Published January 26. 2014 4:00AM
It's becoming more common now to hear this new tenet of coaching success, "changing the culture" of the program, another in the developing line of sports jargon that sounds like esoteric, insider talk, but could mean almost anything. Or nothing.
This much we know, however: To "change the culture" you must know it first.
And few others among us, if any, know the culture of basketball at Fitch High School more intricately than new coach Alick Furtick, who has come home again. Put it this way: It's not lost on Big Al's players that the new sheriff in town used to be one of them. Not all that long ago, either, what with Furtick's diploma from Fitch coming in 1997.
"The only places I ever wanted to coach were at Salve (Regina), Fitch or Mitchell College, places where I played," Furtick was saying the other night, not long after losing a gutbuster at Waterford. "Deep down, Fitch is always where I wanted to be. I've been a Groton guy my entire life. The influences that (former coaches) Charlie Miller, James Childs and Dave Huber had on me … I joke with my friends I want to be the next Ed Harvey. Someone that's there forever and wins some games."
This should elicit tears of joy to anyone who espouses the concept of loyalty, the vocations of teaching and coaching and the inspirational idea that even in this morass that passes for our educational system, you still go home at night proud knowing you've reached someone like Big Al Furtick.
"This is the only place I ever want to be," he said. "Being a kid from Poquonnock Bridge right down the hill, hopefully, God willing, I'm here for the next 30 years."
Furtick mentioned the "God willing" part because of nights like Friday and days like Saturday Oy.
Friday: Fitch had a six-point lead with a little under four minutes left until turnovers and a clinking, clanking collection of free throws conspired to aid Waterford's rally.
Saturday: lost in four overtimes — yes, four — to Valley Regional. Chris Jean-Pierre made a 30-footer at the buzzer to force overtime. It should be noted that Schneider Jean-Pierre, Chris' cousin, was huge in Waterford's comeback Friday night.
But then, that's part of it. Fellow Fitch graduate Glen Miller has always told his players at Connecticut College, Brown, Penn and UConn to "embrace the struggle."
"A lot of our guys haven't been in too many tough games. Every close game they get in, even the seniors, it's learning experience for all of them," Furtick said. "I'm confident we will get to eight wins, which is our goal. In the beginning, I wasn't sure if they could see the big picture. The guys know we're close and we're getting better."
Furtick spent seven years at Salve Regina as an assistant coach. The Seahawks won the Commonwealth Coast Conference in 2011 and went to the NCAA Division III tournament. He wasn't hired two years ago when the Fitch job opened. Turns out love is lovelier the second time around. Now the third coach in three years isn't just a coach at Fitch. He's family.
"I grew up around Charlie Miller and James Childs," Furtick said. "Every positive male role model I've ever had in my life has been a coach, from Charlie to James to Glen Miller to Frank Bunkley to Steve Banks. It's a natural progression I want to be in."
Furtick was a sophomore at Fitch when the Falcons won the conference title. He wants to recreate those days. He says it's "brick by brick." He's not talking about errant jump shots. He's talking about the old days becoming the present again.
Like his idea for a Fitch alumni game.
"I want the older players to come back and be part of the program," Furtick said. "I look in the stands now and only see a few former players and they're my friends. I want an open door policy for them to watch or hop in. I want them to see Brian Hopkins, Jeff Joyce … guys who are better men and better fathers because of their sports experience.
"Fitch has been up and down since (former coach Tom) Doyle left. I'm trying to bridge that gap to the Doyles and hopefully get some of the older guys back."
When the older guys read this, how could they resist? Alick Furtick is part of the family.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.