Al Sandifer, who took over the Siena Heights University men’s basketball program on an interim basis midway through the 2006-07 season, was named permanent head coach, according to Athletic Director Fred Smith.
“We are just really excited and pleased,” Smith said of Sandifer’s decision. “We know he will provide great leadership to our program.”
Sandifer, a former basketball player for the Saints and a 1982 Siena Heights graduate, was a longtime assistant under Smith. In fact, when Smith stepped down as coach after the 2005-06 season after a hall-of-fame career that included 21 consecutive winning seasons and more than 500 career victories, Sandifer was his first choice. However, he decided to stay in the program as an assistant under new coach George Evjen. When Evjen resigned midway through the 2006-07 season due to personal reasons, Sandifer took over the program on an interim basis. Despite the Saints finishing the season 7-24, he said the positive feedback from his players and assistant coaches factored into his decision to accept the position permanently.
“This is just something he was called to do,” Smith said. “I can’t tell you how elated I am. A year ago for whatever reason, it didn’t happen. Maybe this experience (as interim head coach) made it good for him. It was ultimately his decision, but it makes my life easier because I know the program is in good hands. Just seeing him in action, I knew. (The players) really wanted him (as coach), and that’s the main thing.”
Sandifer agreed the timing was right this time around.
“With everything that happened, I just felt like it was meant to be,” Sandifer said. “I just felt there was a real strong influence from the members of the team for me to stay.”
Sandifer served as an assistant to former head coach Ben Braun from 1983-85 and was the associate head coach under Fred Smith from 1985-97. After serving a stint as head boys varsity basketball coach at Adrian High School from 1997-2000, compiling a 52-18 record during that stretch, he returned to Siena Heights full-time in fall 2000 as associate men’s basketball coach.
As head coach, he said his first order of business will be to reestablish the work ethic and intensity level that typifies Siena Heights basketball. He said recruiting is also a top priority, and believes the current roster has the potential to quickly return to the top of the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference standings.
“There’s certainly some bumps in the road as far as our record,” Sandifer said. “But I was really quite pleased with the way our season progressed. Our biggest challenge is the immediate challenge. That means getting those corps group of players back into the weight room and back in the gym. We want our kids to play hard all the time and to have a great work ethic. We’re heading in that direction.”
Sandifer said assistant coaches Marcus Gill and Jason Owens will remain on staff, another positive that factored into his decision.
“That was also a big reason why (I accepted the position). Those two,” Sandifer said of Gill and Owens. “They just have so much enthusiasm for basketball and Siena Heights and want to see our program return to greatness.”
“When put into a stressful situation, you always see how people react,” Smith said of Sandifer’s efforts as interim head coach. “He saved the season for the players. At this level, we like to win, but experience is really the most important thing for small-college athletics. In this situation, he took over when things weren’t going well and made things better. The main thing is the kids are going to be well taken care of and learn the lessons they need to learn. The momentum is back and the kids are excited.”