Giger: Tourney win signature moment for Krimmel

Rob Krimmel justified his hiring Wednesday night and earned himself at least two or three more years of job security at St. Francis.

That’s how significant the Red Flash’s 55-54 win was at Bryant in the Northeast Conference Tournament quarterfinals.

It wasn’t just one win. Not by a long shot.

It was THE win that St. Francis had been unable to attain for 18 years. The program hadn’t won a conference tournament game since Feb. 26, 1996, so long ago that it even preceded Krimmel’s playing career at SFU, which began in the fall of that year.

The Flash need two more wins to reach the NCAA Tournament for just the second time ever, and extending the season will be extremely difficult with a trip to Robert Morris looming Saturday. The Colonials have beaten St. Francis 13 straight times going back to 2007.

Whatever happens from here on out – even if they get crushed by RMU – the Flash already have taken a vital first step toward any semblance of relevance in college basketball by finally winning a postseason game.

When you play in a low-level, one-bid league such as the NEC, the only thing that matters is if you can look yourself in the mirror and say you have a legitimate chance to make some noise in your conference tournament. Going nearly two decades without a victory proved the Flash never could say that.

Krimmel deserves a lot of credit for getting the program over that hump.

“This win is a statement win for this program, for Coach Krimmel,” SFU forward Ronnie Drinnon eloquently said after Wednesday’s victory.

It’s well known that Krimmel took over at St. Francis under extraordinarily unusual circumstances, getting hired without the university conducting a search and with his father, Bob, partly responsible for making the hire as the athletic director.

All of that remained pertinent in evaluating Rob’s worthiness as head coach. Until Wednesday.

Now, it no longer really matters because Krimmel has achieved his own nugget of success that his predecessors – and previous bosses – Bobby Jones and Don Friday couldn’t.

Jones had some better SFU teams than this current edition, including a 15-13 squad that went 10-8 in the NEC in 2004-05. But that Darshan Luckey-led squad, which beat three eventual NCAA Tournament teams, played poorly and got bounced by Long Island in the NEC first round.

This Red Flash team went just 9-20 overall and 7-9 in the NEC during the regular season. Nothing great, but certainly progress over last season’s disastrous 1-19 start and 5-24 finish.

Still, the way the regular season ended didn’t generate much confidence in Krimmel or his team. The Flash were humiliated in a 29-point home loss to St. Francis Brooklyn, regrouped for a 19-point win over LIU Brooklyn in the home finale, only to get clobbered by 29 and 23 on the road against Wagner and Mount St. Mary’s, respectively.

Honestly, I gave St. Francis no shot whatsoever to beat a good Bryant team. Zilch.

And I was justified in that thinking based on the terrible end to the regular season and how terribly St. Francis has played as a program on the road for more than a decade.

But one great thing about sports is that even big underdogs – and SFU was a 12-point dog going in – sometimes find a way to shock you by putting together a performance you didn’t believe was possible.

This Flash team had indeed enjoyed those types of performances a few times this season, although each time in a losing effort.

They shockingly were within striking distance in the closing minutes of a guaranteed-money road trip against a very good Dayton team before losing (70-56). They also could have and maybe should have won road games at Robert Morris (73-68) and Duquesne (78-71) but faltered late.

Those games showed the Flash’s potential.

But the reasons Krimmel was still very much a questionable fit as SFU’s head coach were all of the really bad blowout losses. There were the ones at the end of the regular season, plus a 32-point debacle against American at home and a 26-point drubbing at St. Francis Brooklyn.

The team just didn’t seem remotely prepared to play on numerous occasions, and that falls directly on the head coach.

But to his credit, Krimmel never lost this team. And there’s a lot to be said for that when you’re at a program where losing not only is the norm, it’s basically expected.

The players continued to buy into what the coach was teaching, they remained committed to playing hard for him and were able to bounce back from poor performances on numerous occasions to win key games.

That last component, more than anything, is what enabled the Flash to win their biggest game in 18 years Wednesday night.

More than just allowing the team to advance to the semifinals, that victory solved a lot of potential problems for both St. Francis and the Krimmel family.

Bob Krimmel hired his son, and there stood to be a good chance that he could have faced pressure to fire him in a year or two had progress not been made. No father wants to face that scenario, but hey, that’s the position the elder Krimmel and St. Francis put Rob in.

It was an unfair position in many ways because university officials had to know the nepotism issue would be raised. Since the higher ups at the university refused to speak about the matter – Bob Krimmel did but not his bosses – the heavy burden of PR control fell upon the one person who should never have had that responsibility, which was the new head coach.

It’s unclear exactly how many years Rob Krimmel has left on his coaching contract – the university doesn’t reveal personnel information – or how long his father plans to remain AD.

But this much now seems clear: If Bob Krimmel does plan to retire in the next year or two, he should be able to do so with his son still coaching the basketball team.

On merit. Not because of his last name.

Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.