadelphia basketball lifer Ashley Howard as La Salle’s head coach on Monday.
The hiring completes a two-week search that began after Dr. John Giannini and the university mutually agreed to part ways after 14 seasons.
In Howard, Bradshaw not only gets a coach who was on the staff of a program that has won NCAA titles in 2016 and 2018 but a man who played at Monsignor Bonner and Drexel and served as an assistant coach at La Salle, Drexel and Xavier before going to Villanova in 2013.
It’s impossible to know for sure how a first-time head coach will work out, but it’s hard to argue against Howard’s resume.
“In my mind, it was important to get someone who knew the difference between a pizza steak and a cheesesteak,” Bradshaw said, “but that wasn’t going to exclude the best candidate.
“We had outstanding candidates for all major conferences. This was about getting the right person – period. [Howard] checked every box we imagined.”
The dynamics have changed greatly since La Salle won an NCAA title in 1954 or even went to four NCAA tournaments from 1988 to 1992.
One NCAA bid in more than a quarter century, however, is not acceptable.
The Atlantic 10 Conference, which La Salle joined in 1995, has firmly established itself as a respected multiple-bid league for the NCAA tournament. Making regular NCAA appearances should not be an unreasonable expectation.
That’s what Howard is tasked with.
Of course, Bradshaw understands that if Howard becomes the coach who makes that happen for La Salle, a school from a bigger conference will inevitably come looking to poach.
Bradshaw said even if that happened, La Salle will end up as a winner.
He points to his experience as the AD at Temple, where he hired three football coaches who ultimately left for Power Five programs.
Temple football, however, went from being nothing to one that now has winning seasons and makes bowl games.
“In each case, I said to people, if this coach leaves that’s a good thing,” Bradshaw said. “If you lose someone who is so exceptional, that’s kind of good news because it means they’ve elevated that program and it becomes attractive to the next person.
“Now, I don’t want to lose Ashley, but if that time were to come, it will mean he’s succeeded at La Salle. I think from here on out, any coach we lose at La Salle will be for the right reasons, the good reasons.
“But we want to hold on to this young man for quite some time.”