Jeff Pearlman

  • Twitter Icon
  • Twitter Icon
  • Twitter Icon

Martin Ingelsby

#301
For the Delaware men's basketball coach, watching March Madness from home is like Christmas without presents. But even if he can't fully explain the Blue Hen ("A bird that has a light blue tail or something?") the longtime Notre Dame assistant has big plans for a rising program. POSTED March 21, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 10.23.25 PM

As a journalist I’m not supposed to admit this, but the Quaz has leanings.

I mean, just look at the all-time categorizations. I love people from Mahopac, I love writers, I love sex workers, I love Wonder Years cast members and I love love love love folks with ties to my alma mater, the University of Delaware.

It’s a strange thing, perhaps, because several years ago the school’s athletic department ripped my heart out by eliminating the men’s running program, and I swore I’d never forgive. But, ultimately, I’m a Blue Hen, and history is history, and love is love and forgiveness is forgiveness and …

I digress.

With March Madness upon us, I thought it’d be cool to extend a Quaz invite to Martin Ingelsby, first-year men’s basketball head coach and a guy who, from all accounts, did a marvelous job in taking over a pretty thin roster and leading the Hens to a 13-20 mark. Martin came to UD from Notre Dame, where he played point guard before serving as an assistant to (former Delaware coach) Mike Brey for 13 seasons.

Here, he discusses what it’s like to watch the NCAA Tournament from a sofa, how a coach goes about connecting with a new roster, why Michael Porter, Jr. won’t be receiving a letter on Delaware stationary and um … what the hell is a Blue Hen?

One can follow Martin on Twitter here, and learn more about the basketball program here.

Martin Ingelsby, you didn’t wind up in the Elite Eight. But you’re the elite 301st …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So … what’s it like watching March Madness when you want to be in it?

MARTIN INGELSBY: Honestly, I hate it. I feel like I don’t have any friends. To not be a part of it, I felt like I was a bad kid for the year and I didn’t get any presents on Christmas. It’s very weird. But that’s always the goal—it’s the end goal to teams. At Notre Dame we would always talk about, ‘All you need is access to be a part of it.’ There’s nothing better than being there with your team, celebrating your season, seeing where you’re selected, seeing your team on the board. There’s so much excitement to be a part of that. And it hurts to miss that. We weren’t really sweating out selection Sunday like some teams. But I wish we had been.

J.P.: This will sound weird, because people are generally like, ‘March Madness! I love the final!’ But my favorite moment is always that early spark for the underdog, when hope is alive and it’s ‘Vermont 12, Duke 9’ or ‘Delaware 6, Arizona 2,’ with a minute gone in the game. Do you get that?

M.I.: A little bit. I think the best part of March Madness is the first weekend, when you have the upsets, you have teams … the 5-12 matchups, the 4-13 matchups. It’s so much hope. And when it whittles down you really do get the best of the best teams in college basketball. But what makes March Madness special is anybody can beat anybody. In a 40-minute game you’ve seen some of the greatest upsets in sport history coming out of the NCAA Tournament. Teams have hope. If you play well for 40 minutes, anything can happen.

J.P.: Do you think we’ll see a 16 beat a 1 in the next decade?

M.I.: I don’t. I don’t. I think the ones are so good. Now I think the 16s can play them tough for 30-to-32 minutes, but I’m not sure a win will happen.

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 10.23.47 PM

J.P.: For you personally, what’s your greatest March Madness moment?

M.I.: Hmm … let’s see. I’d say personally for me, being a part of it my senior year at Notre Dame. We hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in 10 years, and kind of putting our program back on the map. It was Mike Brey’s first year at Notre Dame, and just to be able to be there, to experience it. I remember watching the selection show in coach’s basement. To see our name pop up. We were the sixth seed, Xavier was the 11th seed with Skip Prosser was there, God rest his soul. And just to be able to be a part of it. So many memories over the year.

I’m from Philly, and in 1985 I remember watching Villanova knock off Georgetown and play a near-perfect game. Shoot over 80 percent from the field to knock off one of the best Georgetown teams ever. I remember being in my living room. My dad is a Villanova grad and I was a huge Villanova fan growing up. I was 7 at the time, and that’s the one I remember at a young age.

J.P.: If Georgetown-Villanova played 100 times, Georgetown wins 90 …

M.I.: No doubt about it.

J.P.: I’ve never asked a coach this—what is the transition like taking off a program? What I mean is, you’re named the coach of Delaware. Do you call [former coach] Monte Ross? Does that type of stuff happen?

M.I.: I did not. We did not communicate when I got the job. I’ve known Monte and his assistants for a while. I followed this program, obviously being from the area. I took an unofficial visit here when I was being recruited out of high school. But, you know, it was such a whirlwind for me to get the job. I interviewed in Philly, came down here and it was like, ‘Wow, it’s real. What do I do?” Because there’s not a manual listing the next steps. I did get the job, I went to Friday’s across from the Carpenter Center, I turned on my phone and I had 344 text messages to get through. So I got the tallest Coor’s Light beer I could get, tried to get through the texts and next thing you know there are another 325 texts becaue people are texting me back and forth. It’s a whirlwind, I’m thinking about moving my family, who do I need to call, who do I thank, talk to my parents, talk to Coach Brey. And it’s like, ‘OK, here we go.’ So that’s how it happened.

As a guard at Notre Dame.

As a guard at Notre Dame.

J.P.: Is the initial emotion excitement? Is it fear? Is there, ‘What did I get myself into’?

M.I.: Yes. Absolutely. All of the above. There were a lot of emotions. I remember when [Christine Rawak, Delaware’s athletic director] offered me the job I got choked up a little, because it was, ‘Wow, this is real.’ I had a chance to interview for some jobs over the last couple of years and unfortunately I didn’t get those. But this is the one I always wanted. I thought it was unbelievable potential; it’s a sleeping giant of an opportunity. So I was so excited to be able to et it. Leading into the interview I didn’t think I’d get the job. So I prepared myself not to get it. You know, maybe it’s just not my time.  So to be able to go through the interview, meet with the president, meet with the AD and to get the job on the spot—it was a whirlwind. Because then you’re packing up at a hotel, you’re heading down to campus, I have to talk to the team. What the heck am I gonna say to the team now? I’m going down there, we’re checking into the hotel, the press conference tomorrow, my phone’s blowing up. Then I have to speak to the team at 5 o’clock and I’m thinking, ‘I have to make a good impression on these guys so they’re excited they have a new coach.’

J.P.: So what was your message?

M.I.: So I went in, and I went around the room and I introduced myself and shook everybody’s hand and told them how excited I was to be their head coach, and that we have to get to work. And I promised them three things. I said: 1. We’re going to have a lot of fun; 2. Things are going to be different. And I said, ‘The third thing I promise you is things are going to be harder. And they have to be harder for us to improve as a basketball team.’ And it was short, and it was sweet, and it was, ‘OK, let’s get to know these guys.’ And I gave them my cell number. It was all about developing a relationship with your guys. I learned that from Coach Brey—it’s the most important thing when building a program. You have to have a relationship with your players.

J.P.: Here’s another weird one that I’ve never asked a coach. You’re Delaware. Do you send a letter to Michael Porter, Jr.?

M.I.: Haha.

J.P.: Do you send the letter, just for the hell of it? Or is that stupid?

M.I.: I wouldn’t waste … whatever a stamp costs these days, I don’t think I’d waste the 40-some cents to do that. You know, in recruiting it’s all about relationships and contacts and it was important for me to put a staff together to help us get really good players. Because at the end of the day I can be the best Xs and Os coach in the country, and it comes down to having really good players. I would love to recruit Michael Porter, but he’s not going to give us the time of day. I’d love to get our level Michael Porter … I mean, look, guys fall through the cracks and you need to turn over every stone. But we’d be wasting our time if we were calling him or Lonzo Ball—his dad. Can you imagine dealing with him in the recruiting process? You’d stay away from that one.

J.P.: When you coach at a Delaware … this is before your time, but when I was there they were opening the arena, and they had these sketches and it included banners from 20 years in the future and it was stuff like DELAWARE: 2020 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS. It was silly. Notre Dame, obviously that’s the ultimate goal. At Delaware, can you peddle that? Or do different schools have different outlooks on what they can accomplish?

M.I.: Yeah, I think each school has probably different outlooks. The blue bloods of college basketball aren’t worried about making it to the tournament. They’re about reaching the Final Four and winning a national championship. Um, not to say we can’t do that here. But we need to build our program to get access and be on a level where we can consistently get to the NCAA Tournament. I think it would be unrealistic to say ‘We’re going into this season to win the national championship right now with where we are at Delaware.’ Now, what gives you hope is a George Mason, a VCU, a team kind of at our level can make a run to get to a Final Four. A Butler, when they were building their program; to be able to make those runs and get to a Final Four and a national championship game … you need to have a lot of things fall into place and have some luck through the process. But we’re just trying to build our program to be in a position to reach the NCAA Tournament. Anything can happen. We have everything in place to be successful here. We have to get the players and establish our program and the culture to be able to get to that next level. It’s a process—the big word in sport is ‘process.’ The process to get there. I think we would be a little unrealistic and go into kids’ homes and say, ‘We’re in it to win a national championship right now.’ That’s not where we are right now.

J.P.: Steve Steinwedel is a former Delaware coach, and I always got the feeling he hated recruiting. You’re going into these homes, you know there are other guys selling their product, you’re begging an 18-year-old to come … how do you deal with recruiting? Because I feel like it’d lead me to put a bullet in my head …

M.I.: Hahahaha. Well just like sales … you’re a used car salesman, and you’re trying to sell an 18-to-22-year-old kid on an opportunity here at Delaware. Just like you would a student. When I got into the profession Coach Brey told me a great line. He said, ‘If you wanna make it in this business you have to remember three things and be really great at three things. One is recruiting. Two is scheduling. And three is recruiting.’ And he said, ‘Never forget that.’ That’s the backbone of a program—you have to have players. Obviously the way colleges recruit has changed over the years with Twitter and Facebook and Snapchat … the social media platforms. But I enjoy getting to know kids and evaluating prospects and getting to know families. You’re not just recruiting a 17-year-old kid, you’re recruiting his family. That plays a part into it. And you want a supportive family that’s pushing a kid to be a really good student, and also athlete. And as we recruit kids, it’s not just necessarily what they do on the basketball coach. You’re really trying to evaluate whether this kid is a good fit for our program. And talking o a high school coach, talking to a guidance counselor, talking to a teacher. Gathering information. Because one bad apple can turn a tide for a whole team. So it’s so important to get the right kids to build, and to know they’re represent your program in a first class-manner in everything they do.

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 10.24.30 PM

J.P.: Is there an awkwardness that comes with the phone call from the kid telling you he’s not coming to your school?

M.I.: It’s usually very short and sweet. Sometimes you expect it, sometimes you’re not sure. Sometimes, the ways kids now make their announcements, you find out about it on Twitter or some social media. You can tell by the tone of the voice that this isn’t going to go well. “Hey, Coach, I wanted to call and just tell you I’ve decided to go elsewhere …” You know, it’s hard because you invest a lot of time and money and energy in recruiting a kid, so to not be able to get the guys you want … that’s hard to swallow. Myself as an assistant, our assistants … you get to know a kid, you think he’s a great fit, he’s going to help change the program, he’s a starter from Day One, you’re invested—and all of a sudden he decides to go elsewhere. It’s a little knock on your pride. It definitely humbles you when you don’t get the guys you’ve heavily invested in.

J.P.: Have you had moments when you were completely, totally shocked by a guy not coming?

M.I.: At Notre Dame we had a kid who we recruited for, gosh, four years, and we thought we were going to get him. He was a point guard, he was really going to be a good fit for us. You know, it was between us and another school, but we thought we were going to get him at the end. It was, ‘Stay the course … stay the course—he’s coming.’ And all of a sudden he calls and says, ‘I’m going somewhere else.’ And it’s, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ You don’t say that, but you feel that. You’re furious. You don’t wanna talk to anybody. And nowadays social media makes such abig deal of it. It’s out there. ‘These guys won, these guys lost, they don’t know what they’re doing, how did they not get this kid.’ You have to have thick skin when you’re going through recruiting battles. And it’s different at this level, because we really have to recruit more kids than we did when I was at Notre Dame. If you had 10-to-12 kids on the board, you knew you’d get two or three of them. Here at Delaware we’re recruiting hundreds of kids, and you’re evaluating everybody. Because guys fall down to this level and there’s just more kids that are fits. Maybe not as talented to play at the high-major level, but they’re really, really good mid-major players. You have to have your eyes and ears open, and you’re on the phone all the time, and doing your homework, and watching video, trying to get the guys to help you take the next step.

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 10.43.24 PM

J.P.: Pardon my ignorance, but was it your staff that recruited [Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Year] Ryan Daly?

M.I.: Yes. And I actually went to the same high school as Ryan Daly, and he’s a Philadelphia Catholic kid, went to Archbishop Carroll, that’s where I went to high school. My high school teammate is the head basketball coach at Archbishop Carroll. So Ryan had committed to Hartford in the fall, signed his letter of intent, some stuff happened up there, got out of his letter of commitment to Hartford and was going to kind of wait it out, because he really wanted to go to Delaware. He had a bunch of buddies that went here, was close to home. And then they fired Monte in mid-March, and they didn’t hire me until two months later. So he was gonna wait it out, kept waiting it out. And, literally, I had talked to Paul Romanczuk, the coach at Archbishop Carroll, and said, ‘Hey, what do you think?’ He said, ‘If you get the job, Ryan really wants to come.’ So I got the job, Wednesday was the press conference, I called him Wednesday night, I talked to his mom and dad and him and he said, ‘Coach, I’m coming. I’m going to announce it tomorrow.’ Like that, it got done.

Now I knew we were getting a good player—Philadelphia Catholic player, tough kid, knew how to play. Did I think he would have the freshman year he had? I’d be lying to you if I said I did. But just the consistency with the way he’s been able to play and the way he’s been able to produce for us. And the one thing I tell people is when you see him play in games, that’s what we see every day in practice. And that’s the one thing I give the kid credit for. When he steps on the court in practice he’s ready to compete every day, he plays his tail off. I tell people all the time, when he steps on the court he is ready to rip your throat off. He is ready to go. And there’s a toughness about him that you can’t teach and coach.’

J.P.: Do you find it weird when a kid like Ryan requests uniform No. 0?

M.I.: Hahaha. I was surprised. All these low numbers are a thing now. When I was in college it was the teens, the 20s, the 30s. Now everybody wants 0, 1, 2, 3, 4. They want these single-digit numbers. The guys here refer to Ryan as “Agent Zero.” I guess that was a Gilbert Arenas things when he played. That’s his tag line now. His hashtag. He had a phenomenal year for us.

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 10.37.46 PM

J.P.: Your dad Tom played in the ABA with the Spirit of St. Louis. Did he tell stories, or was it a bip?

M.I.: He actually went out there last year, they had a celebration for that team. He has some great stories, some probably not appropriate for the phone. He had a great time. He said it was complete chaos. He talks about the guys on the team, but the play by play guy on that team was Bob Costas. And it’s amazing to kind of watch his ascension in the ranks, and there he was. But my dad definitely has some great memories of being out there and playing on that team. I’m going to get this wrong, but he said the owners of that organization made one of the best deals in sports history, and now it’s paid off in huge ways.

J.P.: I often ask this of sportswriters, but I’ve never asked a coach—you look around the world and you see climate change, famine, war. Do you ever have moments where it’s a Thursday and you’re coaching a bunch of kids and you ask, ‘What the hell am I doing with my life?’ I don’t mean that in a bashing way … sometimes I’m writing a book and I ask, ‘What am I doing?’ Do you ever have these crises of conscience, or never?

M.I.: Sometimes. I remember being at Notre Dame and Coach Brey talking about that. As an assistant a lot of times you’re suggesting things, and the head coach makes decisions, and sometimes he would be in a staff meeting and say, ‘What are we doing? What are we doing?’ And then a second later he’d say, ‘We have the greatest jobs in the world … we have the greatest jobs in the world. It sures beats a day job.’ But sometimes you have to step back and put it in perspective, and whether it’s through the ups and downs of the season … I’m the oldest of five kids. I have a brother in California who’s in the movie business. And he’s a screenwriter. Sometimes I’m coaching basketball, he’s doing this in Hollywood, my buddies from Notre Dame are making a ton of money in the financial world. And I ask, ‘Is this really what I want to do?’ And there were occasional moments before I became a head coach where I thought, ‘Maybe I just want to go back and be a teacher and coach high school basketball.’ You always have those thoughts in your conscience, and trying to figure out, ‘What is my purpose, and what am I trying to do?’ There is so much stuff going on. I don’t get caught up in politics, but with all that went on with this election—I watched it on CNN to distract myself from sports at times. And there’s a lot of interesting things going around in this country and in the world.

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 10.17.58 PM

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MARTIN INGELSBY:

• Five greatest basketball players you’ve ever seen in person: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Allen Iverson, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley.

• Worst loss of your life on the court?: I would say my senior year at Notre Dame when we lost to Ole Miss in the NCAA Tournament. That, and then my senior year in high school we lost in the Philadelphia Catholic League championship. We were 27-0, we were the favorites to win the Catholic League championship, we got upset by St. John Neumann. That was one of the hardest basketball experiences I ever had after losing a game.

• Would you recruit 17-year-old you to play at Delaware, and what’s the scouting report?: Absolutely. I’m trying to find one now. Or a couple of them. Heady guard, knows how to play, can make shots, makes his teammates better, kind of a coach on the floor. We need one or two of those guys right now.

• Three all-time favorite movies: 1. Hoosiers; 2. The Usual Suspects; 3. Goonies.

• If someone asked you to explain what is a Blue Hen, could you do it?: No, I couldn’t. I need to. It’s some bird that has a light blue tail or something. I need to find out, because people ask me and I say, ‘Oh, the Blue Hen! It’s a bird that has a blue … um …’ (Jeff’s note: He did sorta try)

• Five words that apply to Mike Brey: Um … cool, loose, confident, positive, fun dude. That’s probably six.

• We start you right now, tonight, for the Knicks at guard. What’s your line?: Geez. 0-for-2, 0-for-1 from three, maybe nine assists, two turnovers and a handful of rebounds. I probably could play 18 minutes.

• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash?: No. I’ve been on a lot of planes, too, and charter flights that have been a little bit scary. My senior year we actually got struck by lightning heading to the NCAA Tournament. That was a little bit scary. We had two band members who refused to come back on the plane when we left. You feel the lightning hit. Even the pilot got on and said, ‘That’s the first time that’s ever happened to me. We got struck by lightning.’ And the plane, like, for about two seconds … we had guys on our team throwing up. It was a little scary. We were headed from South Bend to Kansas City to play in the NCAA Tournament through a bad storm.

• How’d you meet your wife?: At a bar in South Bend, Indiana. We went to school together. She’s from Denver, I knew some of her friends. I’ll never forget—we were at a bar, one of my friends said, ‘I have this girl I want you to meet …’ And the rest is history.

• I love the vision of you telling your wife from Denver, ‘Guess what? We’re moving to Delaware!’: Hey, we lived in South Bend a long time …

• The biggest cliché line used by coaches in pep talks is?: Oh, man. You’re putting me on the spot. I’ve always been, ‘Onto the next play … get onto the next play.’ That’s my thing. But that’s a tough one. You’ve stumped me on that.

Showtime Book
Love Me, Hate Me Barry Bonds Book
Sweetness Walter Peyton Book
The Bad Guys Won Book
The Rocket that Fell to Earth Book
Boys Will Be Boys Book

Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life