John Giannini could have kept coaching basketball. Unemployed for the first time in decades after 14 seasons at La Salle, Giannini had a couple of Division I assistant opportunities pop up immediately. A job in sports administration also caught his interest. The best fit, Giannini decided, was back at the place where he started his head coaching career.
Rowan University announced Wednesday that it had hired Giannini to head its new Center for Sports Communication & Social Impact.
"The Center will examine the role that sports communication and media play in relating the sports world to broader issues, promote positive cultural change, and expand and enrich student experiences through internships, mentoring and guest speaking programs," the university said in a statement.
A retired professor had suggested Giannini look into the job. At first, he wasn't sure it was a fit.
"You've been dealing with media for 29 years,'' the professor told him.
Giannini has a Ph.D in kinesiology with a specialization in sports psychology. He got it, he said, with the idea of teaching before the coaching bug fully bit him. At Rowan, he will teach a course on issues in sports.
These recent months also have shown him what life is like outside of coaching. A conversation with his wife, Donna, drove it home. Giannini said he loved his time coaching at Maine between Rowan and La Salle, and he grew up in Illinois, loves the Midwest, likes to fish. His wife told him she just didn't want to move anywhere cold.
"You don't notice the weather,'' she told him. "You don't care if there's a blizzard. You're still going to practice."
She had a point.
"A few weeks later, it rained for five straight days,'' Giannini said. "I said, 'This really stinks.' As a coach, you could care less. Literally, we practiced in blizzards and hurricanes. All I cared about was my players and my team."
He didn't mean that 100 percent literally. Giannini, 55, has raised two daughters and will happily talk about them forever. But he added, "I can honestly say for 29 years I didn't go for more than five minutes without thinking about my team."
That included Thanksgiving dinner and his children opening Christmas presents, he said.
Giannini said he has zero complaints about how things ended at La Salle. He coached the Explorers to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2013, but that was it for NCAA appearances, and he always knew the bottom line in his business.
"Words can't do justice or explain my gratitude for my 14 years at La Salle,'' Giannini said.
Terms of his departure were not released, but sources said Giannini had a couple of years left on his contract and took a buyout. But that wasn't what he was talking about.
"I understand this decision and I'm in agreement,'' Giannini said of the school moving on. "I was given a fair shake. I had every chance."
The other part he likes is his replacement: the university hired Ashley Howard, who had gotten his assistant coaching start under Giannini at 20th and Olney. Giannini calls Howard a dear friend; in a sense, he still gets to be connected to the Explorers.
"I would have hired Ashley Howard if I was an athletic director somewhere,'' Giannini said.
As far as scratching the basketball itch, Giannini is talking to television networks about doing game analysis. He said Rowan has encouraged this.
"Their rationale made all the sense in the world,'' Giannini said. "The dean said we would encourage all our faculty to be more of an expert in their field."
Being at Rowan really appeals to him, Giannini said. He coached the school to a NCAA Division III national title. He never stopped loving the place, still lives right down the road. He talked about creating a culture for communications students the same way he would as a coach.
"Getting a job is hard because there's a lot of competition,'' Giannini said. "Those who win the competition will be best prepared."
He's just not in the competition himself, he said, although he can use his own contact list to bring in speakers and create networking opportunities for Rowan students.
"As a basketball coach, you want your players thinking about basketball throughout the day,'' Giannini said. "I want the same for students here. 'How can I get better? What do I need to do?' "
As for going five minutes without thinking about his basketball team, Giannini described it as "unbelievably freeing, and it's an adjustment."