Goss: Ryan Marks thrilled to coach in Patrick J. Sullivan Recreation Center
By Dick Goss firstname.lastname@example.org July 8, 2013 5:56PM
Ryan Marks is the new men's basketball coach at the University of St. Francis. | Supplied photo
Updated: August 10, 2013 6:19AM
When Pat Sullivan decided he would retire after the 2009-10 men’s basketball season, everyone in the University of St. Francis family understood there never would be another “Sully.”
There is no way to replace him. Those who followed would consider it an honor merely to perpetuate the program he had nurtured for so much of his adult life.
John Baines was on the right track in his three seasons as Sullivan’s immediate successor. Not only did he build a 57-38 record, including 21-12 in his final season, but he continued USF’s reputation of being a class operation.
When Baines received an opportunity to return to Elmhurst College, where he had spent many years as an assistant before coming to USF, he decided to accept that challenge.
The USF job was not filled until early summer, when Chicago native Ryan Marks was hired. The former coach at NCAA Division I Texas-Pan American was introduced a couple of weeks ago at a news conference.
What stood out was his personality and sense of humor, along with an understanding of what it means to be a head coach at the school associated with coaches such as Sullivan and Gordie Gillespie.
A small Catholic college in Joliet that competes in the NAIA may be seen as a stepping stone for some. But even though he is fresh off a three-year stint in the NCAA Division I ranks, Marks is thrilled with the opportunity to coach in the Patrick J. Sullivan Recreation Center.
“Sully and Gordie are coaches’ coaches,” said Marks, who joked that he has to coach until 2047 to match Sullivan’s tenure at USF. “That those type of people had their niche here made me feel this job is anything a coach can ask for.
“This (college basketball coaching) is a competitive business. Coaches are not always interested in complimenting each other. But I have gone to a lot of clinics and camps around the country, and everywhere you went, everyone liked and respected Pat Sullivan. It doesn’t matter what level he coached on, he was one of the few you could say that about.”
Marks was hired relatively late in the game. But most of Baines’ final team is returning and 6-9 forward Jens Kennedy from Dwight is transferring in, so Marks is not fretting over last-minute recruiting for the 2013-14 season.
“We have to aspire to get to the top of the conference (Chicagoland College Athletic Conference),” Marks said. “So I have to spend time now studying these top programs and see what we have to do to compete with them and get the players that can compete with them.
“There’s a big difference between the players at a Kansas and the players I had at Pan American. But there is not a lot of difference between the players at a Pan American and the players in the CCAC. So I’ll be recruiting the type of players that I am familiar with.”
Marks said when he recruits it is important that he sells kids “on the totality of the program, explain to them the nature of the entire experience if they come here. They have all the areas covered here at St. Francis with where the program is right now.”
Before Samantha Quigley was hired as the USF women’s basketball coach, baseball coach Brian Michalak was the women’s basketball coach for one season.
“I know what happens here, that sometimes coaches get involved in more than one sport,” Marks noted. “Well, when I was basketball coach at South Vermont, little known fact, I was the baseball coach, too. Our baseball team won three games total in three years. And I will fight to the end saying we overachieved.
“Seriously, I don’t think coach Michalak has to worry. His job is safe.”
Marks said the interview process did not represent his initial visits to Joliet.
“My father distributed industrial products,” he said. “He retired at 891/2. He did it for 50-plus years and had 30 different routes. One of those days off school when I was a kid, I went with him and we came to Joliet. So, yes, I was here.”
The late Abe Lemons was a quote machine, the Yogi Berra of college basketball coaches. Among his gems was this: “Finish last in your league and they call you idiot. Finish last in your class in medical school and they call you doctor.”
Marks coached at Pan American before beginning his long stint at Texas.
“I followed after Abe Lemons. He was the funniest coach ever, so I can’t be that,” he said. “So I guess I’ll have to be the second funniest.”
We’ll take that — along with plenty of success for his program and players, on and off the court.