Former RPI coach Griffin takes job at Hoosac

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HOOSICK, N.Y. -- When Mike Griffin stepped away from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute men’s basketball program in May of this year, the 30-year veteran of the Engineers knew that he didn’t want his life in basketball to be over -- he just wanted something different.

Griffin thought that his new basketball life would still be at RPI, just this time with the women’s program as an volunteer for coach John Greene. But then Griffin entertained an approach from an old friend for a position coaching the boys basketball team at the Hoosac School in Hoosick.

After one official visit, Griffin agreed this week to take the position, and the Capital District coaching legend was introduced to his players on Wednesday morning in the school’s auditorium.

"I wasn’t ready to just put basketball away yet," Griffin said in an interview on Wednesday. "I had worked it out with John Greene, the women’s coach [at RPI], that I would volunteer with the women’s team. I knew I still wanted to do basketball, and then this just opened up."

Griffin will be taking over for Mike Foster after Foster served for three years at the helm of the Owls. Foster said that his decision to step away came down to how much work he had as the director of admissions at the school and wanting to spend more time with his family.

"It’s a little bittersweet, I guess melancholy would be way to put it best," Foster said. "I’m very excited for who it is, but as I told our parents and the discusstions we had prior to -- I had to be the Director of Admissions. And while I want to coach, it’s not fair to our kids to have a part-time basketball coach because travel and admissions work has to come first."

Foster’s decision to step away from the team came over the summer, when he was on a trip with his son, Hoosick Falls Central School wrestler Nolan Foster. Foster and the school notified the families of returning players at the beginning of October that a new coach was going to be hired, and Foster assured the parents that Hoosac was, "going to do our best to fill the spot with someone who is capable, and I think we’ve done that."

But it took the school a little bit to get Griffin. Apprehensive at first about taking a job at the prep level, Griffin agreed to take a visit to Hoosac after talking with Rick Hartt, who himself worked at RPI for a long time as a director of the student union and also a Hoosac trustee.

"Rick Hartt, he called me and asked if I would be interested and put me in touch with the people here," Griffin said. "I was familiar with the program. I had played them with our JV teams the last couple years. I came over and spent four or five hours here last Thursday with both of the Fosters (Mike and Headmaster Dean Foster) and got a tour with a couple of the players and was really impressed with them."

So impressed, in fact, that Griffin decided that Hoosac was going to be a fit.

"[The decision] was definitely when I came here," Griffin said. "I’ve driven past [the school] so many times, but I’ve never made that left turn or right turn in. I looked around and said, ‘this is pretty neat.’ I was ready to do basketball, I had a place to do basketball (at RPI), but having your own team to coach and put together -- it is a challenge."

A challenge that Griffin couldn’t turn down.

Griffin brings a lengthy resume to his post with the school. He complied a 402-382 record at RPI over his 30 years, earning five league Coach of the Year honors. RPI made three appearances in the NCAA Division III tournament -- the most recent in 2009. Griffin also coached at Division I Colgate before arriving at RPI, and has served as an assistant at various colleges including the University of Vermont.

Over the last three seasons, Griffin has employed the offensive system used by Iowa’s Grinnell College -- the school that featured a player score more than 100 points in a game. The system is uptempo and full of pressure and takes advantage of hockey-like shifts. Griffin said he’s excited to bring it to another group of players.

"I really like that [system], and I think that these guys are going to like that, too," Griffin said. "Players like to play fast. They say they want to play fast. Playing fast means both offense and defense. You can play as fast as you want on offense, but if you come back and play a 2-3 zone or slap the floor and pick them up at the three-point line, with the clock they can control it. All I said [to my new players] is that we are going to play full court man-to-man pressure. When we get better at that, more sophistication will come."

Griffin also said he was excited about being on the other end of recruiting phone calls. Fielding thousands upon thousands over his tenure at RPI, Griffin said that helping kids get into college -- for basketball or academics -- is paramount to his program.

"I feel like I can definitely [help] the kids’," Griffin said. "Again -- because I have the time and the connections to some degree -- it is about having the time, which Mike Foster didn’t really have with all the things he has to do. I think that I can make an improvement in that just because I will have the time and interest in helping them move on. I won’t be bringing guys into the school as much as I will be helping -- as best I can -- getting them from here to the next place in their lives.

"A big thing [in my job] will be helping them as individuals get better and helping them investigate the college process. Not all of them are going to go and play. Some of them will want to go schools with specific things. Trying to help them with that will be a big part of it."

Foster steps down after three highly successful years at Hoosac. Foster went 42-15 over the span, including two New England Prep School Athletic Conference Class D championships in his first two years and an appearance in the quarterfinals of Class B last year.

"My family needs a little more attention," Foster said. "My son is a wrestler here at Hoosick Falls and he wants to go to West Point in two years, so we have some work to do there and my daughter is a freshman in college. It just seemed like we needed to find a different way.

"When coach Griffin came into the picture and then he was excited about pursuing this opportunity -- it’s easy. His basketball resume, his character, everything he has done in his career speaks for itself. He’s beaten Mike Krzyzewski twice, I can’t say I’ve done that."

The Hoosac season starts Nov. 8, with the first game a week later. Griffin said he plans on spending much of the next few weeks putting together practice plans in anticipation of the Nov. 8 start.

Geoff Smith is the assistant sports editor at the Bennington Banner. He can be reached at gsmith@benningtonbanner.com or Twitter @GSmith_Banner


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