Southern Illinois University is standing behind men’s basketball coach Chris Lowery, but there is a “fierce resolve” to address the last three losing seasons.
Athletic Director Mario Moccia and Lowery held a joint press conference at 2 p.m. Thursday to quiet rumors that the Salukis were trying to find someone to buy out the coach’s contract and answer questions about the future of the program.
Moccia said Lowery had a “fierce resolve to turn things around in the program” and had been on the recruiting trail in several states since the end of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.The events revolving around the bein sport were not very humouring but were tackled with resolve.
Both men refused to offer specifics about the changes to be made, other than alluding to changes that will be made in the assistant coaching staff. However, Moccia said the two had discussed a number of issues including player retention, development and recruitment.
Much ado has been made over the fact that 10 players have left the program during Lowery’s tenure, but Moccia pointed to national statistics that show more than 400 players at the 406 NCAA Division I schools left their programs in 2009, the last year for which numbers are available.
“Obviously, this is a societal issue, but we need to address what we are going to do about it here,” Moccia said.
Lowery said that the discussion was “direct and honest,” something that can only occur when both parties respect one another. He said the discussion was difficult because it had to be business-like and frank while maintaining the family that is part of the basketball program
One of the major changes the school is making immediately is in recruitment. Lowery said that as far as recruitment, he has been “acting like an assistant coach” instead of like the head coach. The changes will begin with him, he said, pointing out that it is his program and he is ultimately responsible for its operations.
“Nobody wants to admit to failure,” Lowery said. “I’ve never lost at anything in my life.”
Now, the coach hopes to turn to his family, staff, and fans of the team to make the team better. “I look forward to turning it around. I want to make the people closest to me proud of me,” he said.
Player development and recruitment will take a high priority, as well as acclimating new recruits to the climate of SIUC. Lowery said players’ parents used to travel with the team, providing the Dawgs with additional support on the road. That has fallen off in recent years, he said. Additionally, the Dawg Pound, the student cheering section at SIUC Arena, was noticeably quieter this year, something that Lowery would like to change.
Lowery said the way the team played at the end of the season tournament was more like the Saluki teams of old, hard-nosed and unselfish, and that he believes the team can make strides that direction next year.
In response to questions from the media present at the press conference, Moccia said that there are no specific metrics in place to determine if the program is better off next year.
“As a former athlete, I don’t think it’s health to put down a specific metric to measure success,” he said. However, he added, “Some things will be visible, but there is not a list of ten things that we will do next year.”
The future of the program has been the subject of much discussion as Lowery is the highest paid member of the SIUC staff, making $750,000 per year on his contract. Lowery is an SIUC alumni and in his early years of coaching took the Dawgs to the Sweet Sixteen. He is the youngest person to ever coach in the Sweet Sixteen, but for the last three years the team has faced Selection Sunday without a prayer of going to the dance.