Thursday, April 16, 2009
Dollar replaces Callero as coach
SEATTLE -- Trying to stay inconspicuous in the back of the room, Lorenzo Romar couldn't help but chuckle when he heard his former assistant, Cameron Dollar, give the answer everyone at Seattle University wanted to hear.
"Cameron, we want to beat [Gonzaga] and take it to Washington," a supporter blurted out during Dollar's introduction as Seattle's new head coach.
"I've got no problem with that," Dollar responded.
After spending 10 years with Romar as an assistant, including the last seven across town at Washington, Dollar ventured out on his own Thursday to take over at Seattle as the next coach to lead the school in its transition back to Division I basketball.
With the entire Washington coaching staff making the short 10-minute drive to show their support, Dollar was unveiled as the replacement for Joe Callero, who spent the latter part of his term at Seattle helping lay the groundwork for the school to return to the highest level of NCAA competition. Seattle was a one-time powerhouse that played for the 1958 NCAA championship against Kentucky, only to drop Division I sports in 1980.
Now the Redhawks are working their way back as part of an arduous five-year transition period. Callero left for Cal Poly earlier this month, leaving it to Dollar to move the Redhawks forward.
"I feel there are some other programs that missed the boat with him, because he's pretty special," Romar said of Dollar.
The hiring appears a perfect fit for Seattle. The former UCLA guard has strong Northwest ties, is regarded as one of the top recruiters on the West Coast and is still young enough at 33 to provide the energy and enthusiasm the school will need to ride out the next few years.
And, as athletic director Bill Hogan deadpanned, "We don't have to pay for moving expenses."
"I love Seattle, I love being here. My family was in a perfect spot," said Dollar, who acknowledged he would have been perfectly comfortable staying in his role at Washington. "I like the potential of what this university has to offer all the way around."
Last year, playing a mixed schedule against Division I, Division II and other lower division teams, the Redhawks went 21-8, including a 13-8 mark against Division I opponents and wins over Louisiana Tech, UC Irvine and Eastern Washington.
Next season, Seattle will have to play a full Division I schedule as part of its five-year transition. The Redhawks will play all their home games at KeyArena and their schedule features games against Marquette, Utah, Oklahoma State and, oh yeah, Washington.
Dollar's task is to lead Seattle through those challenges and make the small Jesuit school attractive to a conference. Hogan wanted a coach who would help the program grow, but also be a leader in finding the needed conference affiliation. Dollar believes the product the school puts on the floor will be attractive to a number of suitors.
"The great thing about Cameron is he's got great support in the community," Callero said by phone Thursday morning. "There is going to be those days he's going to shake his head, but overall, if he looks at it from a three- to five-year perspective and can come out of the storm in a good position, the program will have taken a positive step."
Seattle will not be eligible to play in the NCAA tournament until the 2012-13 season, but could compete in other postseason tournaments like the NIT. Dollar spoke at his news conference Thursday afternoon of Madison Square Garden and the NIT championship being the Redhawks' goal until they gain NCAA tournament eligibility.
Dollar has been one of Romar's top assistants at Washington since the pair arrived in 2002, and before that was on Romar's staff at St. Louis. Dollar spent one season as head coach at Southern California College in 1998-99 when at 22 he was the youngest college coach in the nation.
Hogan and Dollar spoke at length during the Final Four in Detroit and from then on, Dollar was at the top of Seattle's list.
"He was tested through the process," Hogan said. "We had some really strong people involved but he just came through."