Coach’s Chair: Brian Giorgis, Marist College

Brian Giorgis has been coaching basketball for almost 43 years, with 18 being at Marist. Photo courtesy of Marist Athletics.
Brian Giorgis has been coaching basketball for almost 43 years, with 18 being at Marist. Photo courtesy of Marist Athletics.

Brian Giorgis entered his 18th season as Marist College’s head coach in November. The Red Foxes won their first game to give Giorgis the 400th of his career. During his tenure he has led the team to three perfect-win MAAC seasons, 12 consecutive 20-win years, eight straight 25-win seasons and 10 NCAA Tournament appearances.

Prior to coming to Marist, Giorgis coached and taught for 25 years at Our Lady of Lourdes High School, also in Poughkeepsie. During that time his teams won nine state championships and 19 all-league titles. He coached several other sports, and was the school’s athletic director for 10 years. When the opportunity with the Red Foxes arose, Giorgis consulted his employers, who gave him their blessing.

He was an assistant coach for USA Basketball’s World University Games team in 2013. In 2010, Giorgis was inducted into the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame.

You had a long and successful career as a high school coach. What are the main differences between coaching at that level and coaching collegiate basketball?

I hate to say it, but the biggest difference is the parents, and and in college you can (work with) the best coaches. In high school a lot of parents think their children are DI scholarship players, and not all are, unfortunately. (Often) they have too much to say, and if they don’t like the response, they go to the board of education. The last year I was there we were ranked 14th in country, and I had two parents go to board and try to get me removed. The wonderful thing was that many parents came out of woodwork to support me.

Recruiting is a whole different world (in college). A lot of people are great recruiters, and it’s hard. I remember something Sherri Coale said to me my first year, and I always admired her because she went from high school to coaching in college. She told me to remember that a pick and roll in high school is the same as a pick and roll in college, which is the same in the pros. And the preparation at the college level is very different than it is in high school.

Since you’ve only coached girls and women, I have to ask: did you ever want to coach boys and men?

I did in high school; I coached JV boys and freshmen boys for a little bit. I was a baseball coach and I’m better at that than basketball. I’ve coached guys, but I’m very happy where I am. Girls are such good listeners. I had a year in 1986, which was my third year in high school where I was coaching two sports at the same time. Basketball had lost the state championship game, so I drove home, got on a plane and met the baseball team in Florida. After an experience down there I thought, why do I want to do this? I have kids who listen and love to learn. I coached six different sports in my career at the high school.

Did you play basketball? What made you love it so much?

In high school, yes. I just loved playing, and that was when you could work on your game on your own. I didn’t need help per se. I’d play in the driveway, or parents would drive me up to school and I could practice on the courts. It was a lot of fun from CYO and up.

I grew up in North Syracuse and went to same high school as Breanna Stewart. I kid her that she’s the best known alumni to come out of North Cicero, and she says she second, that Richard Gere is the first.

What personal characteristics have allowed you to attain success as a coach?

I think I’m a pretty good observer. I can observe individually kids, in terms of what they’re doing and what they need to work on. In a prep for a game, I take that and translate it to what we need to do on the court.

You’ve said that once you get into something, you “get a little OCD about it.” What does that look like when you’re working?

It’s watching a lot of film, trying to think of different types of sets or plays we could do to take advantage of somebody. I do a lot of thinking about basketball.

I think I have a good sense of balance with my players. There’s more to life than basketball and I’m more concerned with my kids and what they’re doing in the future rather than worrying about the next game. As much as people don’t like to admit it, that’s what they’re here for. My job is to put out a product, but I’m also here to develop outstanding women.

I know academics is important to you, especially as a former teacher.

Our kids have always done well in school. I’ve never had to put a kid on probation. I always try to bring in kids who want to be good students.

Do you watch a lot of basketball?

I try not to; I don’t want to wear myself out. When I do watch, I watch it for pure enjoyment – not because I’m trying to steal anything.

What are the three most important aspects of a coach’s job?

Integrity is the most important thing for me, then leadership and confidence. If you display those three things, kids will jump through hoops for you. They’ll listen and try to do what you ask them to do. With what we run, we all have to believe.

How might your players describe playing for you?

That’s a good question because I’ve never asked them. I think they’d say that I’m caring, I’m detailed, and that I can be a taskmaster at times. That’s my nice way of putting it. The kids know I can be sarcastic, and I can be blunt.

Your coaching career has spanned huge changes in the world. How are young people different today from how they were when you first began coaching?

They are much more sensitive today. They have trouble realizing that criticism means we’re trying to get them better instead of, “the coach doesn’t like me.” They seem much more emotional, much more worldly, and have a bunch of other things going on. Sometimes you think back to the old days when you could yell and scream, and now those coaches get panned. Older coaches have to adapt more to them than they to us.

What do you want your legacy to be?

I’d like to be thought of as a coach who did it his way, who was caring and who put his faith on display 24/7.

Do you have a favorite basketball memory?

For our first championship state title in 1987, we played for this guy who was dying of cancer, and we inspired him to where he lived 19 months longer than he was supposed to. I have had too many experiences where, if someone doesn’t believe there’s a God in the world, they would have been convinced otherwise.

The first time we won the MAAC league championship, (Marist) hadn’t won before, and we’d been picked to finish eighth. Beating Ohio State and Middle Tennessee to go to the Sweet 16 for the first time is another one. (Florida State coach) Sue Semrau and I have a lifelong bond because of that. They had put both of us in the same hotel because they thought both our teams would be put out of the Tournament. They had a convention coming in and (the Seminoles) ended up going to the Sweet 16 too. They had to jump through hoops and circles to keep us there. Every time Sue and I see each other to this day, we give each other a high five.

Another favorite is working with Sherri Coale and Coquese Washington to get a gold medal (for USA Basketball) in 2013.

What is one things most people wouldn’t know about coach Giorgis?

I’m an avid sports autograph collector. I have about 4,000 autographs. I collect the least autographs of basketball players. I’m a huge baseball guy, and then football. I only have a small section in my place for basketball, and mostly it’s the old school guys. I’ve got Chamberlain and Russell, Bird and Magic, Erving and Barry. I’ve got Oscar Robertson’s autograph signed in gold. I’ve got Jerry West.