Bobby Gonzalez Upbeat About His Future, Despite Chaotic Offseason
"I'm doing four hours straight. I'm the clinic,'' he said just before taking the court at the Hall of Fame. "It'll be great. I'm going full force.'' He didn't save his energy for that by resting on this night. His session, the last of the two-day clinic hosted by the famed Five-Star Basketball Camp, went non-stop for 2 1/2 hours, Gonzalez stopping only occasionally to check his notes.
This winter, though, he has to stop. For the first time in, he said, some 25 years, he does not have a coaching job. He politely chose not to comment on the ugly end of his Seton Hall coaching tenure last March, or his tumultuous four years there. Or, for that matter, on what followed: his wrongful-termination lawsuit against the school, which was settled in August; being charged with shoplifting a designer bag from a north Jersey mall in June; the player he kicked off the team after the Big East tournament who was arrested the same day Gonzalez was dismissed, after he and another man tied up and robbed eight people in a South Orange, N.J., home.
"I'm looking forward, not backwards,'' he said Saturday. "I'm looking forward to the future. I'm excited. Things happen for a reason, I feel good about what we accomplished (at Seton Hall). I'm looking forward to the future, period. I'll be rooting for our kids, and that's really it.''
What he describes as his future sounds like it's worth looking forward to. Gonzalez said he has feelers out about scouting jobs for NBA teams, and about television analyst jobs; during his years at Manhattan and Seton Hall, he did work for the regional cable stations and for NBA-TV, and he has recently visited the Knicks' training camp (he got to know coach Mike D'Antoni when both were in USA Basketball) as well as the Bobcats'.
As far as money goes, terms of his settlement with Seton Hall were not disclosed, but he was owed two more years on his contract thanks to an extension he signed before last season.
So, while he says he is thankful for the break from the grind and stress of coaching, his answer to whether he holds any grudges or harbors any bitterness toward the business was an emphatic "no.''
"I feel like -- I went hard for 25 years and we accomplished a lot,'' he said, "and you get on a path, things take a couple of different turns, and now I'll see, 'Where does this path lead me? What happens next?' I'm gonna work to make some things happen, but on the other hand, I'm gonna see where it leads ... I always felt like the best job is the one you have, enjoy the journey, and that's kind of where I'm at right now.''
Gonzalez does not feel as if he has to return to college coaching in the near future, although he would not rule it out. The summer reminded him of the alliances he made over the years -- and how those ties have kept him afloat this offseason. He came up through the ranks, from the Five-Star program and AAU ball, to high school, junior college and college assistant coaching (much of it in and around New York City), to teaming with Pete Gillen at three schools (Xavier, Providence and Virginia), then to his two head-coaching jobs and, in the midst of that, working on the staff for the U.S. team at the World University Games in 2005.
"I didn't really skip a step. I basically took 25 years to get to a certain place in coaching,'' he said. "So I think when you do something like that, it's easier to pick up the phone and be humble and speak to people and run around and look around, because people recognize that I worked hard to get to where I was. That's what the game of basketball is all about. I mean, the business part of it still means a lot, but it's still really a fraternity in coaching.''
Still, Gonzalez is fully aware, the end at Seton Hall was far from being strictly about basketball and his coaching record. "I'm proud of what we accomplished in my career, with my staff, with the kids I had,'' he said. "Even last year, (Seton Hall) won 19 games. I'm proud of what we accomplished.''
However, he said, without elaborating, "As you know, there's two different things: there's perception and reality, and to a lot of people perception is reality.''
The perception was that Gonzalez had lost control of the program, and the evidence was damning, particularly in his final days.
In rapid order, forward Robert Mitchell ripped Gonzalez to reporters after the Pirates were eliminated from the Big East tournament, after which Gonzalez dismissed him from the team; forward Herb Pope was ejected for punching a Texas Tech player in the groin during an opening-round NIT loss, while Gonzalez picked up a technical foul in the same game; Mitchell was arrested (he pleaded guilty Friday to charges of burglary and criminal restraint), and Gonzalez turned himself in after he was accused of removing a security device from a bag and walking out of a store with it. At an August court appearance, according to the Newark Star-Ledger, prosecutors offered a plea bargain to reduced charges that would carry no jail time, while he requested pre-trial intervention that could lead to the charges being dropped.
Mitchell and Pope were two of the three transfers Gonzalez brought in during his last two seasons who were considered questionable characters, and who ultimately justified those doubts. The third was guard Keon Lawrence, who was arrested on DUI charges last fall and was suspended by Gonzalez for the season's first eight games.
Yet the team, and coach, in seemingly constant turmoil managed to start the season 8-0 and later defeat three conference opponents who went on to the NCAA tournament -- Louisville, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.
Pointing to the successes at Seton Hall, and claiming that while there and at Manhattan his teams won 80 percent of their games against New York-New Jersey area opposition, Gonzalez said: "It's not just me, it's terrific coaches working hard, terrific players, terrific recruits, tough kids. We had a lot of big wins (at Seton Hall). We were at Manhattan and we had some big wins.
"A lot of people were happy when we were let go. I said, 'That's probably because we won.' When you lose, you're a nice guy, but when you win ... "
Seton Hall has moved on, in several ways. Kevin Willard was hired to replace him, and now Joe Quinlan, the athletic director who hired Gonzalez in 2006, gave him the contract extension and then brought in his successor, is resigning effective this Friday. The school president who oversaw all of it, Monsignor Robert Sheeran, is also stepping down.
Gonzalez, though, refuses to ponder anything besides what lies ahead, in the upcoming season and beyond.
"Sometimes it's really hard because, again, for 11 years straight, I was at a high level, with a lot of pressure, and it's just hard to take a step back,'' he said. "So this, I think, is gonna be a good year for me.''