RICHMOND — Dan McHale, introduced Thursday as the new men's basketball coach at Eastern Kentucky University, has big plans for the Colonels.
He succeeds Jeff Neubauer, who left to take the job at Fordham, and inherits a team that went 21-12 this season.
"We know that Eastern Kentucky's had success making the (NCAA) tournament," McHale said. "That is obviously first and foremost — we want to win the Ohio Valley Conference and give ourselves a position to get in the NCAA Tournament. But I think everyone wants to have the same type of runs that the VCUs and the George Masons have had, and the Wichita States.
"Why can't that be us? That's going to be our motto every day. Our guys are going to have that ingrained in our culture, that we're going to work hard every single day to make this thing happen. But then it just depends upon how badly do we want to establish something that's never been done here before."
McHale, a University of Kentucky graduate, has a pedigree that will resonate with most fans in the state.
He was a student manager under Tubby Smith in four seasons (1997-2001) at UK.
McHale served two stints as an assistant coach under Rick Pitino at Louisville, interrupted by a season at Manhattan College.
In 2007, he joined Kevin Willard's first staff at Iona College, and he followed Willard to Seton Hall in 2010.
The past two seasons, he worked at Minnesota under Richard Pitino.
Not surprisingly, one can expect EKU to play "Pitino ball" under McHale.
"I've been fortunate enough to work for Coach (Rick) Pitino, for Richard Pitino and for Kevin Willard over the last 14 years and it's going to be fun," McHale said. "I'm going to really get after it defensively and we're going to press. We're going to make this one of the toughest home-court advantages in the OVC. We're going to be the best-conditioned team in the league and we're going to have a lot of fun doing it."
Several EKU players attended Thursday's introduction. Ja'Mill Powell, for one, likes what he heard.
"Just excited. Up-tempo offense, aggressive on defense," Powell said. "He said we're going to shoot a lot of threes."
Steve Lochmueller, who was on the job as athletic director for two days before learning that Neubauer was interviewing with Fordham, said interest in the job left him "amazed and overwhelmed."
An initial list of 30-plus candidates was trimmed to six, who were interviewed over the Final Four weekend in Indianapolis. Lochmueller was joined in the process by Matt Roan, special assistant to EKU President Michael Benson.
"We had an absolutely outstanding pool of candidates," Lochmueller said. "What made (McHale) stand out from everybody else is when he came into the interviewing process, he had a plan. He told us about that plan. ... He told us what he wanted to do. He told us how he was going to brand the athletics. So his interviewing process, along with the fact that this young man has grown up under a coaching tree that expects excellence, expects effort every day and expects all the people to be on one team playing for one sole reason, and always moving the bar higher."
McHale said terms of his deal are in discussion "but hopefully I'm going to be here for a very, very long time."
As for the incoming class of recruits, "I've reached out to those guys and told them I can't wait to get started with them, and it's going to be a great family atmosphere, and they've all seemed very, very on board and they're excited."
With two scholarships to offer, he will hit the recruiting trail Friday and Saturday, then meet with the team Sunday. Workouts begin Monday.
"We're not going to rebuild," he said. "We're going to reload, and we have a couple options on the table right now that hopefully come to fruition over the next couple of days.
"We'll recruit the type of student-athletes that are going to be up-tempo guys that play above the rim, that are really going to get after it. I put a huge emphasis on deflections and steals, three-point shooting and just having a great offensive mindset and being in attack mode at all times."
McHale aims to name his staff as soon as possible.
"I've trimmed the candidate pool down to about seven or eight guys," he said. "I hope to have a staff in place, the majority of it, by next week. It's very important with the recruiting over the next couple of weeks in April that we have guys ready to go."