Northgate's Driscoll building up North Florida
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- North Florida athletic director Lee Moon doesn't mince words.
The guy with the shiny teeth, perfect tan, old football player's build, unwavering charm and slicked back hair tells it to you straight.
So, what does Moon, who has been in athletics administration for more than 25 years, think about his first-year men's basketball coach at this Division I school that competes in the Atlantic Sun Conference?
"I hired Billy Donovan when I was the athletic director at Marshall," Moon said. "Matt Driscoll is another Billy Donovan."
That's a heavy burden to lasso someone with, since Donovan, who jumped from Marshall to Florida after two seasons, won two consecutive NCAA titles. He also has more than 350 wins and hasn't won fewer than 20 games since the 1997-98 season.
But talk to Driscoll for just a few moments -- as he incessantly taps you on the knee to command your attention and looks you in the eye, always -- and it becomes glaringly obvious the 45-year-old Northgate High School graduate and Bellevue resident has an assuredness that he can build the North Florida program from the ground up.
After all, Driscoll, who is leading an Ospreys program that is in its first full season of Division I eligibility, has built his own coaching career from the ground up.
"I'm not ashamed to say I've worked hard to get here," Driscoll said. "I've done everything imaginable."
He sure has and that's the stuff that doesn't have anything to do with basketball.
While he was still living in Pittsburgh, trying to angle his way into a life of basketball coaching, Driscoll did everything from park cars at the Common Plea restaurant, to work at McDonald's to putting in days in the insulation business.
Driscoll has a work ethic that is purely Western Pennsylvania, one instilled by his late father.
"I watched my dad wake up and deliver Town Talk bread for 37 years, every day, no excuses," he said. "He would just go about things and do it in a way where you have to do what's right, you have to provide for your family, no excuses, no shortcuts.
"You know the one thing that was the only real rule with us? It was 'Don't embarrass this family.' I think about that with every single thing I do."
For Driscoll, a father of two, the quest was to become his own boss at the Division I level.
Driscoll, who went to Slippery Rock, coached at Northgate High School, Butler County Community College, Seneca Valley High School, worked as a volunteer with Slippery Rock and was the head coach at La Roche College.
From there in 1997, it was a jump into Division I, as an assistant with Wyoming, Clemson, briefly with Valparaiso then Baylor, where he made his mark as the program's top assistant, before being introduced as North Florida's head coach in April.
Now, as he sat in his office last week following a practice session, Driscoll explained how this task at North Florida might be his toughest -- well, maybe except that one time former Pitt football coach Johnny Majors came to the Common Plea and Driscoll was scared to death of dinging up the coach's car while parking it.
"This is a 37-year-old university, I understand that, I knew all of that when I took this job," Driscoll said of a program that has had three winning seasons in 17 years of existence. "People want to see a negative. You know what I see? I see that you can make progress, I see that you can go out there and build something special, be a big part of that."
The strides under Driscoll have been momentous. The Ospreys (6-7) are in the midst of a five-game winning streak, won their first Atlantic Sun game Saturday and ripped off a stretch where they beat Canisius, New Orleans and then Southern Mississippi in a three-day span to capture the title of the Southern Mississippi Christmas Classic.
Last week, as Driscoll was sitting in his office, Moon tapped on the door. The athletic director dropped off a trophy -- the first of its kind for North Florida's program -- for winning that tournament.
"Since the day I got here, everyone has been saying, 'Let's try to do this,' or 'Try to do that,' in three years," Driscoll said. "I look at it as, 'Why not now? What's wrong with winning right now?' I'm not here to lose, I'm here to win."
First Published January 4, 2010 12:00 am