Jon Teitel's Coaching Greats Series: Former BU Head Coach Dennis Wolff

January 5th, 2011
In the most recent installment in his "Coaching Greats" interview series, CHN writer spent some time with former Boston University head coach Dennis Wolff. Coach Wolff, who is now the Director of Operations at Virginia Tech, was let go by the school after fifteen seasons and the most wins in school history. Under Coach Wolff the Terriers won five conference titles and made two NCAA Tournament appearances.

Jon Teitel: You played two years at LSU and then two at Connecticut. Why did you decide to go to LSU and why did you decide to transfer to Connecticut?

Dennis Wolff: I went to high school in Queens and was recruited by Connecticut (before they joined the Big East) and some other schools, but I had a summer league coach who had a connection to LSU. I went down to LSU and fell in love with it: great weather, great arena, etc. I played a lot as a freshman, but less as a sophomore. I was a little homesick, so when a spot opened up for me at Connecticut I decided to transfer.

1992 NIT (as an assistant at Virginia)

JT: Bryant Stith scored 29 points in a three-point win over Villanova and followed that up with 24 in a five-point win over New Mexico. Was your team angry after not being selected for the NCAA Tournament, and did Stith just put the entire team on his back that postseason?

DW: I was on Jeff Jones' first staff at VA. We went to the NCAA Tournament the previous year but were rebuilding around Bryant with freshmen in 1992. We did not feel cheated by the NCAA omission. We were just anxious to play. It was Rollie Massimino's last game at Villanova, so there was a lot of energy in the building for that game.

JT: Tourney MVP Stith scored 24 points in a five-point overtime win over Notre Dame to win the title. Did you think you were going to win that game, and what was the reaction like when you got back to campus?

DW: Bryant scored the final 15 or 17 points in a game at Notre Dame earlier that year. It was great to be at MSG with my friends and family. The win gave us a good springboard to the following season.

1993 NCAA Tournament

JT: Cory Alexander scored 27 points in a win over Manhattan and then 17 in a win over UMass. Was Alexander just "pulling a Stith", and what did your team learn from the NIT run that helped you in the NCAA Tournament?

DW: We just had more experience than the previous year, which helped a lot. We had very good chemistry that year where everyone knew their role.

JT: Nick Van Exel scored 19 points and had 11 assists in a Cincinnati win in the Sweet 16. Could you tell at the time that Van Exel was going to beceome a star?

DW: Everyone knew that he would be great. We just ran out of gas towards the end; it was a very hard-fought game. My time at Virginia was some of my best years in coaching.

JT: In 1994 you became coach at BU. Why did you take the job and what is the biggest difference between being a head coach and an assistant coach?

DW: I took the job because I was 39 years old and wanted to move ahead in my career. I knew it was a good academic school, and Rick Pitino and Mike Jarvis had shown that you could be successful there. The biggest difference is that a head coach makes decisions, and as an assistant coach you just make suggestions.

JT: What are your memories of the 1997 NCAA Tournament (Michael Ruffin scored 14 points and had 13 rebounds in a Tulsa victory)?

DW: I was disappointed, because we had a very good team that just came out flat that night. Tunji Awojobi was fabulous to coach, but it was the only time I remember him not having his "A" game.

JT: What are your memories of the 2002 NCAA Tournament (Steve Logan scored 27 points and had eight assists in a Cincinnati victory)?

DW: We had a very young team for that type of atmosphere.

JT: Your team shot 24% from the field in a 30-point loss to Georgetown in the 2005 NIT (Jeff Green scored 17 points). How painful was that loss, and was your team just ice-cold that night?

DW: That was the year we had a couple of painful losses. I think we got decent shots against the Hoyas, but just did not make them.

JT: In 2009 you were fired after 15 years as coach at BU despite having four years left on your contract, being the winningest coach in school history and having a 100% graduation rate. Why on earth did they fire you, and how important are academics to you?

DW: Academics are very important to me, so I took a lot of pride in that. To be honest, even two years later I have still not gotten a definitive answer on that question. They changed presidents a couple of times, and hired a younger AD, so I think there was a perception that they wanted to go in another direction. At that level things are cyclical. It is not like the ACC or Big East where you can just reload immediately. We had a few down years leading up to 2009, but were not that far down in league play. After losing a four-point overtime game to UMBC in the conference tourney I could tell that there was a shift coming. I watched a lot of practices/games last year to try and improve as a coach.

JT: Last summer you were hired as men's basketball director of operations at Virginia Tech. How do you like the new job, and what do you hope to do in the future?

DW: I like the new job a lot, as Seth Greenberg is a very good coach. I think I am still energetic enough that I would like to coach my own team again someday.

JT: Your daughter Nicole won two national titles playing basketball at Connecticut, your son Matthew played for you at BU and your son Michael plays hockey at Brown. Is it a coincidence that you have such an athletic family, and do your kids credit at least some of their success to genetics?

DW: My daughter had a good college career despite some injuries and my sons have also done well. I am just proud that they were all good students and good teammates. The genetic part is from my wife's side of the family. If you ever saw me play, you would know that I was not athletic at all!

Coach Wolff is also on Jon's list of best coaches in America East history.

Albany: Richard "Doc" Sauers (1955-1997) 702-330, 11 NCAA tourneys, 2 conference titles, 1-time national COY


Boston University: Dennis Wolff (1994-2009) 247-197, 2 NCAA tourneys, 5 conference titles, 3-time conference COY

Hartford: Paul Brazeau (1992-2000) 100-122

Maine: John Giannini (1996-2004) 125-111

UMBC: Randy Monroe (2004-present) 72-82, 1 NCAA tourney, 1 conference title, 1-time conference COY

New Hampshire: Gerry Friel (1969-1989) 188-335, 1 conference title, 1-time conference COY (DECEASED)

Stony Brook: Steve Pikiell (2005-present) 58-91, 1 conference title, 1-time conference COY

Vermont: Tom Brennan (1986-2005) 264-276, 3 NCAA tourneys, 2 conference titles, 3-time conference COY