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Niagara AD confident of finding capable successor after Mihalich leaves for Hofstra

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FILE - In this March 19, 2013 file photo, Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich gestures as he directs his players during the first half of a first round game against Maryland in the NIT college basketball tournament in College Park, Md. A person familiar with negotiations has confirmed Mihalich is leaving Niagara University to become Hofsta's men's basketball coach. The person says Mihalich will be introduced at a news conference Wednesday, April 10, 2013, and spoke on the condition of anonymity because neither school has announced the move. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)The Associated Press

Difficult as it might be to lose Joe Mihalich, Niagara athletic director Tom Crowley anticipates having an easy sell finding a capable successor to the longtime face of the Purple Eagles men's basketball program.

In fact, Crowley's phone was already ringing off the hook before Wednesday once Mihalich's long-rumored departure became official, and he was officially introduced as Hofstra's new coach.

"There's a ton of interest in this job," Crowley said. "I'm quite confident we're going to get ourselves a very good basketball coach."

Crowley has reason to be upbeat because of a young and talented team Mihalich left behind. The Purple Eagles (19-14) return mostly intact after winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season title last season.

"I think the fact that the job was open was going to create this same frenzy even if we were at the bottom of the league," he said. "We're at the top, so it just exponentially grows from there."

Hired by Niagara in October, Crowley will oversee the search. He has an extensive background in basketball as a player, coach and administrator. His two previous stops were at Butler and Temple, where he was involved with both basketball programs.

Having been informed by Mihalich of the possibility he may be leaving, Crowley already began his search process while attending the Final Four.

Mihalich's departure leaves big shoes to fill after spending the past 15 seasons successfully reviving the Purple Eagles' proud basketball tradition.

With a 265-203 record, he became the school's second-winningest coach and led Niagara to five postseason berths, including NCAA tournament appearances in 2005 and '07.

Last season, the Purple Eagles earned their third NIT berth under Mihalich despite having the conference's youngest starting lineup. It's a group that was led by sophomore guards Juan'ya Green and Antoine Mason, both conference first-team selections last season. And it also includes forward T.J. Cline, who was selected to the conference all-rookie team.

In having spoken to the Purple Eagles, Crowley said they've all assured him that they will be back next season.

"Why wouldn't they be committed to coming back?" Crowley asked.

Crowley's key to the search, he said, is finding someone capable of adapting to the strengths of the current team.

"We're just looking for the right person," he said. "I think really any coach is going to look at our talent and adjust themselves to fit that talent."

He then paid tribute to Mihalich for the legacy he left.

"This program's in wonderful shape, and Joe was a big factor for making Niagara basketball what it is today," Crowley said. "The tradition has been wonderful here for a long, long time. And Joe was a huge contributor to that."

Crowley said Mihalich emerged as a candidate immediately after the Purple Eagles' season ended with an 86-70 NIT loss at Maryland. Crowley said Mihalich kept him informed throughout the entire interview process, and turned down the school's offer to stay after speaking with Niagara president Rev. Joseph Levesque.

"For the Niagara community, he will always be a Purple Eagle," Levesque said in a released statement. "We wish him great success."

Crowley's only surprise was that Mihalich hadn't left Niagara much earlier.

"If you look at the MAAC, there's not many of those guys around for very long that have that kind of success," Crowley said. "I think it's surprising that Joe really was here as long as he was."

Hofstra went 7-25 last season.