Coach puts retirement on hold

Updated: March 6, 2004, 7:12 PM ET
Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Mike Decillis' retirement is on hold for at least one more day.

And the Canisius College women's basketball coach isn't complaining. That's because Decillis' Golden Griffins advanced to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament's championship game for the first time in school history with an upset 81-72 win over top-seeded Siena (17-11) on Saturday.

Canisius (19-10), the tournament's fourth-seeded team, will face No. 2 seed Marist (19-10) on Sunday. With a win, the Golden Griffins would clinch the program's first NCAA Tournament berth.

Win or lose, it's an already impressive finish for a program that was 3-24 the season before Decillis took over six years ago. And it's a fitting end for someone who just turned 63 and announced last September that this would be his last season at Canisius.

"Yes, I can't lie, if we win tomorrow, we're going to the NCAAs and I've got two more weeks of work ahead of me, and it'll be fun,'' Decillis said.

But don't refer to it as a storybook finish.

"You guys are the writers and I know you're going to make it into that,'' Decillis said. "I've never liked anyone to win-win for me. I want them to win it for them.''

Decillis' retirement plans came about not because of his age, but after he celebrated the birth of daughter, Abby, some two years ago. Because he and his wife, Maureen, maintain their home in Rochester, Decillis decided the 75-minute commute to Buffalo would take away from his family.

Canisius is Decillis' first stint at the Division I level. He made his mark at Rochester's Nazareth College, where he finished with a 253-129 record and led the Golden Flyers to six Division III Tournaments in 14 years.

Decillis said he has not spent this season thinking as if it's his last.

"I haven't allowed myself the emotion to feel like I'm leaving, and it probably isn't going to hit me tomorrow, win or lose,'' he said. "It probably won't hit me until maybe the summer, when I'm not going to be out recruiting and obviously next fall.''

Sophomore point guard Becky Zak is aware of what's on the line, noting this is also the final season for seniors Jenel Stevens, the MAAC player of the year, and forward Lonnie Brown.

"To have them finish on top that adds a little something extra,'' Zak said. "To be in this position, to go through the things that we've went through this season and to get where we are right now, there's nothing more that I want personally than to send these guys out with a win on top.''

Stevens is keeping her emotions in check.

"Focusing on the game, that takes up a lot in your head,'' Stevens said. "It leaves no room to be all sentimental and mushy. That's going to be saved for after the game.''

No matter what happens on Sunday, Decillis is already content with what his team accomplished.

"I'm happy,'' he said. "I know it might sound like, 'What, you don't want to win?' Yes, I want to win. But I'm not going to live and die by what happens tomorrow.''

Decillis hasn't ruled out coaching again, but only if it's closer to home.

"I envision myself coaching my daughter when she's 10 years old,'' Decillis said, breaking into a smile. "I might be pretty old, I might have a wheelchair. But I have about eight years before I start panicking.''

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press