Jon Teitel's Coaches Interview Series: James Madison's Lou Campanelli

November 8th, 2010

In the most recent installment in his coaching greats interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time talking with former James Madison head coach Lou Campanelli, who led the Dukes to five NCAA Tournament appearances before moving on to take the Cal job in 1985. James Madison has yet to duplicate Campanelli's level of success since his departure. 

Jon Teitel: In the early 1970s you were an assistant basketball coach at URI where your graduate assistant was Mike Fratello. What was Mike like back in the day and what made him such a great coach later in life?
Lou Campanelli:
Mike was the freshman coach at URI and I brought him over to JMU afterwards. I drove him up to Villanova and made Rollie Massimino interview him. He spent a few years with Rollie, and then a few years with Hubie Brown, so he got to learn from good people and have a good foundation.

JT: One of your mentors was Rollie, who gave you your 1st job at Hillside (NJ) HS in 1959. Why was he such a great mentor and what did it mean to you when he won the 1985 NCAA title at Villanova?
It brought tears to my eyes, as I was there in Lexington. He was a wonderful teacher who had previously worked under a fundamentally sound coach named Bill Martin. Rollie had a good defensive philosophy. He took me under his wing, and took me to some of the biggest coaching clinics on the East coast. Even at age 21 I was around someone who I could tell was going to be highly successful. I got a year's head start, as I was not playing much during my senior year. One of my first high school coaching jobs was very tough because we had no gym! I knew how much the title meant to Rollie, and I told him before the game that I had a good feeling he would win it all. I jumped the rail and caught him in the hallway on the way to the press conference and gave him a big hug.

JT: What are your memories of the 1981 NCAA Tournament (you used a 2-3 zone defense en route to a six-point win over Georgetown before a nine-point loss to Notre Dame)?
It was our first NCAA tourney. John Thompson was building a strong program around guys like Sleepy Floyd. We played multiple defenses in those days and changed them up very well. They pressed us the entire game but we were able to limit our turnovers. We played the Irish on St. Patrick's Day in Providence, and Digger was wearing his green carnation. They had 5 NBA draft picks on that team (John Paxson, Kelly Tripucka, etc.). When we got back from the Notre Dame game we were greeted by 2,500 fans at an impromptu pep rally, which made the kids feel great.

JT: What are your memories of the 1982 NCAA Tournament (you had a seven-point win over Ohio State, then held Michael Jordan to six points in 37 minutes in a two-point loss to eventual champion North Carolina in Charlotte)?
We beat ODU twice during the year and the conference tourney was held on ODU's home court, where they beat us by four points. I was worried that we were heading to the NIT, but when our AD told me that we got sent to Charlotte with an at-large bid, I threw the phone against the ceiling! We were the first mid-major team to ever get an at-large bid in a 48-team field. A lot of other coaches were unhappy that the NCAA picked JMU over their own teams but we had several good wins and a good strength of schedule. Ohio State had Clark Kellogg and was very good, but we came from seven points down with seven minutes to go. Our kids were very gritty, and we had good balance with several guys who scored in double-figures. We woke up and realized we were playing NC the next day, and we did not have a lot of time to prepare for them. We did a good job on Jordan, but a couple of calls in the final 2 minutes did not go our way as they went to a four corners offense.

I cried in the bathroom with my SID after the game, as I did not want to cry in front of everyone at the press conference. Jordan and James Worthy were singing the praises of our kids at the press conference and giving us credit, and I told one of my kids that that is why they have such a classy program. I recruited Linton Townes the following summer and when I gave him a scholarship his father (a reverend) got down on his knees to give thanks to the Lord, so I jumped down off my chair, got on my knees, and prayed that Linton would grow a little taller and get some more muscle! We might have been the only school to ever make it to the second round of the tourney three straight times within five years of making the jump to D-I. When we got back from the UNC game there were 5,000 people in the gym. I got goosebumps and our kids were in tears.

JT: In 1985 you left JMU to become head coach at California. Why did you make the move and did you have any regrets?
I felt that I was ready for another challenge, as I was not sure how much farther I could go at JMU. I talked to Cal's AD while I was at that year's Final Four, and he mentioned that he was looking for a hard-nosed guy. The JMU job was a dream come true for a young coach, as it was going to be my baby and I could raise it the way I saw fit. I did not want to lose my enthusiasm and passion. I was determined not to leave JMU until we made the tourney as a D-I school. I loved JMU and I loved the people.

JT: In 1986 you beat UCLA by eight points, breaking Cal's 52-game losing streak to the Bruins. How were you able to beat them and where does that win rank among your best ever?
At the press conference when I took the Cal job, someone in the back asked me about the streak and someone else explained that we had lost to UCLA 52 straight times. I looked at the guy in the back and said, "We are going to beat their ass the first time we play them", and the entire room went nuts. On the flight home I was writing down my to-do list on a legal pad (buy a house, assemble a coaching staff, etc.), and about fourth or fifth on the list in capital letters I wrote "BEAT UCLA". We squeaked by USC on a Thursday, but due to my bold prediction ABC wanted to put a mike on me for my pre-game speech on Saturday. One of our alums had sent me a case of champagne earlier that week, and I told my staff that we were going to share a bottle after we beat the Bruins.

The electricity in our little band-box gym was incredible. Reggie Miller could make it from 28 feet out, but luckily the three-point line was not introduced until the following season. The crowd stormed the court after we won and it was incredible. Everyone came into our office for pizza and beer after the game, but I kicked everyone out so that I could break out the champagne and pour it over everyone's head. There were still 2,000 people in the gym 90 minutes after the game celebrating while the band was playing.

JT: In the 1990 tourney Keith Smith made two free throws with four seconds left to give the Bears a two-point win over Indiana and Bobby Knight for the school's first NCAA Tournament win in 30 years. Did you think that Smith was going to make both free throws and what was the reaction like back on campus?
Keith was money so I knew he was going to make them both...but I prayed to God as well. There were some people waiting for us when we got back to campus, but it was not like at JMU. When you beat a team like Indiana people expect you to be able to beat anyone.

JT: Jason Kidd enrolled at Cal in the fall of 1992. Was he the best HS basketball player you have ever seen and how were you able to convince him to come to Cal?
He was not the best but he was very good. We did not have to do any special recruiting, as his people convinced him to stay local.

JT: You spent several years as an advance scout for the Cavaliers and Nets. How did you like the scouting gig and what was the best team you scouted during that time?
Fratello offered me the scouting job, which is the toughest assistant job in the NBA, as you have to stay 1-2 games ahead of your team. Mike wanted my reports to be very detailed, so I would spend 4-5 hours after each game writing everything up, and had to do a lot of traveling.

JT: You spent six years as the Pac-10 Coordinator of Men's Basketball Officiating. Why did you get into officiating and how do you see technology affecting officiating in the future?
That came out of the blue, as they wanted to take a former coach to get a different perspective. I really enjoyed it, and told the refs that I was going to coach them, which caused some of their egos to get bristled. One of the young refs I taught just made it to his first NCAA tourney game, and he called me to say thanks, which gave me a lot of satisfaction. The frustrating thing is that you cannot do anything after the game. You cannot change the call or change the outcome of the game. Once I started to have grandkids, I decided to retire because there was so much travel up and down the West Coast.

Coach Campanelli is also on Jon's list of best coaches in CAA history.

Delaware: Steve Steinwedel (1985-1995) 163-121, two NCAA Tournament appearances, two conference titles, one-time conference Coach of the Year

Drexel: Bill Herrion (1991-1999) 167-71, three NCAA Tournament appearances, five conference titles, four-time conference Coach of the Year

George Mason: Jim Larranaga (1997-present) 229-142, four NCAA Tournament appearances, three conference titles, one-time conference Coach of the Year

Georgia State: Lefty Driesell (1997-2003) 103-59, one NCAA Tournament appearance, four conference titles, one-time conference Coach of the Year

Hofstra: Jay Wright (1994-2001) 122-85, two NCAA Tournament appearances, two conference titles, two-time conference Coach of the Year

James Madison: Lou Campanelli (1972-1985) 238-118, five NCAA Tournament appearances

UNC Wilmington: Jerry Wainwright (1994-2002) 136-103, two NCAA Tournament appearances, three conference titles, two-time conference Coach of the Year

Northeastern: Jim Calhoun (1972-1986) 248-137, five NCAA Tournament appearances, five conference titles, one-time conference Coach of the Year

Old Dominion: Blaine Taylor (2001-present) 188-103, three NCAA Tournament appearances, two conference titles, one-time conference Coach of the Year

Towson: Terry Truax (1983-1997) 202-203, two NCAA Tournament appearances, four conference titles, two-time conference Coach of the Year

VCU: JD Barnett (1979-1985) 132-48, five NCAA Tournament appearances, four conference titles, two-time conference Coach of the Year

William & Mary: Bruce Parkhill (1977-1983) 89-75, one conference title