Commentary

Driscoll has work ahead of him at UNF

Former Baylor assistant faces a tall order in building a winner at North Florida

Originally Published: May 14, 2009
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Valparaiso needed some work done during the seven weeks Matthew Driscoll was on the staff.

It didn't matter the chore or that Driscoll wasn't hired to be a handyman. But Driscoll was ready to do anything head coach Scott Drew needed him to do in the office.

Matthew Driscoll
AP Photo/Duane A. LavertyNorth Florida coach Matthew Driscoll, right, was known for his relentless work ethic as an assistant under Baylor coach Scott Drew.

"I think he was doing drywall at one point," said Drew, who hired Driscoll for seven weeks at Valparaiso before Drew and Driscoll moved on to Baylor, where he was instrumental in the revitalization of the program the past six years. "This is someone who has done a little bit of everything from asbestos cleaning sales to construction to you name it. There was nothing he couldn't do."

But Driscoll's passion has always been hoops. Maybe too much hoops.

The new North Florida coach is relentless in his work ethic. Talk to him on the phone and he barely takes a breath. See him during an individual workout and he is sure to sweat. He is in constant motion.

"Whoever came up with caffeine, they had to have him in mind," said Florida associate head coach Larry Shyatt, who hired Driscoll at Wyoming and then took him with him to Clemson.

In his first gig as a head coach, Driscoll is returning the favor by hiring Shyatt's son, former VCU assistant Jeremy Shyatt, for his staff. The man who hired both Larry Shyatt and Driscoll at Wyoming, then-athletic director Lee Moon, did the same at North Florida in Moon's latest stop on his AD tour.

Moon knew what he was getting in Driscoll, a coach who works at warp speed. Drew gets a lot of the credit for taking over Baylor amid the scandal that saw one player take another's life, a coach lie about tuition payments, and NCAA violations that left the school reeling with no nonconference games in one season.

But Drew said Driscoll's part in the renaissance at Baylor -- in recruiting and in player development -- was invaluable. While some coaches in the Big 12 are irritated by Drew's persistence and tactics in recruiting, they can't deny that the Bears have been relentless in landing significant players in the state of Texas. Driscoll was just as instrumental in the BU's recruiting, and once players arrived on Waco's campus, he's been the one that has probably worked harder than any other staff member in improving them. Two seasons ago, Baylor made the NCAA tournament. The Bears slipped last season, but still made a postseason run to the NIT final.

"You don't realize how much he did until he's gone," Drew said. "And then you see, 'He did all this?' He deserves a ton of credit for what he's done."

But there is a caution flag that Drew and Shyatt have thrown in Driscoll's path: work-life balance. Drew was joking, sort of, in saying that Driscoll would get up with his two boys -- now in middle and elementary school -- take them to school, go to work, run home for a few hours and the be back at work until 1 a.m. But he wasn't kidding. He said he told Driscoll to make sure he didn't miss their childhood.

Shyatt warned him of the same thing when he was with him at Wyoming and Clemson.

"I told him, 'You've got to somehow add balance and it won't lessen what you do but add to it,'" Shyatt said.

Driscoll said he tried to get the Elon and High Point head coaching jobs when they were recently open and had made attempts to get similar gigs at St. Francis and Robert Morris. He went to college at Slippery Rock (Pa.) and was a head coach at LaRoche College in Pittsburgh and worked his way through Pennsylvania with stops at Butler (Pa.) CC and Seneca Valley High (Pa.), as well as his alma mater, Northgate High in Pittsburgh.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Driscoll
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtDriscoll's task of turning UNF into a challenger in the Atlantic Sun will be more difficult than keeping former boss Scott Drew from getting a technical.
But North Florida does seem to fit Driscoll. The program needs work. It's a fledgling Division I gig, playing in the Atlantic Sun under the shadows of Belmont, East Tennessee State and its potential crosstown rival, Jacksonville. Like Isiah Thomas going to Florida International or Mike Jarvis landing at Florida Atlantic, and even the constant reference that Central Florida is a diamond waiting to be shined, there is a sense that Florida has awakened to college basketball beyond the big three in the state in Florida, Miami and Florida State.

"There's so much potential," Driscoll said between recruiting calls and dinner on the phone. "The school is only 37 years old, and the athletics are only 17 years old. There's no tradition. They're not that far from NAIA to Division II to Division I. We're still in the puppy stage. There are a lot of similarities with this and Baylor."

Driscoll got the job in early April and because NCAA rules state you can't work out your team a week before final exams -- and North Florida's were early in April -- he couldn't do any individual instruction.

"And I won't be able to be with the guys and a ball in the gym until August," Driscoll said. He also said he signed four players that never made a visit to the campus. But with the city to sell, the beach nearby and his passion, he's confident he's not making mistakes.

Driscoll, 44, went with peers on his staff in tabbing coaches in their late 30s, hiring Bobby Kennen from former A-Sun member Campbell, and Bruce Evans, who had spent time at A-Sun member Gardner Webb.

The models for Driscoll -- and this shouldn't come as a shock -- are Gonzaga and Valparaiso. He wants to see if he can redshirt players and take on transfers like the Zags did early in the process and then go with foreign big men as Valpo has done under Homer and Scott Drew.

And Driscoll is determined to do what he did at Baylor: win.

"We want to win championships here," Driscoll said. "That's what we want to do."

No one will doubt Driscoll's work ethic or intent. But there will be challenges for him in adjusting his rapid pace.

"He's got to delegate," Drew said. "That's going to be his biggest challenge. He can't do everything."

But he'll probably try … even if the Ospreys need some sprucing up around the office.

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com