Mike Iuzzolino didn't find himself staring at the Penn State Altoona bench Saturday, picturing himself walking in front of it.
The former local high school and St. Francis star is in his second year on the men's basketball staff at St. Vincent College, but he interviewed for the opening at Penn State Altoona that went to Billy Clapper in September.
Though Iuzzolino was "very disappointed," he didn't allow it to linger.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Mike Iuzzolino coaches during a game at Penn State Altoona.
"This is one opportunity that was open, and I went after it, but in this business, you can't get too high or too low," he said after Penn State Altoona defeated St. Vincent, 62-59, in overtime. "It was disappointing, but I've moved on. I feel fortunate I got an interview, and I feel I'm that much closer to getting a head coaching job. I think they have the perfect guy; Billy will do a great job with their team."
St. Vincent's coach DP Harris recommended Iuzzolino but did so with mixed emotions, in part because he didn't want to lose him and in part because he thinks there will be more attractive opportunities.
Harris, in his seventh season, promoted Iuzzolino to associate head coach before the season.
"Anytime you can have a guy like Mike be involved in your program, you're very lucky," Harris said. "We've had nine assistant coaches at St. Vincent go on to Division I assistant jobs or head coaching jobs, and Mike is the best we've had. He's a tireless worker who does everything a head coach does. I don't think he should settle for any job because he's better than a lot of jobs that he's interviewed for."
Harris predicted, "I think he'll be on a Division I bench soon."
Penn State Altoona Athletic Director Fredina Ingold declined to discuss the search process, but a perceived lack of extended commitment may have been a factor in the decision.
Iuzzolino didn't deny that he hopes to climb the coaching ladder. St. Vincent went from NAIA to Division III two years ago.
"I don't want to stop having goals," he said. "I'm not where I want to be yet, but I really enjoy where I am. DP and Saint Vincent have been very supportive, and it's been a great experience. It's a family atmosphere that's about giving and caring and sharing and making the school better."
Iuzzolino, 41, got a late start in coaching because of his 12-year professional career, 10 in Europe and two in the NBA. He then spent three seasons in the women's game at Duquesne and George Mason.
"I was away for 12 years so I didn't start as a GA [graduate assistant]," he said.
Now he's fully involved in game preparation, recruiting and player development.
"I've enjoyed the transtiion from a player to a coach," he said. "In practice you can be as emotional and intense as you were as a player, but I've learned in games you have to keep control of your team, keep your head more."
"He's made a big contribution to us," said St. Vincent junior B.J. McGill. "Playing in the NBA, you know he's been there, done that. We definitely learn from him."
Once one of the great shooters in the world, Iuzzolino doesn't play much anymore, except to occasionally jump in drills.
"You can tell," McGill said, "he's still got it."
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.