Coach Faucher leaves legacy of integrity and class

Well, the fateful day has arrived. Dave Faucher has resigned as the head coach of the Big Green men’s basketball team, effective at the end of the current season.

In covering sports for a college newspaper, one often runs the risk of becoming too close to the coaches and athletes to remain a fair and objective journalist. For the past three years, I have run that risk with Coach Faucher and his team. While I am sorry if that decision has affected my coverage of Dartmouth basketball in these pages, I am not sorry that I made that decision, as it has enriched my time in Hanover immensely.

Over the course of my four years as a student at this College, two terms as the sports editor of this newspaper and two years as the general manager of the Dartmouth College Marching Band, I would be loathe to name anyone in the athletic department who has been friendlier or more helpful to me than Faucher. In my dealings with the coach, I have always found him to exhibit the conduct and character of a gentleman.

Those attributes have carried over to his team as well. In a league where an injured player was allowed by his coach to sit in the stands and taunt opposing athletes during games, and where another coach shouted a bigoted slur at a band member from an opposing school, Faucher and his players have carried themselves with class as ambassadors for both Dartmouth and the Ivy League.

Of course, being nice and classy doesn’t win basketball games, and despite a respectable level of success during the majority of Faucher’s tenure — he will leave Dartmouth as the third-winningest coach in College history — wins have been hard to come by in recent years. Since 2000, Dartmouth has won a total of 10 Ivy League games and has never finished higher than fifth in the Ivy standings.

How did this happen? Some of the root causes go back to the 1998-99 season. Dartmouth went 10-4 in the Ancient Eight, led by a starting lineup that included two-time All-Ivy First Team member Shaun Gee ’00, NCAA rebounding champion Ian McGinnis ’01, national three-point shooting champion Greg Buth ’01, future Dartmouth assist record-holder Flinder Boyd ’02 and future 1,000-point scorer Charles Harris ’02.

With all of the team’s starters and key reserves coming back for at least one more year, Dartmouth didn’t have much playing time to offer when recruiting the talented Class of 2003.

Those circumstances would come back to haunt Dartmouth long after the disappointing 1999-2000 season, as players like Penn’s Ugonna Onyekwe and Koko Archibong, Brown’s Earl Hunt and Alai Nuualiitia, Yale’s Chris Leanza and Ime Archibong and Princeton’s Ray Robins would go on to torture Leede Arena crowds during their careers. In the first season since those players graduated, the injury bug has bitten Dartmouth hard, and the team has struggled to a 3-19 record.

However, while the inability to recruit the class of 2003 has been a big part of Dartmouth’s recent struggles, the real story here is that Faucher is a casualty of the decline of the Princeton offense as an effective weapon in the Ivy League.

Make no mistake: The brainchild of legendary Princeton coach Pete Carril has certainly risen in prominence recently, as NBA teams and major college programs have begun to employ some of Princeton’s offensive sets with positive results. However, in recent years, the teams that have challenged Penn and Princeton for Ivy supremacy have done so by playing an up-tempo game that emphasizes athleticism and aggression rather than Princeton’s complicated network of bounce passes and backdoor cuts.

James Jones coached Yale to a share of the Ivy title and a NIT bid in 2002 an up-tempo style, and Glen Miller’s athletically-oriented Brown team went to the NIT last season after beating every Ivy other than undefeated Penn. The Quakers, of course, have won four of the last five Ivy titles, dominating the Tigers during that period.

The trend even extends to perennial Ivy bottom-feeder Columbia. Last season, Princeton alum Armond Hill coached the Lions using the Princeton offense, and the result was a 2-25 season and a winless Ivy record. This year, new coach Joe Jones has employed an up-tempo athletic style, and the Lions have tripled last season’s win total despite losing the two best players from the 2002-03 team. Meanwhile, Dartmouth, still running Faucher’s methodical Princeton-based offense, is 3-19.

Does this failure to modernize the offense mean that Faucher is a bad person or a bad coach? The answer is an emphatic “no” on both counts. It only makes him human.

How many college basketball coaches can you name who truly changed with the times? Hell, Dean Smith of the University of North Carolina, arguably the greatest coach in NCAA history, never truly changed his style, even when the rest of the basketball world changed around him. Even now, Smith is leading a campaign to make freshmen ineligible for varsity intercollegiate play, a measure that would make the NCAA resemble more the institution he started coaching in.

So Faucher couldn’t change with the times. Who really can?

Dave Faucher has devoted over 30 years of his life to the game of basketball, and not only at the college level. While at Dartmouth, he has run the Dave Faucher Basketball Camp every summer and has also written a book, “The Baffled Parent’s Guide to Coaching Youth Basketball.” He deserves to leave this College with his head held high after a job well done.

On March 5 and 6, an era will end, as Dave Faucher coaches his last games in Leede Arena when Dartmouth hosts Penn and Princeton. I heartily encourage you to come out and thank one of basketball’s true class acts for his work here. I’ll certainly be there — I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

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