Do you hear those voices — piercing, fervent, and steady? They’re not in your head. That’s the roar of March Madness, a time when a goodly part of the population takes leave of their senses while rooting for the teams competing in the NCAA playoffs. (Like a weeks-long Super Bowl without the clever TV commercials.)
And if there’s one guy in these parts who’s sure to be swept up in the insanity, it’s Brian Giorgis, head coach of Marist College’s Red Foxes, the winningest women’s basketball team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). This is Giorgis’ ninth season with the team; during the previous eight, he notched a record of 194 wins, 62 losses. This is, he says, his “dream job.” He’s been named the conference’s coach of the year four times, and last year he was inducted into the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame.
Giorgis is largely responsible for leading the team from Marist, a relatively small college, to national prominence. The Red Foxes reached their fifth consecutive NCAA tournament last season — their sixth appearance in seven years. Asked what his “secret” is to success, the soft-spoken Giorgis says, “Two things: having good assistants around you, and good players.” Yeah, but that just stands to reason. What’s really the secret? He laughs and says, “I have no idea. I don’t know what it is.”
Giorgis sharpened his coaching skills at Our Lady of Lourdes High School in Poughkeepsie after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in health education from SUNY Cortland in 1977. (He earned a master’s in health education from Virginia Tech in 1982 while on sabbatical.) During the 19 seasons he coached the girl’s basketball team at Lourdes, he racked up a whopping 451 wins and just 44 losses. During his final season, his team ranked fourth in a USA Today national poll. Not bad for a coach without a secret.
Leading the charge: Brian Giorgis gives encouragement to his Marist basketball players
Youth: I was born in Schenectady and raised in Syracuse. Then in my senior year of college, my parents moved to South Euclid, an eastern suburb of Cleveland.
Father: Electrical engineer for General Electric
Sibs: Five brothers and sisters
Career choices: When I was in my single digits, I wanted to be a priest.
Early sports lesson: I had a real good high school coach. I was the captain of a [two wins, 16 losses] team my senior year, and he was still positive with me. It was a real rough year after having a good junior year, and he still stuck with me.
In the game: In high school I played soccer, basketball, and baseball — but mostly basketball and baseball. Then I played soccer my freshman year in college, and baseball.
Cut short? I injured my back and couldn’t play anymore.
Never been married, no kids: I’ve always told people that I’m married with 12 kids that I get to give back at the end of a season or school year.
Mr. Popularity: I’d been offered the position of assistant coach at Virginia Tech three times in a decade, and I turned it down all three times. I’m not a big change person. I just really like this area, and there didn’t seem to be a need for change.
Hudson Valley stalwart: I’m a long way away from my family, but I’ve had a lot of people here who’ve treated me like their son. It’s beautiful, and there are a lot of things to do here. It’s not far from the city and the things to do there, even if I don’t go much.
Therapy for March Madness: Just being a part of it. Most of us would rather be playing in it than watching it. That’s what your goal is every year.
Hectic season: I don’t differentiate much between a weekday and weekend, other than that I have church on Sunday.
Dear God: I’m Roman Catholic. I attend Mass wherever I am on the road. Last weekend we were in Buffalo, and I found that I could get to an 8 a.m. Mass. The hotel bellhop drove me, and I was able to get back just in time for the game.
Early season bragging rights: Right now we’re ranked number one in the country for fewest turnovers. We don’t believe in sharing the ball.
Favorite part of coaching: Practice. Because you get to teach.
Toughest loss: In 2005 when we were in the MAAC finals. We lost by one point to Canisius. Our best player had been sick, and she had an awful first half trying to play through it. Then she had a good second half, but Canisius outplayed us and won the championship. We’ve won six of the last seven years, and that’s the one we didn’t win. If I could have a game back to do over, that would be it.
Pop song that captures your coaching credo? I love those kinds of questions, but I sure as hell can’t think of one.
Hazards of recruiting, winter 2011: It was snowing. Backed over a stop sign because my car skidded right into a snow bank. But nothing got hurt.
The right fit: We’ve always tried to recruit the person before the player. You know, find out as much as we can about her as a person — people who care about other people, not all about themselves.
The spirit of Dale Carnegie: I always made sure, in high school coaching, that I knew the names of the kids on the other team and said hello to them.
Captain of movie star dream-team? Sandra Bullock. I think of her in The Blind Side, and she showed leadership skills.
Besides basketball: I collect sports autographs. Play golf. Be with my girlfriend. Those three things. I would put the girlfriend first…
Pride-and-joy autographs: I like old school. My Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. I have one card that has Cy Young on one side and Ted Williams on the other. Jackie Robinson. There are very few in the major sports I don’t have.
Best nine-hole golf score: 37
On his zest and zeal: When I get into something that I like, I go head over heels for it.
Won’t go all Vince Lombardi: The thing I try to preach to myself and my staff is balance. It just can’t be basketball 24-7.
First sentence in New York Times obit? I’d like it to be educator or teacher, but it will probably be basketball.