Last March, Fordham hired Jeff Neubauer as the new head coach of the men’s basketball team. He spent the past 10 years at Eastern Kentucky, where his teams won 20 games on five occasions and twice earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Neubauer, who takes over a Rams team that finished just 10-21 last season, spoke with FORDHAM magazine about his plan to turn the program around.
What about the Fordham job appealed to you?
Certainly the fact that it is Fordham, an elite academic school. The fact that this is New York City, the greatest city in the world. But quite honestly, the most appealing draw for me was simply the fact that Fordham competes in the Atlantic 10, and all the NCAA Tournament bids that [A-10 teams have] secured in recent years. As a coach who is looking forward to challenges, that is a great opportunity.
How do you turn around a program like this one?
We need to look at what it has not done well, and we just have to improve gradually at the things that are important to winning. My first challenge is to install a defensive mentality here at Fordham that has not been there in the past. We’ve got to get this group to defend at an incredibly high level because that’s what Atlantic 10 basketball is. And then at the other end, we’ve gotta get this group of guys to play the right way: to value the ball, to take the right shots, and to be very unselfish.
You’ve talked about having not a five-year plan here but a one-year plan. Why go into your first season with that mindset?
I’ve actually shortened my one-year plan to a two-month plan—November and December of this season. We’ve got to show people that Fordham basketball is different than what it’s been in the past. By that I mean two things. Number one, we need to win, and as we talk to recruits, students, and alums, Fordham basketball and winning are not synonymous.
Secondly, we have got to fill Rose Hill Gym. If we had a 9,000-seat arena, that would be impossible. But we simply need to get 3,000 people, from a tri-state area that has 23 million people, in this building on nine nights in November and December. The momentum that we will create is where we’re going to begin.
Rose Hill Gym is historic, but it’s also relatively small and not as modern as many arenas. Was it a selling point or something you were unsure about?
When I was determining if I would take the Fordham job, it wasn’t a factor. However, once I became the head coach and started to evaluate the landscape, it really has become our greatest advantage. It just takes 3,000 people to make it a raucous environment. The best thing that we have going right now is that we have a smaller facility that can allow us to create a very exciting environment.
Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Joe DeLessio, FCLC ’06. Photo by Vincent Dusovic.
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