Pitt assistant Tim O’Toole can put losing streak in a proper perspective
Trying desperately to push forward in the midst of a difficult season, Tim O’Toole isn’t afraid to reveal his feelings about Pitt’s 10-game losing streak.
“Part of this profession,” Pitt’s associate head coach said, “is you absolutely abhor, detest, hate, with every cell in your body, and I mean every one, losing. Hate it.
“You hate going to get coffee in the morning, hate eating breakfast. Nothing is good.”
Yet, he can put this season — his first at Pitt — in its proper place because he knows something much worse. If not for some advice from his father, Tim O’Toole might have been on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
His story began 12 years earlier when he was a graduate assistant at Fordham, making $200 a month, plus room and board, while working toward an MBA in finance.
One day, he was invited to the Hamptons, where the president of Cantor Fitzgerald, a worldwide financial services firm, offered him a job as an institutional broker.
When O’Toole told him what he was making at Fordham, the man said, “Listen, after two years (at Cantor Fitzgerald), you’ll be making $300,000.”
“I couldn’t even fathom what that meant,” O’Toole said after practice Friday at Petersen Events Center.
But O’Toole remembered what his father, Tom, an All-American at Boston College, coach and stockbroker, once told him:
“If you can make your vocation, your vacation, where you enjoy every day what you’re doing, you’re going to be a heckuva lot further ahead than most people. And, hopefully, the money one day will be there.”
In his heart, O’Toole wanted to coach. So, boosted by his father’s advice, he called the Cantor president and said “I’m not interested.”
At this point in the story, O’Toole paused and sadly said, “All those people died in 9/11.”
At the time, Cantor Fitzgerald occupied offices between the 101st and 105th floors of the World Trade Center. Reports have indicated that 658 employees died, 68 percent of the work force.
“First thing I thought about was I had a number of friends who were there in Cantor,” O’Toole said. “I went to a number of funerals.
“One of the guys who played at Fairfield (where O’Toole played and was head coach from 1998-2006), who I hosted on his (recruiting) visit, was at Cantor. Another friend, as fate would have it, he left Cantor, his first day back was that (day). That’s the first thing I thought about.”
Then this thought struck him: “You have these moments in life where you know you’re lucky. You have guardian angels.”
After turning down the Cantor job, O’Toole had several jobs in college basketball, moving from Fordham to Iona to Syracuse to Duke (when Pitt coach Jeff Capel was a player there) before landing at Fairfield.
“Probably,” he said. “There were a lot of moments where you question, ‘Why am I doing this?’
“Part of being a competitor is once you start, you don’t quit. There were plenty of times, (you say), ‘You know what? Maybe I should be doing something else.’ “
But he was and is a coach.
“There is always this passion, and I can usually help (players) get better,” he said. “That’s what I thought my strength was. You always say, ‘I wish I made more (money), but the reality was if I was there, I was dead. I would have died in 2001.
“I’ll never forget that. Here’s your father’s advice, the guy I looked up to the most.”
Later, O’Toole heard the stories.
“The planes came in at (the 80th floor),” he said. “The heat is unbearable. Either you’re jumping or you’re waiting. What are you waiting for? One of the guys jumped.”
Five months later, his son Collin was born. O’Toole and his wife, Joanie, intentionally spelled the name with two ls.
“I never want him to forget there were two Trade Towers that used to be here and are not here anymore,” he said, admitting he thinks about that day “a lot.”
Collin, soon to turn 17, is a junior at Central Catholic.
“Life is short,” the elder O’Toole said. “You have to appreciate what you’re doing. And you better give it your all because it can change like that.
“You feel down (over basketball)? No. Those kids are raised without a dad.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .