Coach Don Sicko

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Coach Don Sicko

Postby Motor City Sam » Wed Jan 10, 2018 3:41 am

I went to the EMU vs CMU game Tuesday night. Former Titan coach Don Sicko was there in his capacity as a scout. At halftime, I had the opportunity to share a conversation with him and a long time friend of mine who walked on at UD during the Sicko era.

Coach Sicko is still a pleasant guy who comes across as a gentleman. We talked about the game we were watching, the current Titan team, and the historic Titan upset over Memphis. It was a fun convo, and I was glad to see that he is doing well.
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Re: Coach Don Sicko

Postby R.B.J1 » Wed Jan 10, 2018 9:03 am

Sicko recruited some talented players, he really was snake bitten as the titans coach. Guys such as Greg Bent (Providence) and Ben Gillery (Georgetown/NBA) couldn't get admitted to UofD, had successful careers at other places. He came agonizingly close to resurrecting the program. Glad he's doing well.
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Re: Coach Don Sicko

Postby dennycrane » Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:28 am

I've never known Coach Sicko at all, R.B., but Sam's testimony is good enough for me as regards his pleasantness. Coaching-wise, you're too kind to him. We'd had 14-13,10-17 and 9-18 seasons under McCarter and didn't need "resurrecting". In fact, we were just 5 years removed from our greatest team of the past 50 years, the 1977 Titans and 4 years (removed) from Smokey's 1978 edition which also went 25-4. Sicko's tenure at UD turned 2 losing seasons under Willie into a lost decade. The Memphis State win was pretty much the only highlight of the entire 80s. Any disagreement?
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Re: Coach Don Sicko

Postby Commissioner » Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:13 am

R.B.J1 wrote:Sicko recruited some talented players, he really was snake bitten as the titans coach. Guys such as Greg Bent (Providence) and Ben Gillery (Georgetown/NBA) couldn't get admitted to UofD, had successful careers at other places. He came agonizingly close to resurrecting the program. Glad he's doing well.


dennycrane wrote:We'd had 14-13,10-17 and 9-18 seasons under McCarter and didn't need "resurrecting". In fact, we were just 5 years removed from our greatest team of the past 50 years, the 1977 Titans and 4 years (removed) from Smokey's 1978 edition which also went 25-4. Sicko's tenure at UD turned 2 losing seasons under Willie into a lost decade. The Memphis State win was pretty much the only highlight of the entire 80s. Any disagreement?


I'd disagree, Denny, at least somewhat. Yes, in the end, you can view the Sicko era as wasted years. But McCarter left the program in shambles in just three years. That 9-18 team his final year featured seniors Joe Kopicki and Jerry Davis, and still couldn't do better (note he only went 14-13 with the team he inherited, including Kopicki and Davis as sophs, and seniors Earl Cureton and Wilbert McCormick). By the time Sicko arrived, the top returning scorer was Doug Chappell (6.0 ppg). No returning player had averaged as much as 18 minutes per game. The high school coaches didn't like McCarter--the Titans signed literally zero players out of high school by McCarter's third year (the afore-mentioned Chappell, btw, had been a Smokey Gaines recruit). Attendance had cratered. The Titans averaged 6872 fans per game during two seasons under Smokey Gaines. By McCarter's last year, attendance was half that. It's almost impossible to overstate the damage McCarter did to the program. So yeah, the program probably needed a resurrection, and Sicko was hired to do it.

Don Sicko really tried, and it's kind of a sad story. I left Sicko off the options in the little poll for greatest Titan coach. viewtopic.php?f=2&t=3582. But like RB says, he came so close to resurrecting Titan basketball. The 1985 team, his third, is really underrated. They finished 16-12, which looks decent enough, but appears even better when you look at the schedule. They lost @ Michigan (finished the year ranked #2 nationally), @ Kansas (#13), twice--home & home-- to Loyola (#14), vs. Syracuse (#15) in Rochester, @ NCAA at-large team Illinois State, and at Calihan to Iona (26-5, automatic NCAA bid). They beat Dayton (NCAA at-large bid) in Calihan, Minnesota on the road, and of course they also won at Calihan against #4 Memphis State--still the last time the Titans have beaten a Top 10 team. They also split a pair with NIT-bound Butler in conference play. They ended up #48 in the country in RPI (a ranking the Titans have only topped twice since RPI was instituted in 1980), but for some reason got passed over for an NIT bid, which really hurt.

That team had Keith Gray, Greg Wendt, Brian Humes, and Kevin McAdoo, plus freshman Archie Tullos on the bench. Gray graduated, but Tullos stepped into the starting lineup and the 1985-86 Titans added top 100 national recruit John McIntyre. Expectations were really high. But the 85-86 Titans struggled to get off the ground, losing a bunch of early games they probably should have won. They entered a game Iowa State game at just 5-7, but beat the Cyclones (who would be an NCAA at-large team). That win kinda got them going and they got out to 7-1 start in conference play, including two wins over pre-season favorite Xavier, which would finish 25-5. It looked like Titan ball was truly back. And then came the collapse. In the drivers' seat for the regular season title after beating Xavier for the second time in early February, the Titans lost 5 of their final 6 games, including losses to 8-19 Evansville and 10-18 Oral Roberts, to finish 14-15. McIntyre transferred to Missouri, and the next year the team sank to 7-21. Sicko resigned after an 0-3 start in the fall of 1987.

In his resignation statement, Sicko said, "Burnout is a cliche, but in this particular position at this particular time that's probably what I am. Because of the cumulative effect of the past year and a half's disappointments, I feel I'm no longer capable of making decisions in an objective manner. In other words, I'm in the way right now. We're at the point of diminishing returns. The harder we work, the fewer results we get. There's too much pressure on a single game. And for that matter on a single shot or play. It shouldn't be that way. My exit will allow the players to go back to playing."

Sicko's tenure always seemed a bit sad, because he so wanted to win at Detroit, and on paper had seemed like a great choice. He was just 35 when hired, but had already been a very successful Catholic high school coach in Detroit, was briefly on Smokey Gaines staff, and then went as an assistant to Kent State and Michigan, where Bill Frieder raved about him. After landing the Titan job, his first recruit was McAdoo, who chose the Titans over the likes of Syracuse, Michigan State, and Purdue specifically in order to play for Sicko (McAdoo is still the Titans all-time leader in assists).

When he resigned 5 years later, Drew Sharpe wrote, "There are, in Calihan Hall now, only the echoes of greatness. It was here--Lord, could it have been a decade ago?-- where spotlights sliced through the darkness to catch Terry Tyler and John Long and Terry Duerod as they loped onto the hardwood floor bathed in the screams of a packed house. It was here where Dick Vitale launched himself into national prominence. It was here where Titans Fever, a malady now seldom heard of and only scarcely remembered, gripped a city for an ever-so-brief moment in time. They are just echoes of the past now. But for almost six seasons they haunted Don Sicko. And Monday, because he could not duplicate those glory years, he did something he had been threatening to do for a long time: quit as the University of Detroit's basketball coach. He said farewell at a press conference in the same room where Vitale bid a tearful goodby 10 years and seven days earlier."

One of Sicko's lasting coaching legacies was giving Charlie Coles his first collegiate job, hiring Coles as an assistant in his first year. Coles went on to win 358 games as head coach of Central Michigan and Miami, taking both schools to the NCAAs.

Anyway, this is too long and starting to sound like an obituary. So I'll quit.
Last edited by Commissioner on Wed Jan 10, 2018 3:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Coach Don Sicko

Postby udballer » Wed Jan 10, 2018 12:51 pm

Excellent writeup, Commish. I have next to no knowledge of Sicko... but now I'm a borderline fan. :)
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Re: Coach Don Sicko

Postby Rogobob77 » Wed Jan 10, 2018 1:19 pm

Sicko started the 1987-88 season with a crushing close loss at Michigan State, 65-63. The Titans' next game was against lowly N.C. A&T, and U-D lost that by a score of 82-70. I remember sitting in the bleachers behind the coaching bench for that game, and late in the contest a guy sitting nearby kept yelling "Sicko you suck!" over and over, the phrase echoing in a fairly empty Calihan Hall. In the closing minutes, Sicko lost his patience and shot back to the heckler: "And you're a f#@#ing asshole!" Sicko looked upset and despondent that he let the guy get to him, and in retrospect this was the harbinger that the end of his coaching career was near. The Titans lost their next game at home to Toledo. 58-49, and I believe Sicko resigned a day or two after that.
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Re: Coach Don Sicko

Postby udballer » Wed Jan 10, 2018 1:39 pm

Rogobob77 wrote:In the closing minutes, Sicko lost his patience and shot back to the heckler: "And you're a f#@#ing asshole!"


Well, one thing is for sure, Sicko would never last on this message board with name-calling like that. He should have know to ball up his anger, push it down deep inside, and just try not to think about it. ;)
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Re: Coach Don Sicko

Postby uofdfan1983 » Wed Jan 10, 2018 3:51 pm

Actually, I think that what's for sure is that Sicko did not get a 7-game suspension for his off-color response to the heckler :lol:

Sicko is a good guy and I have run into him at games myself in recent years. I was VN Sports Editor when McCarter brought the program down. I actually enjoyed my meetings with him, a funny and interesting man, but in the end a bad recruiter and a lousy coach. He really was the wrong person at the time for the job.

Sicko was a good choice as far as his resume, his local connections and his knowledge of the game. He also brought in a great recruiter in Charlie Coles, who had amazing connections statewide. Sicko's main problem is that he ran a Catholic League tempo...he made PW teams look like they were run-and-gun! He drove off John McIntyre because that did not mesh with McIntyre's streetball game and skills. At the time I really followed High School Recruiting and in an article on some guys he signed, I mentioned several others he was still recruiting. I had quotes from different people, including Coles. He called me up and told me to come to his office for a meeting. He was not happy, but was professional. He said that other schools like MSU would find the VN article and use it against him recruiting-wise.

But all in all, Sicko is a good guy and I'm glad he's found peace.
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Re: Coach Don Sicko

Postby Motor City Sam » Wed Jan 10, 2018 3:53 pm

dennycrane wrote:I've never known Coach Sicko at all, R.B., but Sam's testimony is good enough for me as regards his pleasantness. Coaching-wise, you're too kind to him. We'd had 14-13,10-17 and 9-18 seasons under McCarter and didn't need "resurrecting". In fact, we were just 5 years removed from our greatest team of the past 50 years, the 1977 Titans and 4 years (removed) from Smokey's 1978 edition which also went 25-4. Sicko's tenure at UD turned 2 losing seasons under Willie into a lost decade. The Memphis State win was pretty much the only highlight of the entire 80s. Any disagreement?


No disagreement from me, Denny. Coach Sicko seems like a fine man based on my observations and interactions, and people I know who know him better than I do absolutely love him, so he's probably a good person. But he was the head coach during all of my student years at U of D, and those were some dark times for basketball. He never seemed to be able to take full advantage of the fertile PSL and Catholic League recruiting pools, and we lost some inexplicable games. On paper, he seemed like a great candidate for the job, but it never came together. He was here for a relatively long time during a period when the administration either couldn't or wouldn't support the program as it needed to be supported. It was a bad combination that set the program back, and the following Byrdsong years dug the hole deeper.
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Re: Coach Don Sicko

Postby Rogobob77 » Wed Jan 10, 2018 4:21 pm

Some Don Sicko recruits I remember:

Kevin McAdoo (his son is a freshman MBB at EMU)
Lou Rainge (recruited from Flint area)
Brian Doss (high level recruit, career hampered by academics)
Brian Humes (another Flintstone)
Keith Gray (JC)
Greg Wendt (Catholic Central guy, transfer from Duke)
Archie Tullos (from Saginaw, one of the Titan top sharp shooters ever)
Willis Carter (transfer from U-M)
John McIntyre (First team All-State)
Dan Kennedy (I believe from the Port Austin area, still around the program, comes to the luncheons regularly)
Bill Wood (last I heard was a successful sports attorney)
Matt Maher (big man)
John Buszka (used to come to the games, but it's a few years since I last saw him at Calihan)
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Re: Coach Don Sicko

Postby Resurget Cineribus » Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:52 pm

I forgot how good the 85 - 86 team was and how great the league was and those great wins.
I miss those days so much I will never give up hope it won’t happen again in my lifetime. I
still believe the city and school can rise again.
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Re: Coach Don Sicko

Postby The-Dude » Fri Jan 12, 2018 12:33 am

Sicko was such a good Dude. Commish, how’s that Iskand tan holding up? Thanks for the vivid and awesome write up on Coach Sicko. Coach had a recruit (Greg Wendt) transfer to UD from Duke!
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