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Tobin Anderson era begins at Iona. Here's what the new Gaels basketball coach is saying

From Interstate-35 in Iowa, through the ranks of Division III to Division I, and pulling off a historic 16-over-1 NCAA Tournament upset, plus the celebratory fanfare and media appearances that came with it, to now following the likes of Jim Valvano, Tim Cluess and Rick Pitino — it's been quite the journey for Tobin Anderson.

Anderson was officially introduced as Iona's new basketball coach on Wednesday. He is the 15th head coach in program history.

"I've heard the term overnight sensation," Anderson said. "It's not an overnight sensation, because I've been working my tail off the last 20 years, so now to be here in this situation, I'm thrilled. We went to the NCAA Tournament at Fairleigh Dickinson with the idea that we could go out there and compete and have a chance to win.

"Beating Purdue is probably something that most people thought was an unbelievable upset," Anderson said, "but I always had programs that always thought big goals, big aspirations and let's do great things. I want the players to believe that and everyone to feel that too. I feel that I'm not selling a dream here, let's go do something that can be done."

Tobin Anderson, center, the new men's basketball coach at Iona University is pictured with from left, Athletic Director Matthew Glovaski and President Seamus Carey, PhD., during a press conference at the school in New Rochelle, March 22, 2022.
Tobin Anderson, center, the new men's basketball coach at Iona University is pictured with from left, Athletic Director Matthew Glovaski and President Seamus Carey, PhD., during a press conference at the school in New Rochelle, March 22, 2022.

Anderson takes over for Pitino, who spent the last three years with the Gaels.

Pitino stepped down Monday to leave for St. John's, after the Gaels' 27-8 season that culminated in MAAC regular season and tournament titles.

Exclusive:Rick Pitino tells us why he left Iona for St. John's & what he told his players

"I talked to Coach Pitino last night, he called me, but I appreciated him reaching out to me and talking last night," Anderson said. "He told me that everybody's won at Iona, it's not the coach. It's the school, it's the people, it's the Board of Trustees and supporters, so we're trying to keep that going, do special things and keep on building."

Tobin Anderson delivers remarks as he is introduced as the new men's basketball coach at Iona University, during a press conference at the school in New Rochelle, March 22, 2022.
Tobin Anderson delivers remarks as he is introduced as the new men's basketball coach at Iona University, during a press conference at the school in New Rochelle, March 22, 2022.

What is Tobin Anderson's vision?

While there are plenty of former Iona coaches who achieved prominence in college basketball, Anderson is looking to do what none of his predecessors did in 43 years and get the Gaels their first NCAA Tournament win in decades.

Their one and only NCAA Tournament win, which came in 1980 under Valvano, was later vacated after it was revealed that standout center and future Iona coach Jeff Ruland broke college amateurism rules.

"I want to do this, and add to it," Anderson said, gesturing at Iona's MAAC Tournament trophies. "I want to take Iona basketball to a place it hasn't been. ... I want our guys to know we have big goals here. We want to do special things, get to a Sweet 16, that's stuff that can happen here. I told our guys this time next year, I don't want to be meeting, I want to be playing somewhere."

Fairleigh Dickinson players celebrate beating Purdue during the first round of the NCAA men's tournament at Nationwide Arena, Friday, March 17, 2023, in Columbus, Ohio.
Fairleigh Dickinson players celebrate beating Purdue during the first round of the NCAA men's tournament at Nationwide Arena, Friday, March 17, 2023, in Columbus, Ohio.

Outside of that NCAA Tournament appearance in 1980, the Gaels left the Big Dance winless in their 15 other tournament trips. Nearly half of their losses were by six or fewer points.

"So many teams are exhausted by the time they get to March, and you can't be in that situation," Anderson said. "(My staff and I) have been to eight straight NCAA Tournaments (between St. Thomas Aquinas and Fairleigh Dickinson), so we have that experience and gameplan with that in mind.

"When you're there at the Big Dance and you see what goes on out there, you want to get back there and you want to win, because when you win, it gets even more special. Us beating Purdue, pretty hard thing to do. Getting Iona to the Sweet 16 — also pretty hard, but it can be done."

Tobin Anderson's priorities as coach

Anderson aims to maintain the winning tradition, but also the high standard in the classroom, which was previously implemented by his predecessors.

A quality, difficult non-conference schedule is also high on his priority list.

Stylistically, he wants to keep the high-tempo offense and pressing defense.

Iona University mascot and cheerleaders are pictured under a display board announcing Tobin Anderson as the new Iona University men's basketball coach, March 22, 2022.
Iona University mascot and cheerleaders are pictured under a display board announcing Tobin Anderson as the new Iona University men's basketball coach, March 22, 2022.

"People want to see an exciting team, and you saw us play in the NCAA Tournament, we're going to play fast," Anderson said. "I talked to probably 25 recruits last night, and that's the advantage of what just happened (in the NCAA Tournament), everybody saw us play and every kid loved it.

"Why wouldn't you? I'm not gonna hold their hand, I'm not gonna slow things down, there's a lot of freedom for our players, so it's helped us from a recruiting standpoint. That's a good sales pitch for what we're gonna do, and I think that's a huge head start for us going forward."

Winning at every stage

This might be the first stop where Anderson doesn't need to rebuild the foundation of the program from the ground up.

When he went to Fairleigh Dickinson and coached his first Division I season this past year, the Knights had won just four games the year before his arrival. They hadn't been to an NCAA Tournament since 2019.

Anderson turned things around with a 21-16 season that included an appearance in the NEC finals before becoming just the second 16-seed to defeat a No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament history.

Tobin Anderson: How he got here after years coaching D-3, D-2 and one incredible season at Fairleigh Dickinson

Before that, Anderson transformed nearby St. Thomas Aquinas into a national Division II powerhouse. He inherited a Spartans team that won just five games, and he amassed a 209-62 record over his nine years there.

Tobin Anderson delivers remarks as he is introduced as the new men's basketball coach at Iona University, during a press conference at the school in New Rochelle, March 22, 2022.
Tobin Anderson delivers remarks as he is introduced as the new men's basketball coach at Iona University, during a press conference at the school in New Rochelle, March 22, 2022.

By the time Anderson left St. Thomas Aquinas for Fairleigh Dickinson, the Spartans had won five East Coast regular-season titles and six conference tournament championships. He was a four-time East Coast Conference Coach of the Year Award winner and five-time MBWA Division II Coach of the Year selection.

He also has experience as an assistant coach at Siena from 2011-13, and a combined 185-129 record from days coaching Division III from 1999-2011 in upstate New York at Clarkson and Hamilton.

Anderson was previously interviewed for the Iona job and was considered for the coaching vacancy left behind by Tim Cluess, before Pitino was hired in 2020.

"We obviously put a premium on winning and a candidate that has won at all levels, who understands the importance of building a winning culture and someone who values our tradition and legacy," Iona athletic director Matt Glovaski said. "This person would have to have rock-solid values, absolute integrity and character, Tobin embodied all that and more."

What will Iona basketball look like next year?

Anderson has already hit the recruiting trail, while a few of the Gaels have entered the transfer portal since Pitino announced his departure.

MAAC Player of the Year Walter Clayton Jr., the team's leading scorer at 16.8 points per game, is transferring.

Two-time All-MAAC first-team selection and former MAAC Rookie of the Year Nelly Junior Joseph, and teammates Quinn Slazinski and Cruz Davis are also headed out.

Anderson is finalizing his coaching staff and wouldn't disclose it just yet, but Fairleigh Dickinson assistant Jack Castleberry will stay in New Jersey to become the Knights' new head coach.

It's possible that more players will exit, but Anderson said he had a positive 40-minute introductory meeting with the team on Tuesday.

"His vision is he wants to win," Iona center Osborn Shema said. "He wants to make us, make everyone better as players and as people. (The last few days) have been wild, a little confusing, but we're sticking together and supporting each other because we're a family."

Anderson can't wait to get to know his team better.

"We're going to meet more, individually, but I was blown away by their character, their questions and the things they had to say," Anderson said. "I said, 'There's the portal, guys leaving and stuff, but you can stay here and do all the things you want to do.'

"I get they gotta choose and there's other people in their ear, but there's nothing they can't do at Iona. You can do it all right here. You can win, you can get exposure, get to the Sweet 16, all that stuff you can do right here. I really believe that."

Follow Eugene Rapay on Twitter at @erapay5 and on Instagram at @byeugenerapay.

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Tobin Anderson speaks as Iona basketball coach at press conference