My favorite sentence in any official news release announcing the departure of a head coach in Division III athletics is the one reading, “A national search will begin immediately for -------’s replacement.’’ MIAC or UMAC, football or Frisbee, we’re always searching the 2.43 billion acres of the United States for a replacement.
Augsburg announced the traditional national search after football coach Frank Haege gave it up this past November, then athletic director Jeff Swenson spent the next month pleading with Derrin Lamker to leave Edina High School and come back to his alma mater. Lamker took the Auggies’ job on Dec. 20.
The academic outpost in Collegeville, Minn., does things a bit differently. On the rare occasion St. John’s needs a new coach in its most prominent sports, it does a hallway search.
John Gagliardi coached his last football game on Nov. 10, 2012, after his historic career at St. John’s. Mike Grant went through an interview and bowed out as a potential replacement. Kurt Ramler also was given an interview.
In the end, St. John’s went two doors down the hall and hired Gary Fasching, former Johnnies player and an assistant to Gagliardi for 16 years.
The Johnnies were 7-3 overall and 5-3 in the MIAC in 2013; since then, they are 63-11 (including playoffs), 43-5 in the MIAC and reached the D-III semifinals last month.
Search: Short in yardage, exceptional in results.
Jim Smith coached his last Johnnies basketball game after 51 seasons on Feb. 25, 2015. The Johnnies made the obvious hire from across the hall: Pat McKenzie, a second-generation point guard for Smith, and then an assistant coach for the previous nine seasons, was now the head coach.
McKenzie was 38-17 overall and 26-14 in conference games in his first two seasons; since then, the Johnnies are 62-10 overall, 48-4 in conference games, the league champions in 2018 and the playoff champions in 2019.
On Wednesday, St. John’s made the afternoon drive to Moorhead and drubbed Concordia 73-38. It put the Johnnies’ winning streak at 16 games (after an opening loss to Nebraska Wesleyan). It also was the 100th coaching victory for McKenzie, in the midst of his fifth season.
Search: See above.
Dan Kosmoski, in his 26th season at MIAC rival St. Olaf, said: “Pat has the most complete team we’ve seen in this league in quite a while. They have size all over, athletes, shooters, they guard you. They might be good enough to win it.’’
The “it’’ would be the Division III national title. And “Koz’’ has company in seeing the Johnnies as contenders, based on their current No. 2 ranking in D-III behind Swarthmore (Pa.).
One reason: Jubie Alade, a 6-4 wing, came in from Armstrong High as a well-regarded prospect and, now as a senior, he’s a handful and then some for opponents.
Alade’s father, Aji, arrived in the United States from Lagos, Nigeria, as a student in 1987. Aji first attended Normandale Community College and then Mankato State (before the name change).
Aji did not live far from Hakeem Olajuwon’s family in Lagos. Did that make his dad a huge basketball fan?
“Didn’t seem that way,’’ Jubie said. “My dad was more of a soccer guy.’’
You weren’t a Hakeem follower, Dad? “I had heard about Hakeem when he was a young man, and then he was playing basketball in the United States,’’ Aji said. “But we didn’t have many games on television in Lagos, you know.’’
Aji laughed at his joke and said: “It was Jubie on his own; he always had a ball in his hand from the time he was small.’’
Jubie played with a group of kids at the Crystal Community Center. Melvin Newbern Jr. was one of Alade’s basketball pals. Newbern wound up at Cooper and Alade at Armstrong, after his family moved to Plymouth.
“I was a jump shooter in high school,’’ Alade said. “You ask where I’ve improved? I can now drive to the basket.’’
Alade was an excellent student and sought by schools for his academics as well as hoops. St. Thomas was a strong contender, but then Alade visited St. John’s, and immediately embraced the Collegeville environment.
Four years later, he’s averaging 18.9 points and is No. 16 on the Johnnies’ all-time scoring list with 1,196 points. He also was among five Johnnies in double figures in an 87-70 victory at St. Thomas on Jan. 11, which was the most lopsided road victory for the Johnnies in the history of the series.
“The Tommies are here for our last home game, on our senior night, next month,’’ Alade said. “Our gym will be packed that night.’’
Another win would put Alade’s individual record at 6-3 vs. St. Thomas. Assuredly, the number of four-year Johnnies with a .667 winning percentage against the Tommies would make a very small club.