Just under one year ago, Siena set out on a search to fill an assistant coach position and the only prerequisite was that the coach needed prior head coaching experience.
“One of the things I identified is I thought we needed a head coach on the staff, a guy who had head coaching experience,” Siena Head Coach Mitch Buonaguro said. “We were very lucky to get him, we put together a good package for him. And obviously [Athletic Director] John D’Argenio recognized the importance of getting a coach of his caliber and we were able to get him here and certainly was a big addition.”
On May 4, 2011 the Saints officially hired Tobin Anderson, who previously was a head coach at Division III’s Hamilton and Clarkson.
Anderson was a player at Five-Star Basketball Camp when he first met Mitch Buonaguro, who was coaching at the clinic. Anderson played at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT where he holds the record for best three point shooting percentage in a season at 48.1 during the 1992-93 season. He currently ranks 10th on the all-time scoring list at Wesleyan with 1,129 points. From there the two established a relationship once Anderson joined the coaching ranks as an assistant at Clarkson in 1996 and continued to work together at Five-Star.
“He’s a great coach and more importantly a great person,” Anderson said of Buonaguro. “We’ve been good friends all through the time I got started in coaching.”
“I’d pick his brain about stuff,” Anderson said when he was coaching with Buonaguro at the Five-Star Basketball Camps in the past. “I’d watch him teach and coach, I was always very impressed.”
Anderson, having compiled a 118-63 record at Hamilton for seven seasons, said he was looking to make a move and step outside his comfort zone to move up to Division I at Siena. However, his comfort with Buonaguro made Siena a challenge he was willing to take on.
“I wouldn’t want to go out and work for a guy that I didn’t know. Having a prior relationship with him made me comfortable coming to Siena,” Anderson said. “It’s a great school. There’s a lot of similar values that I’m used to that made me feel comfortable.”
Anderson said the biggest difference between the coaching at Division III and at Division I is the amount of resources committed at Siena.
“At the Division I level, you have the resources and staff that allows you to focus on more of the basketball-side of things,” Anderson said. “As a Division III head coach, you do everything. You book the hotels, you schedule the facilities, you run the study hall. It leaves you with a limited amount of time to focus on what I truly love: basketball, spending time with the players, and recruiting. The staff we have at Siena is excellent and very experienced; Craig [Carter], Ben [Davis], and Tyler [Simms] are fun to be around and we all work well together.”
During his first season as a Division I assistant coach, Anderson said he learned a lot and has become a better assistant coach than when he first started his coaching career as an assistant.
“I’m a much better assistant now than I was 12-15 years ago because I’ve learned what a head coach wants, Anderson said. “What I want to do is help Mitch be the best head coach he can be. The goal as an assistant is to let Coach B do his thing and be the best head coach he can be, make his life easier, make his job easier, take care of the details and let him be the head guy. It worked out well this year and I think it will work out well going forward too.”
Buonaguro said that he likes Anderson’s suggestions for the program from his prior head coaching experience.
“What I really like about him is that he’s very proactive, he’s constantly looking at things from an assistants perspective but also from a head coaches perspective,” Buonaguro said. “The suggestions that he makes are very good. He’s had to deal with these situations himself, so he gives me a real good experienced person who’s been through a lot of stuff you go through as a head coach. I value what he says, I think he gives a lot of input in terms of every aspect of the program.”
The experience of going through a season in which Siena played as few players as they did, being a team that had its starters play 83.3% of its minutes and finished 14-17, Anderson said that he learned that it reinforces building strong team chemistry.
“I think it reinforces to you that if you have guys that work hard and believe in what you’re doing and work together you can be successful no matter what the situation is,” Anderson said. “It reinforces to me, it’s not about the talent, it’s about having guys who are on the same page and who are together and will fight for each other and if they do that we’ll have some success.”
Anderson hit the ground running on the recruiting trail, helping Siena secure their three-man recruiting class. Anderson was able to use work from a strong base of northeast connections which included connecting with Northfield Mount Hermon coach John Carroll to learn about and close in on Siena’s spring signee Ryan Oliver.
“Tobin has a lot of connections with our coaching staff and it was familiar territory for him, I think that helped with Ryan,” Carroll said of Anderson’s recruitment of Oliver.
The key to recruiting this class, Anderson said, was being able to establish personal relationships with the players.
“A lot of guys make phone calls and its all about how’s your team doing, how are you playing, how’s the recruiting process – what’s more important is to get to know them on a personal basis because I think at the end of the day, that is the part that is going to come through,” Anderson said. “A kid makes a decision, they get down to two or three schools, and they have a good relationship on a personal level – that kid is going to feel comfortable to play for your program. I think that’s what we try to do at Siena, we do a good job of selling the personal relationship.”
Oliver said his relationship with Anderson is solid.
“I just kind of felt like he wasn’t trying to say ‘hey go to Siena’ but he kind of guided me, not pressuring me or calling me all the time,” Oliver said. “He give me room.”
Anderson said that his connection with Oliver as well as Buonaguro’s pitch sold the most recent recruit on Siena.
“Knowing that the kids getting probably 10 phone calls a night from coaches from all different levels, it’s important for us to try to be the guy that connects with him,” Anderson said. “Me and Ryan, we had a really good connection which was important and Coach B had a great connection too which really paid off.”
Buonaguro went to California and sold the Oliver family on Siena during a home visit. Siena had four players come for official visits this year, three of them committed.
Not only did Anderson connect with Oliver and helped him commit to Siena, he was able to connect with Brett Bisping. Anderson grew up in the small town of Truro, Iowa and said he was able to use his midwestern roots to connect with Bisping and his family to bring the Illinois recruit to Siena.
“Being from Iowa, I think I have a pretty good feel for those kids and the values that are important to them,” Anderson said. “With Brett, he has a strong bond with his family and his hometown. For him to choose Siena, we had to make him feel comfortable on a personal level with our coaches, players, and the community.”
Buonaguro said that Anderson was very valuable in the recruiting process.
“Everybody did a good job of getting these kids here and certainly Tobin was at the forefront,” Buonaguro said.
Buonaguro, who worked under Rollie Massimino when he came up as an assistant coach, said that he learned that all assistant coaches must be able to do everything.
“When I came up in the business the coach I worked for, Rollie Massimino, always said that the better coaches are the guys who are well rounded,” Buonaguro said. “I don’t want to pigeon hole a coach. He’s got to be able to do everything, and I think Tobin certainly fits that bill.”