Note to Notre Dame: If you want the best basketball coach you can find, one you’ll be proud to have in charge, maybe call the guy who keeps winning Patriot League titles in Hamilton, N.Y., and then creates anxiety for big-time opponents during March Madness.
Bring in Matt Langel.
Some school is going to get really lucky hiring the former Penn star and Quakers and Temple assistant under Fran Dunphy. Colgate already has.
Temple, does that go for you, too? That’s for the Owls braintrust to figure out right now.
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Think your leagues are too good for Langel? Let’s pause to scoff. He’d adapt and keep up. In fact, he’s kind of made for the modern player. He doesn’t talk down to people. He talks with them while he makes them better.
If you interview him, don’t let a search committee person say, “I don’t know … not sure he’s charismatic enough for us.” It’s true he’s not a quipster. He occasionally comes off as aloof. He’s not. He’s engaged. His communication skills have proven to be first-rate where it truly counts.
Don’t believe me? Dionte Christmas was one of only a couple of future NBA players who went to Temple in the last 20 years. Toward the end of a long professional career spanning the globe, Christmas mentioned something about Matt Langel, who had been his Owls assistant: “He’s my guy.”
I remembered that passing thought and wondered what went into it. So I texted Christmas, an expert communicator himself, now an assistant coach at Cristo Rey High School. We talked last week.
“A number of things, man,” Christmas said of why Langel was his guy. “Great recruiter, but he just made sure I was good. He never let me fall to the wayside.”
Christmas said he was referring to classes and basketball, “coming from the public school system, getting to college.”
Langel wasn’t his tutor; he just paid attention. “He kept me focused,” Christmas said, and that carried on to the court. “Anytime I got discouraged about anything mentally on the court, he was just great all-around. He was one of the first coaches to teach me how to be mentally prepared for games. I was still basically a kid.”
If he would have a bad game, Christmas said, he would feel like he let people down. “I was literally battling that. There were times he believed in my skills and I didn’t believe in it.”
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Christmas mentioned being invited to Langel’s house to eat. And how Langel told him early on that he wanted Christmas to write a list of goals for the next three years. Every time Christmas accomplished a new goal, he would go to Langel’s office. The Owls assistant coach kept the list. He’d get it out and cross out the latest accomplishment. By senior year, “great captain,” “MVP,” were all lines crossed out … Langel wasn’t just keeping track to encourage Christmas. They’d look at the list. “We’ve still got more work to do.”
If all this sounds basic, Christmas doesn’t see it that way, even now. He said Langel is “definitely a player’s coach” and that matters, wherever he coaches.
Another way schools could consider this is by looking at past Colgate NCAA tapes. You’ll never see Langel’s team with better NBA prospects. But watch the first half, when fatigue isn’t factoring in so much. Last year, Colgate as a No. 14 seed, was tied with third-seeded Wisconsin at halftime and had been up halfway through the half. (Final Score: Wisconsin 67, Colgate 60, even though Wisconsin was ranked 32nd in KenPom.com rankings, and Colgate was 119th.)
The year before, Arkansas. Another Nov. 3 vs. No. 14 matchup. Colgate was within two halfway through the second half when the Razorbacks tore away for an 85-68 win. Arkansas was 18th in KenPom, Colgate was 86th. (Arkansas made it to the Elite Eight before losing to eventual NCAA champion Baylor.)
In 2019, more of the same, with Tennessee, a No. 2, the scared higher seed against No. 15 Colgate. Halfway through the second half, game tied, but the Vols got away for a 77-70 win. KenPom rankings: Tennessee 8th, Colgate 133rd.
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So a thought experiment. Trade coaches for the whole season. You think those games would have been so close. Nah, no way.
Yes, there are more than Xs and Os that go into coaching in the big time. A lot more these days, since the NIL world is the current ethos. But this keeps happening, too: The best coaches somehow end up getting good players. Did John Beilein become a good coach because he was a good recruiter?
No, he became a good recruiter because he was a good coach.
“Somebody is going to snatch him,” Christmas said of Langel moving up. “When it happens, he’s going to take it over and take it by storm.”
Maybe it doesn’t happen in a heartbeat. Colgate took time, but Langel has turned that program into the Gonzaga of the Patriot League, a league that usually gives a bunch of its schools a turn at the top. Just not right now. It’s Colgate’s league, again.
This time around, Colgate has a matchup with Texas. Let’s see how long they can hang with the Longhorns. One person who should be watching is Temple athletic director Arthur Johnson, who came to North Broad Street from the University of Texas.
Another group will be watching from South Bend, since Langel reportedly is on the short list to replace Mike Bray as Irish coach.
Let the Madness begin.
» READ MORE: Temple won’t fix its basketball problems simply by changing coaches