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Shoe's on the other foot

In case any Rutgers fans were feeling despondent on the heels of another cruel throttling at the hands of Georgetown/Marquette/insert_next_opponent_here, there's always comfort to be had in reveling of the misfortunes of in-state rival Seton Hall, with the news that their athletic director is heading out the door. Flash back for a moment to 2005. Bob Mulcahy is still athletic director at Rutgers, and his top deputies were Quinlan and Kevin MacConnell. Quinlan had worked at SHU during their heyday under P.J. Carlesimo, and therefore a natural fit for the opening. Especially when K-Mac was widely seen as Mulcahy's likely successor at Rutgers.

Then a funny thing happened. In those days, SHU's Louis Orr and Gary Waters were in very similar situations. Both were outsiders, hired in 2001 following success at a mid-major program, and seen as aloof and not personable. Both struggled to connect with fans, recruits, or influential boosters, and both met similar ends. The analogy doesn't work on all levels though. Orr had a better record, and actually made the NCAA tournament twice. He led the Pirates to a seemingly miracle bid out of nowhere in 2006, which made the timing of his firing all that more perplexing.

Orr got a raw deal, but that decision was ultimately understandable on some level. Seton Hall probably thought they had a chance to bring back Fred Hill, a former Pirate assistant and a red hot commodity at the time, before Gary Waters was ultimately railroaded by a snowstorm. There also happened to be the matter that one Bobby Gonzalez had enjoyed a great deal of success at Manhattan, and was surely ready to move up to the Big East.

There's a thing about Gonzo though, one by which I'm sure that we're all intimately familiar with at this point following all of his back and forths with the student section at the RAC. The man might very well be insane, which probably cost him the St. John's job a couple years back. He's not quite as purely despicable as Geno Auriemma, and in fact I suspect that he does have a lot of secret admirers in Central Jersey. They've been somewhat of a disappointment this year, but at least the bottom hasn't completely fallen out.

Naturally, Joe Quinlan felt the same level of hesitation with Gonzo that gripped the Johnnies. Fair enough, if you have another decent candidate in your back pocket. Ohio U coach Tim O'Shea's name was leaked to the media as Quinlan's top choice (what, Gary Darnell wasn't available?), and the Pirate faithful understandably went berserk. Not only had they been daydreaming about Gonzalez for months (note to Pernetti, et al: very real chance that happens here if Eddie Jordan is available), but he wanted a middling coach who can't even make any noise in the MAC.

You're damn right they went into open revolt, and with good reason. O'Shea was so thoroughly unqualified that the choice spawned delusional, insane conspiracy theories about Quinlan being a sleeper agent from Rutgers. How can anyone trust the judgment of this guy in any area when his first instincts are not only to eschew the candidate who'd be greeted as a conquering hero, but be seemingly content to hire a nondescript empty suit willing to heed any and all whims of the school administration? By the way, Ohio soon fired O'Shea. Now he's at Bryant, which is 0-21 in the Northeast conference. Forget Georgetown or Loyola. Based on that aborted decision, how could anyone be confident in Quinlan to do anything more complicated than flip burgers?

Eventually the athletic department had no choice but to hire Gonzalez, who understandably had frequent clashes with his athletic director. That essentially made the A.D. a lame duck from the from day one, completely emasculated in what should have been his signature hire. Jerry Carino makes the case that JQ had his hands tied from the start (i.e., probably a puppet of influential boosters like Dick Codey and pals), and maybe there's merit in that.

Quinlan never did have full authority over the athletic department’s budget anyway and did not report directly to the university president—a bizarre chain-of-command structure that makes the Seton Hall AD job widely viewed as unattractive in the athletic administration community.

Most of the net buzz on this comes from the vocal crowd who were pro-Gonzo purists from the start, and maybe that might not accurately speak to the proportional facts on the ground. However, they were able to strangle O'Shea in the crib, and the hypothetical decision was just that incomprehensible that I do sympathize with that camp on this topic.

It doesn't pertain all that much to Rutgers, although Quinlan was once very influential in the A.D. office under Mulcahy, and there's the understandable voyeuristic schadenfreude angle too (what else can Rutgers basketball really count on at the moment). I mean, Syracuse fans can joke all they want about some stupid Pat Forde comment, but Rutgers-Seton Hall does have some serious bad blood behind their basketball rivalry. At the same time, that's mellowed by the current atrocious state of metro hoops. We may hate each other's guts, but we're the ones who should be fighting for college basketball supremacy, not some farm schools in the middle of nowhere. In some sense you always root against the enemy, but this level of futility is just obscene. Better those bastards in blue than the alternative.

Rutgers/Seton Hall is a good rivalry, and there is intuitively something wrong and unnerving about the current landscape in which this feud is reduced to petty internal squabbles and infighting. I want to hate the Pirates again at the Rock and then the RAC, and then have everyone be one happy, united state come football season in the fall. You know what, screw Syracuse. Why should anyone care what they think anyway? One day at some unforeseen point in the future, Rutgers and Seton Hall will matter on the court once again, and it cannot come nearly soon enough.