FAIRMONT — Tim Koenig had grappled with the tug-and-pull of leaving one job and starting another. He had officially accepted his new position in a call with Fairmont State University Athletic Director Chad Fowler. He had even scrambled to purchase a bundle of Maroon-colored attire, including the tie he donned on Monday.
But it wasn’t until Koenig strolled through the hallway of Joe Retton Arena that he truly grasped the magnitude of everything that lies before him as the new Fairmont State men’s basketball coach.
“When I walked down the stairs and stopped before I came into the gym, I saw the pictures,” said Koenig in regards to the stream of photos on the wall that captures the history of the Falcons’ program. “Coach (Joe) Retton, he’s not just a staple and benchmark for Fairmont State, he’s a benchmark for all coaches across the entire country at all levels for preparing men to be self-reliant and productive citizens. Then you work your way through more history and then you see Coach (Jerrod) Calhoun and Coach (Joe) Mazzulla taking the program back to the elite level it was.
“So you think you know what’s going on, you think you have an idea of the tradition, and then you see the pictures. It’s just so special. You think you know, but this last week and a half, oh my, it’s unbelieveable how many people care.”
Before dozens of local community members, Fairmont State administrative members, and, of course, Fairmont State’s players, Koenig was officially introduced as the 13th coach of the FSU men’s program inside Joe Retton Arena on Monday.
“This is a great place. It’s such a special place with this type of tradition,” said Koenig, who was first announced as the Falcons’ new head coach on June 28. “It was a no brainer for my wife and I to make that decision for our family.”
Koenig, who comes to Fairmont State from fellow Mountain East Conference school Notre Dame College, where he was head coach for the past six seasons with a 93-88 (.514) overall record and 61-71 conference mark, praised the Fairmont community and FSU administration for welcoming him and his family, which includes his wife, Nicole, and his two children, Kyle, 5, and Gabriella, 1. Whether his family was out and about looking for a house or sitting down for a meal, Koenig said the community has welcomed them with open arms at every turn.
“Even though we don’t have an address yet, it really feels like we’re already home,” he said.
Koenig — known as TK or Coach TK since Jerome Pierce, a former NAIA Division II All-American at Notre Dame, bestowed the nickname upon him when he was 21 years old, he said — will replace former FSU coach Joe Mazzulla, who accepted a position as an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics on June 23. Mazzulla was the head coach of the Falcons for the past two seasons after previously joining the Fairmont State program in 2013-14 as an assistant under head coach Jerrod Calhoun for three seasons.
During his two seasons as head coach, Mazzulla compiled a 43-17 overall record, including a 35-9 record in conference play. He also led the Falcons to the program’s fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in seven seasons last year.
“I think we can all say we’re a little better off that the Mazzullas were part of our family. We’re incredibly proud of Joe and his accomplishments,” said Fowler, who offered his thanks and congratulations to the entire Mazzulla family before announcing Koenig as the program’s next coach.
“We’ve had a lot of good coaches and we’ve had a couple of banners hung (recently). We knew we had to find the right guy,” Fowler said. “I can tell you right now with confidence we found the right guy in coach Tim Koenig. He’s a proven recruiter, a proven winner and he brings fundamental traits that already exist with this current team. He has a strong analytical approach to basketball and to leadership. And he knows how to make men into better men by the time they graduate.”
Koenig, who said his staff of assistants at FSU will be finalized in the next day or two, directed Notre Dame College to a 23-9 overall record and 16-6 MEC mark last season en route to a championship run in the MEC Tournament in which NDC pulled off upsets of Fairmont State in the semifinals and West Liberty in the championship. The MEC Tournament title earned NDC an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament. The record-setting campaign earned Koenig MEC Coach of the Year honors.
“I’ve lived in Cleveland my entire life,” said Koenig, who admitted it was difficult to leave Notre Dame, where he began coaching in the 2006-07 season as a graduate assistant and coached with the program every year since in some capacity with the exception of a one-year hiatus in the 2008-09 season. “But look at this place, the amount of people who care, the tradition as you walk down those halls. It’s just such a special place and I knew that if this opportunity ever came I would jump on it.”
Koenig said he had connections with Mazzulla and especially Calhoun, currently the head coach at Youngstown State, during their FSU tenures, and said he envisions upholding their standards of putting the players first in every capacity, from their playing careers to their academic careers to their citizenship.
“I know it was tough for (the players),” Koenig said. “I understand what they’re going through because I was going through that on that drive here where there’s such a great relationship with the players and their families. But the players and staff really came together, in particular the upperclassmen (Kenzie Melko, Cole VonHandorf and Steven Solomon). I’m really proud of the group off the court, especially those three, in their leadership and just the overall character and make up of the team. They rose to the top off the court.
“That’s something we keep re-iterating with the team: People are the key to this. You can’t do it alone. It takes a group effort. It takes a village.”