Wojcik was Spartans' associate head coach
TULSA, Okla. -- Since Doug Wojcik left the Navy, he's tried to stay on course toward the first major head coaching job of his career. He arrived at his destination Monday, when he became the new coach at Tulsa.
Wojcik, who's been an assistant on Tom Izzo's staff at Michigan State the past two seasons, will take on the task of returning the Golden Hurricane program to the national prominence it recently enjoyed under departed coaches Tubby Smith and Bill Self.
It'll be the first head coaching job for Wojcik, who started his career as an assistant at Navy, where he was the starting point guard for three seasons on teams that combined to go 82-17 with three NCAA tournament bids.
"Right now, if I had stayed in the Navy, I would be probably the commanding officer of a ship," Wojcik said. "What I decided I wanted to do was be the commanding officer of a Division I basketball program."
Wojcik, 40, takes over a Tulsa team that is coming off back-to-back 9-20 seasons after a decade of remarkable success at the mid-major level.
The Golden Hurricane went to the NCAA tournament in six of eight seasons before John Phillips replaced Buzz Peterson in April 2001. He returned Tulsa to the NCAAs the next two seasons with a team largely recruited by Peterson and Self, but the success soon faded.
Tulsa finished 9-20 last season and started this season 2-5 before Phillips resigned on Christmas night. Athletic director Judy MacLeod announced that his top assistant, Alvin "Pooh" Williamson, would take over on an interim basis and said she hoped fans would rally around the team to again "put Tulsa basketball in the national spotlight."
Instead, Tulsa went 7-15 the rest of the way and finished ninth in the WAC -- nowhere near its level under the previous coaches.
Wojcik said he thought Tulsa had a young, but talented backcourt and would need to address some needs at the post position, but was confident he could turn the program back around.
"There's no reason we can't be successful right away," Wojcik said.
Wojcik said he would remain with Michigan State throughout the rest of its season. The Spartans play Old Dominion in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday.
However, Wojcik said he'd still spend time working on Tulsa's future. He said he hoped to assemble a staff within a week to 10 days, and wants to visit with the Golden Hurricane players when he can. He said he hasn't met any of the players because they're away on spring break.
Wojcik said he would give consideration to Williamson as he assembled his staff of assistants but had not yet talked to the former interim coach. Wojcik said he'd have to see how Williamson felt about returning. Wojcik said he knew Williamson through a mutual friend.
"I'm going to try to do the right thing," Wojcik said. "As long he feels good about things, I'd like to sit down and talk to him. But if he doesn't, I understand that. If the Naval Academy had not offered me the job when it was open, I'd be a little upset about that."
Before becoming a coach, Williamson guided Tulsa to back-to-back appearances in the NCAA tournament's round of 16 in 1994 and 1995 under coach Tubby Smith.
"It's his alma mater, it's not mine, and I'm very sensitive to that," Wojcik said. "I have an alma mater, and you want to do the right thing for him."
Wojcik's hiring returns Tulsa to its earlier trend of hiring up-and-coming coaches like Smith, Self and Peterson that took the Golden Hurricane to the NCAA tournament routinely.
MacLeod said the school wasn't specifically looking to follow that mold, and considered other candidates, including head coaches from other schools.
"We didn't say we're going after the top assistant in America," MacLeod said. "I think it just worked out that this was the fit that was right for the university."
Tulsa's problem with hiring assistants has been their tendency to use the job as a steppingstone and leave after only a few seasons.
Smith led the Golden Hurricane to back-to-back appearances in the NCAA tournament round of 16 before leaving in 1995, Steve Robinson followed with a pair of bids to the NCAAs in his two years. Self made it to the NCAAs in two of his three seasons, and Peterson's Golden Hurricane team won the NIT in his only season in charge.
Wojcik, who spent a year at Notre Dame then three at North Carolina before joining the Spartans, said he's not looking for a quick exit.
"This is our fourth move in six years," Wojcik said. "I promise you this: Getting the right opportunity was the most important thing to me professionally, but my family by far is more important to me.
"The balance between the two is critial. I feel we do have balance, and moving around does not create balance."
Wojcik and his wife, Lael, have a 4-year-old son, Paxson, and a 2-year-old son, Denham.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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