OPINION: Cut the rubbish, Andy Toole is not on the hot seat

Andy+Toole+looks+on+during+his+teams+game+against+Kentucky.+Photo+credit%3A+Tyler+Gallo

Andy Toole looks on during his team’s game against Kentucky. Photo credit: Tyler Gallo

By Ethan Morrison, Assistant Sports Editor

Let me set the record straight. Andy Toole is not on the hot seat. Wasn’t on it after a last-place Horizon League finish last year, and is not on it after losing his third player in the middle of the season this year.

Look, I thought this Robert Morris team was going to be one of the best teams that have ever hit the floor in Moon Township due to the number of transfers that Toole brought in over the offseason bringing in a mix of size and guards that could make an impact at the mid-major level.

Two of those guards were Ferron Flavors and Rasheem Dunn, who both had experience playing in power six conferences. Flavors played at Oklahoma State and Dunn with St. John’s.

This season has been anything but pretty with the Colonials currently holding a 2-11 overall record and a 0-4 record in Horizon League play.

With Dunn being the third player to leave in the middle of the season, many people are saying that Toole is on the hot seat.

Some that said it has followed the program for a while and are frustrated with the team’s performance and others are fans of the Horizon League, but saying one of the most decorated and most consistent coaches in program history is on the hot seat after just two rough seasons in a league that is a major step up in competition is just an absurd statement.

Before we dive in and before people say that this kid has only been at Robert Morris for two years, let me take you back to when I started watching this team.

I’ve been watching this team even before I came to school here. The first season I started watching Robert Morris was in 2012 which was the season where RMU beat Kentucky in the first round of the NIT at home. They made two more consecutive postseason runs after that reaching the NIT in 2014 and the NCAA Tournament in 2015. Then between 2016 and 2019, they were a mediocre team. So it would be fair to say that I’ve seen this team at its highs and its lows.

Toole has been one of the most consistent head coaches in team history, he was even named to the ESPN 40 under 40 head coaching list in 2020 and has been regarded as one of the best young head coaches in the country over his 11-year tenure.

The Northeast Conference was where Robert Morris called home for almost 40 years before making the move to the Horizon League, Toole led his teams to winning records in seven of his 10 seasons as head coach in the conference. He reached the conference tournament every year that he coached in the NEC.

Toole reached the NEC Championship games four different times winning two of them which gave the team an automatic bid to the tournament. The team also reached the College Insider Tournament two times as well as the National Invitation Tournament twice.

I am not one to look into the past and look at someone’s past success with a program. For Toole, you can see that he has a track record of putting a starting five out there that will compete and win him games.

Sure, the move to the Horizon League was questioned by many alumni saying that they could have easily repeated as NEC Champions in the 2020-21 season and that the Horizon League was too big for a school like Robert Morris.

Both of those statements were true. Robert Morris had all the makings of competing once again in the NEC postseason just like they have year in and year out, and the Horizon League was a major step up.

Robert Morris came into the Horizon League with the second smallest enrollment in the conference and the smallest arena in the league. Also compared to the NEC, in 2020, the Horizon League was ranked 22nd in the NET conference rankings compared to the NEC’s 27th ranking.

So sure, the odds were stacked against them not having the pull like some of the larger schools in the league, but for Robert Morris, this wasn’t a short-term home for them, they knew that they would have to grow to the level that they would need to get to compete.

When we look at Robert Morris’ first season, they were projected to finish fourth in the conference. With most of the same roster that won the NEC championship, they struggled and dealt with off-the-court issues both with COVID and with the team itself.

In the second season, Toole built a roster that was made almost entirely out of transfers. This was the first time in his coaching career that he has built a squad entirely out of transfers. The transfer portal is one interesting place because you never know what kind of player you are going to get out of there.

In an interview with Colonial Sports Network in April, Toole discussed the portal.

“You try to vet the guys as best you can in recruiting but you don’t know until they’re in {the program} you don’t know how they’re going to work day-to-day, and you try to gain those perspectives from previous coaches or your own experiences but you don’t know… everybody is on their job interview and their best behavior during the recruiting process and when they get here and when it gets hard and harder then it’s ever gotten, you’re going to rely on your instincts or whatever your behavior is and that might be removing yourself from the situation.”

When you look at the guys that left, you look at a guy like Ferron Flavors who found bundles and bundles of success at Fairfield, Cal Baptist, and even some at Oklahoma State. When he got to Robert Morris, he didn’t start one game and left the program after just four games.

Rasheem Dunn, a starter, played a significant role in the team’s production over the first month of the season, but when the going got tough, the body language showed and then we saw the most recent mid-season exit.

Those real behaviors were showing as Toole said.

There needs to be a culture built among the team. There hasn’t been one around the team this year and that needs to change.

With the roster now being built up with guys that have been around the program for a while like Justin Winston and Brandon Stone who spent the winter months with the team last year, and guys like Enoch Cheeks, Kam Farris, and Kahliel Spear have been around for two years we might finally see some sort of culture building.

Now many might say that you need to get rid of the coach to change the culture. In some cases, you would be right, but for a guy that has been coaching at the same school for the past 14 years, expecting extension after extension, and one of the top young coaches in college basketball, you just need to give him time to “re-Toole”.