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IUP women's basketball team maintains success after unexplained coaching change

| Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, 10:03 p.m.
Coach Tom McConnell and the IUP women's basketball team will visit defending national champion UConn in an exhibition game Nov. 1.
Coach Tom McConnell and the IUP women's basketball team will visit defending national champion UConn in an exhibition game Nov. 1.

With a familiar cast of players, the IUP women's basketball team appears headed for its third straight 20-win season. But all is not the same.

In April, the university declined to renew Jeff Dow's contract even though IUP was 108-40 during his five years as coach. His two assistants also were let go. No reason for the departures was stated publicly.

Two months later, IUP replaced Dow with Old Dominion assistant Tom McConnell, who brought local ties, a solid reputation and an extensive resume that includes coaching at various levels and experience working for a youth ministry.

Dow, whose teams won 23 games each of the past two seasons, is out of coaching. He said he has applied for several basketball jobs but nothing materialized.

He remains in Indiana, a stay-at-home dad helping care for his 21-month-old daughter, Chloe. His wife, Emily, teaches in the IUP Health and Physical Education department.

Dow, 47, said he enjoys spending time with Chloe, but professionally, “It has not been a great nine months.”

Dow said he learned his tenure was over in a letter from IUP vice president for student relations Rhonda Luckey. Dow said a follow-up letter from Luckey explained the decision was based “on the university's vision for the women's basketball program and the need for new coaching leadership to develop and implement that vision.”

IUP officials have not discussed why Dow was let go, calling it a personnel matter. Through university spokesperson Michelle Fryling, Luckey declined requests to explain the university's “vision,” why it was not developed or implemented by Dow and what has changed.

Missing only 1,000-point scorer Sarah Pastorek from last season's key players, the Crimson Hawks started 11-1 before losing twice last week. Except for a transfer who is sitting out, Dow recruited the entire roster. Anticipating the question, McConnell explained his own “vision” for the program.

“We want to transform young people's lives through basketball,” he said. “And so, we're very intentional about building character, about being virtuous and bringing that into sports.”

A Brookline native and star player at South Hills Catholic (now Seton-La Salle), McConnell, 54, has been a coach and assistant at men's and women's programs in high school and college. He also took a few years off from organized coaching to work for the youth ministry in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese. Several of his siblings are basketball coaches or officials, including Suzie McConnell-Serio, coach of the Pitt women. His wife and one of his children are IUP graduates.

McConnell said he imparts messages about unity, courage, facing fears and challenges, being humble and handling success.

“We want players to leave here not only having competed for conference and national championships, not only getting a meaningful degree, not only serving the community, but we want them prepared to be leaders, to use their gifts and impact wherever they are,” he said.

Junior forward Ashley Stoner said of McConnell, “We feel like we've created and built a very strong relationship with him and our assistant coaches.”

Because of an “upper-echelon university decision,” IUP sports information director Ryan Rebholz said, players are not permitted to discuss Dow's departure.

Dow was let go the same day the university and some media outlets, including the Tribune-Review, received an anonymous letter signed by the “IUP Women's Basketball Team” alleging he verbally and physically abused some of his players during the 2012-13 season. It was alleged Dow intentionally hit a player in the head with a basketball, causing a concussion, and slapped another player.

Dow, who has retained an attorney, has suggested the letter came from angry parents who were unhappy he reduced the scholarships of three players after they committed a “major” violation of team rules.

The letter included several references to Mike Rice, the former Rutgers men's coach who was fired in early April, about two weeks before Dow's contract was not renewed, after videos showed Rice engaging in verbal and physical abuse.

Dow acknowledged that, like any coach, he was demanding of his players. But he adamantly denies any form of abuse. Some players have publicly refuted allegations of physical abuse.

Dow said he knew some players complained to university officials about his methods, but he was not confronted with charges of abuse.

He said he was led to believe IUP officials, after speaking to the players, were convinced there was no wrongdoing.

“It was never explained what issues they had with me,” he said.

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter@BCohn_Trib.

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