Neubauer coached the team for the first nine games of the 2020-21 season before departing. (COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS)
Neubauer coached the team for the first nine games of the 2020-21 season before departing.

COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS

Remembering the Tumultuous Neubauer Era at Fordham

The tell-tale misfortune of another Fordham men’s basketball head coach

March 8, 2021

Several years before moving to his eponymous Fordham cottage in 1846, Edgar Allan Poe wrote, “Never to suffer would have been never to have been blessed.” He was speaking to the volatility of life and a person’s inability to prosper without first experiencing pain. 

It’s a serviceable quote for many people, but there’s at least one group out there underwhelmed by its message. For fans of Fordham men’s basketball, the exasperated response to Poe’s sentiments comes in the form of a question: “Haven’t we suffered enough?”

In the last 20 years, Fordham men’s basketball has been a source of profound mediocrity for a university that’s enjoyed considerable success in other athletic pursuits. While the baseball and women’s basketball teams have developed into perennial Atlantic 10 (A10) title contenders, the combined efforts of six men’s basketball coaches in two decades have culminated in just two winning seasons.

Nearly a decade after Fordham last fielded a competitive men’s basketball team, many saw a sliver of hope for the Rams in the midst of yet another personnel shuffle.

The team has only advanced past the second round of the A10 Tournament once since 2000, when it made a surprising run to the 2006 semifinals after compiling a 9-7 conference record during the season. The Rams were eliminated that year by Xavier University, and a possible berth in the NCAA Tournament, something Fordham last achieved in 1992, hasn’t been a reality since.

Nearly a decade after Fordham last fielded a competitive men’s basketball team, many saw a sliver of hope for the Rams in the midst of yet another personnel shuffle. After five seasons of losing basketball, former Head Coach Tom Pecora was fired in 2015, and his replacement seemed to represent a new era in the Bronx.

An Impressive Track Record

When former Fordham men’s basketball Head Coach Jeff Neubauer was first hired by the university in 2015, he didn’t appear to be a risky proposition for a program in desperate need of strong leadership. In fact, he entered his new position with all the trappings of success, appearing to be a seasoned overachiever with an elite background in college basketball.

As a player, Neubauer was a member of several competitive teams at La Salle University from 1989 to 1993. The Explorers went to the NCAA Tournament as a 4-seed in his freshman year, and after four seasons, he graduated as a captain with an 83-36 career record.

Neubauer pursued a career in coaching immediately after graduation and was hired as a low-level assistant coach at the University of Richmond in 1996. One year later, John Beilein was hired as the head coach of the Spiders, and he took to his young assistant immediately.

In an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2013, Neubauer remembered the impact Beilein had on his career.

“He ended up promoting me,” Neubauer said. “I was in that restricted-earnings spot. He promoted me to one of his full-time recruiting assistants. That was my greatest break in this profession.”

“Jeff Neubauer is one of the brightest coaches I have ever been associated with.” John Beilein

Before becoming the highly successful coach of the University of Michigan Wolverines, Beilein led the University of Richmond to the 1997 NCAA Tournament, as well as the NIT Tournament in 2001 and 2002. When he departed to coach at West Virginia University in 2002, Neubauer went with him, and in his final season as his assistant, the Mountaineers made an improbable run to the Elite Eight as a 7-seed in the 2005 NCAA Tournament.

After eight seasons working under one of the foremost college basketball coaches in the country, Neubauer struck out on his own and accepted his first head coaching position at Eastern Kentucky University. Despite competing in the lowly Ohio Valley Conference, he compiled a 188-134 record in 10 years with the Colonels, leading the team to the NCAA Tournament in 2007 and 2014.

When Neubauer was hired by Fordham in 2015, Beilein offered enthusiasm for the Rams’ future.

“This is a great hire for both Fordham University and the Atlantic 10,” Beilein said in a statement to the New York Post. “Jeff Neubauer is one of the brightest coaches I have ever been associated with.”

Jeff Neubauer stands courtside during a game
After more than five seasons as the men’s basketball coach, Jeff Neubauer parted ways with Fordham on Jan. 26. (COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS)

A New Hope in the Bronx

From his playing days at La Salle University to a lengthy tenure coaching at Eastern Kentucky, Neubauer had found success wherever he went over nearly three decades in college basketball. A job at Fordham seemed like the natural next step for the 45-year-old Florida native to break through yet another echelon in the sport.

At a 2015 press conference, University President Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., introduced Neubauer and set high expectations for Fordham’s newest hire.

“We are delighted to welcome Jeff Neubauer to the Fordham family,” McShane said. “His ability to inspire superior performance on the court and in the classroom fits well with Fordham’s mission and our culture.”

The president’s words were encouraging, and Neubauer’s vision was clear. The new head coach intended to change the culture at Fordham and create a winning mindset that would attract new talent. In an interview with Bleacher Report, he expressed a strong desire to tackle the insurmountable odds he faced. 

“We’re not sugarcoating anything with recruits. Fordham basketball has struggled big time over the last several years,” Neubauer said. “What I need to do is show the young guys in this program, and the guys we bring in, how to win.”

He may have had a clear, determined vision, but Neubauer’s first loss at Rose Hill came months before he ever appeared courtside. 

On April 24, Eric Paschall, the team’s leading scorer and freshman all-star, announced that he was transferring to Villanova University. He cited former coach Pecora’s termination as a factor in his decision.

Before he was a two-time NCAA champion, first-round NBA Draft pick, Golden State Warriors starter and 2020 NBA All-Rookie Team member, Paschall was merely a transfer student from Fordham University.

The Age of Neubauer

Within two months, Neubauer and the Rams had lost one of the most promising prospects to ever step foot in the Rose Hill Gymnasium. His departure was the first of many transfers that Fordham would suffer during Neubauer’s tenure of six seasons.

But the team moved on, and for the first month of the 2015-16 season, it seemed as though Neubauer had overcome the massive loss. After losing the first game of the season, a non-conference defeat at the hands of the University of Texas at Arlington, Fordham went on to win its next nine games. By the time they began A10 conference play in late December, the Rams held a 9-2 overall record.

The team had largely been built by Pecora, but Neubauer was leading it in a very promising debut season. Fordham didn’t fare as well against its A10 opponents, going 8-10 within the conference and losing in the second round of the A10 Tournament. The team did, however, earn a bid to compete in the 2016 CollegeInsider.com Invitational Tournament, the program’s first tournament invitation since 1992.

In retrospect, Neubauer’s 2015-16 season represented the best effort he would ever put forth in the Bronx. In the 2016-17 season, the team compiled a 13-19 overall record and was again eliminated in the second round of the A10 Tournament.

“We wish him well as he embarks on a new chapter in his career.” Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J.

The following two seasons were even more disappointing as Neubauer continually failed to field a competitive team for A10 opponents. The team posted a combined 7-29 conference record, finished 14th in both seasons, and didn’t make it past the first round of the A10 Tournament in either year.

By the end of the 2018-19 season, Neubauer could only console himself with the fact that he was beginning to recruit effective talent out of high school, a goal of his from the beginning. 

In 2018, he managed to recruit six high school players to Fordham, among them current team members like Ty Perry, Onyi Eyisi and Jalen Cobb, all FCRH ’22. The class was headed by Nick Honor, a three-star recruit who led the team in scoring that season before transferring to Clemson University after his freshman year. Neubauer was powerless as another future star left his ranks.

Neubauer’s last full season with the Rams in 2020 was no less abysmal than the previous two, as the team finished 2-16 in the conference and entered the A10 Tournament as a 14-seed for the third straight season. 

But with pressure mounting from fans and administration alike, Neubauer and the Rams finally won a postseason game, upsetting 11-seed George Washington University 72-52 to advance to the second round. The team was technically on its first postseason run since 2015.

The next day, on March 12, the A10 announced that the remainder of the conference tournament would be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even in victory, Neubauer’s progress at Fordham came to a halt, his fifth season ending in unique disappointment.

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The Final Days

With one year remaining on his contract, the 2020-21 season was Neubauer’s last to convince Fordham to let him keep his position. He didn’t last a month; the team went 1-7 in its first eight games, and the university announced his departure on Jan. 26.

In over five seasons, Neubauer finished with a 61-104 overall record in the Bronx. McShane’s farewell to the head coach was no less cordial than his introduction.

“We thank Jeff Neubauer for his hard work and dedication on behalf of our student athletes and the University,” McShane said. “We wish him well as he embarks on a new chapter in his career.”

Jeff Neubauer with his players huddled around
Neubauer coaches his players during his last season as head coach. (COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS)

Former assistant coach Mike DePaoli filled in as interim head coach for the rest of the season, but he could do very little as the team finished with a 2-12 record. On Wednesday, March 3, the team lost to George Washington in another first-round exit from the A10 Tournament.

Pitfalls of Blaming the Coach

Despite spending several years at the lowest levels of the A10 conference, it would be difficult to condemn Neubauer as a singularly hapless coach that doomed Fordham to another disappointing drought. He’s the most recent addition to a long list of coaches that entered with promise and left in infamy.

Pecora was an assistant coach to current Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright and led Hofstra University to multiple winning seasons. He never won more than four conference games in five seasons at Fordham. Before him, Dereck Whittenburg only had one winning season in seven years with Fordham after leading Wagner College, relative unknowns, to the 2003 NCAA Tournament. 

Blaming the coach for the team’s failure is convenient for fans and the administration alike, but after so much time in the shadows of other A10 rivals, it may be time to locate another source.

The most famous example, however, is Bob Hill, who coached at Rose Hill from 1999 to 2003. Hill entered Fordham as a former NBA coach, leading the New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs in various stints between 1986 and 1996. He signed a massive 10-year contract to coach Fordham and bring the team back to its glory days of the early 90s. 

But Hill only lasted four years, compiling a 36-78 overall record before returning to the NBA to coach the Seattle SuperSonics. In his case, he took several recruiting risks at Fordham that proved calamitous, resulting in extremely poor seasons toward the end of his tenure.

Hill’s comments about his time at Fordham have differed over the years. Speaking to The New York Times in 2006, he claimed that the school didn’t care about athletics and should only “have club sports.” But in an interview with New York Daily News in 2007, he made remarks that will likely resonate with his successors like Neubauer, men who have desperately tried to turn the tide for a program in constant disarray and obscurity. 

“It’s a good school, good people, the whole thing, but I made a mistake,” Hill said, referring to his coaching decisions. “I don’t really regret it. I’ve learned so much about what those young guys go through to try to be successful. It’s hard for them.”

Earlier this year, Neubauer joined a group of highly skilled coaches who have failed at Rose Hill. Blaming the coach for the team’s failure is convenient for fans and the administration alike, but after so much time in the shadows of other A10 rivals, it may be time to locate another source. 

As Poe suggests, the blessing may come in due time for Fordham men’s basketball. But if the university expects the next head coach to succeed where so many others have failed, then the program may have to prepare to suffer a little while longer.



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About the Contributor
Photo of PATRICK MOQUIN
PATRICK MOQUIN, Sports & Health Editor

Patrick Moquin, FCLC ’22, is majoring in journalism and oversees Fordham sports coverage for The Observer. He played baseball in high school and also follows horse racing and motorsports, though he’s allergic to horses and doesn’t have a driver’s license. He most thoroughly enjoys his time at The Observer when he’s working with other editors and writers.

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  • C

    ChrisApr 7, 2021 at 2:42 pm

    Interesting comments about changing or disbanding the football program. Soccer, baseball and women’s hoop have had success. And on resources determining winners—. look at the NCAA tournament this year — Mark Few the hall of famer at Gonzaga frequently talks of how other things are more important to him than taking a higher paying job. (MUCH higher paying I assume.) Gonzaga crushed USC — which ought to say something about resources determining winning. College basketball is changing with the transfer portal – Tinder for basketball as Bill Walton called it. Plus the international recruits. And some schools have success with lesser facilities and none of the history of Rose Hill Gym. If Kyle Neptune can take advantage of the changes in the game and the positives at Fordham, I won’t be surprised with a quick turnaround.

    Reply
  • E

    E LApr 6, 2021 at 1:48 pm

    Great article. Another unpopular opinion: Blow up the Rose Hill Gym and start over. As another commenter stated, nothing “historical” has ever happened in this “historic” space. No one gives a damn about the stained glass windows. Give these coaches a facility they can recruit to. Blaming the administration is also unfair when plenty of other athletic teams at Fordham have been successful.

    Reply
  • D

    Dan LoftusMar 28, 2021 at 10:15 pm

    Fordham should follow fellow A10 members’ Dayton and Davidson (and another local, Marist) to move football to the non scholarship (still FCS) Pioneer League, and redirect the saved funding toward A10 men’s basketball and to add lacrosse as a varsity sport. The amount of full scholarships to compete in the Patriot League is mindboggling vs. return in exposure, there will be no difference in interest if Fordham plays in the Pioneer League for football.

    Reply
  • P

    Patrick RocheMar 15, 2021 at 9:11 am

    The Fordham alum response dated March 12, 2021(9:41pm)makes a good suggestion. Seton Hall University (The Catholic University of NJ) did just that many years ago, cutting their football program and focusing on sports like basketball and baseball. This resulted in a basketball program turning into a top program in the Big East. While the baseball program has always had a winning tradition at Seton Hall, basketball has had the most significant impact in bringing in top recruits, notoriety and revenue that has enabled the university to established top facilities (both athletic and academic). Alumni love giving donations to a winner. Fordham has the greatest city in the world as its backdrop and as an elite basketball program, it could end up being played in Madison Square Garden, bringing in the revenue and grandeur that draws students and recruits. I hate to see any sports program be cancelled, but based on McShane’s financial reports in his emails (I’m a Fordham parent), he needs to make an adjustment here and quickly. Go Rams!

    Reply
  • C

    College Hoop FanMar 14, 2021 at 6:53 pm

    I am not an alum, nor am I a fan specifically of Fordham. I am however, a passionate fan of the college game. I can tell you that the recruiting competition has evolved around what resources a school has to attract a generation of players that views things differently than players from previous generations, even in the 80s early 90s. It is a simple fact. There is a need to invest in the resources if they ever intend to be successful….and only then will non-basketball minded decisions makers making decisions that are beyond their scope then be able to turn the reason for being more competitive to something they did…because it could only have been the coaches for all of these years?? Right??

    Reply
  • D

    Disappointed AlumMar 12, 2021 at 9:41 pm

    I would never blame a Fordham Basketball coach for failing. The administration simply refuses to put significant resources towards the basketball program. They tout the fact that they play in the “Historic” Rose Hill gym. Nothing historic has happened in that building in generations. The only history that has occurred in that building in my lifetime is a history of losing.

    I know this might be unpopular, but the answer is simple. Cut the Football program. It’s a money pit and Fordham is an FCS team. No one would really care even if the Football team was consistently great (which they aren’t). They’re not even consistently mediocre. Cut the football program and model the program after similar Jesuit schools that are successful basketball schools, such as Xavier or Providence. Put all of your resources towards the basketball facilities and coaching salaries. A respectable basketball program would be infinitely more valuable than any success that the Football program could ever achieve.

    Reply
  • F

    FredMar 11, 2021 at 11:28 am

    Nice article. Hope the admin is looking at whatever structural problems there. Personally, I miss the late 80s and our time in the MAAC. And, btw, nice shirt. I’m a Regis baseball alum from “84.

    Reply
  • T

    TimMar 11, 2021 at 12:27 am

    Excellent article. I don’t think the coaches are a problem. I just don’t think the administration is committed to winning. An Athleric Director from the outside should’ve been hired. Not merely promoting the assistant. The biggest problem is the facilities. I just don’t think the University is dealing with reality. Facilities improvements were promised and the improvements basically amount to a new “state of the art” gym floor. It’s almost embarrassing that they think this will make a difference to recruit. If they can’t expand Rose Hill Gym then another venue has to be considered.

    Reply