courtesy Quinnipiac athletics
The Quinnipiac that existed when Bill Mecca came aboard in 1978 is, quite simply, unrecognizable from the one that exists today.
In 34 years, the name has changed from Quinnipiac College to University, and it has gone from a tiny local school to one that draws students from all over the northeast.
Athletics have played a major role in that transformation, as Quinnipiac transformed from a Division II school into Division I. In 2007, the Bobcats (formerly Braves, another change in the switch) opened the TD Bank North Center, a $53-million dollar building that featured two separate adjoining facilities, one for hockey (which had already begun to receive some national acclaim) and another for basketball.
Through it all, Mecca has remained loyal to the school that gave him his start. A native of Maryland, Mecca played under Frank Layden, graduating from Niagara in 1978. He was an assistant under Bert Kahn at QC (now QU) for 13 seasons before finally taking over the program in 1991.
He lasted only five seasons behind the bench, getting replaced by Joe DeSantis at Quinnipiac readied for the move to Division I. But unlike most of the coaches we know, Mecca stayed with Quinnipiac, and has been an Associate Athletic Director for the past 11 seasons.
He's best known to current Quinnipiac basketball fans as the color voice on the radio for men's (and some women's games). His outgoing personality and general excitement for college basketball have made him a fan favorite at the TD Bank Center. He's been known to grab the PA microphone at halftime or go out onto the court to entertain the crowd
with some interesting dance moves. Most evenings, a "Bill-ly Mec-ca" chant will resonate from the student section at some point during the contest.
And so, I introduced myself to Mecca this week, explained what the Mid-majority was all about, and got his thoughts on how he can stay so excited year after year about our game.
"I think it's always the unknown, it's the anticipation,"
Mecca said. "There's not a coach in the country at this time of the season that doesn't think they're not going to be pretty good. When you ask a coach how his recruiting went, they're going to say, 'Pretty good'. Because if they don't, they're going to be out of work. But that anticipation gets everybody to a point where they can't wait to see what happens."
As I play back the interview on my I-phone, unfortunately just a transcript doesn't really give a sense of the energy Mecca brings to his job. Even after a three-hour radio broadcast (and 34 years in the business), his eyes light up when he's talking about the game.
"This is fun," he said. "I really enjoy what I do. I've been blessed. The Lord has blessed me to keep me at a place for so long. I think the best decision I ever made was to get out of coaching. Now I have an opportunity to give back. For me to be part of what I do on the radio and on the TV, and to be part of this community, and to have an opportunity to entertain people if I go out there and do the Cuban Shuffle, it puts a smile on my face. And hopefully, it puts a smile on other people's face, too."
Mecca will head to the Virgin Islands with the team this weekend where the Bobcats might have a chance to pull off a Red Line Upset or two, although they open with Iona. But just being part of something like that shows the growth. I tried explaining the Red Line to Mecca, but around here they still don't have too many visions of being the next Butler or George Mason, even if the name Quinnipiac has been floated with rumors of a move to the MAAC or even the Atlantic 10 a couple of times. Although, at this point, that might be a massive leap.
But, even this far below the Red Line, it is a business, and Mecca's job is to sell his school, which is much easier than it was in the past.
"Quinnipiac used to give you an academic scholarship if you can spell it," Mecca said. "We're still at the point where we lack that 'barbershop mentality' where if you're getting your haircut down in somewhere like DC and they ask, 'Who's recruiting you?' and you say, 'St. Joe's, Rhode Island, Duquesne, Quinnipiac', they're going to say, 'What the hell is Quinnipiac?' They know those names, but really when you get to see this institution and you get to see the commitment we have for our athletic programs, it's a good place to go to school. The more we get our name out nationally, certainly the happier we are."
For now, the dream - like most of us here - is to go to the NCAA Tournament. It looked like March 10, 2010 would be the day that Quinnipiac finally made that leap as they hosted Robert Morris in the NEC championship game. The Bobcats had been the best team in the league for most of the season and had a raucous sold-out arena behind them, but the bally fates thought otherwise as Quinnipiac went ice-cold in a crushing 52-50 loss
, a game that I attended.
"We continue to knock on the door," Mecca said. "I would have thought three years ago that that team with (Justin) Rutty and (James) Feldine would have been it. It might be the best team - as you look back - that we've ever had. It just wasn't the right time. The Lord will present the right time to you. Until then, you just have to keep positioning yourself so you're there at the end of the season."
At this point, I inadvertently cut Mecca off as something was screaming at me from inside my brain.
"This game will hurt you
, we always say at the Mid-majority,"
"That's absolutely right. As a coach, as a player, as a fan, the only thing you remember are the losses. You don't remember the wins. You always remember the losses. Those crushing losses that you can't get back. Those are the ones that stay with you to your grave."
Yet, like Mecca, we keep coming back anyway. We can't help ourselves.