NJIT tabs Kennedy as next hoops coach


Jim Engles almost walked on water, turning a laughingstock NJIT men’s basketball program from owning the longest losing streak in NCAA history (51 games, but now who’s counting?) to two straight 20-win seasons, including some of the biggest upsets in recent major college history, and two consecutive appearances in the College Insider Tournament semifinals.

When Engles decided to leave NJIT after eight years for the Ivy League and the head coaching job at Columbia where he once served as an assistant, it left NJIT athletic director Lenny Kaplan with some giant shoes to fill.

As it turned out, Kaplan didn’t have to look very far for Engles’ replacement. Kaplan found his new head coach right in his own building.

Last Friday morning, the school announced that former assistant coach Brian Kennedy had been elevated to the role of head coach, replacing the man who lured Kennedy out of coaching retirement and back into college basketball.

“We didn’t need to change things,” Kaplan said. “We have a team that is built ready to win. We didn’t want someone to come in and change things. We want to keep the momentum going. We needed someone who understands where we are and has a great knowledge of recruiting in the area. There was no doubt that the right man was already on our campus.”

In 2002, Kennedy left coaching basketball for a life on Wall Street.

This was a move made by a man whose life was built around basketball.

His father, the late Bob Kennedy, ran the Pocono Invitational Camp in Pennsylvania every summer. Kennedy’s uncle Pat was a long-time head coach at Iona, Florida State and DePaul, where Brian Kennedy once coached.

The basketball bloodlines continue. Kennedy’s brother, Rob, was an assistant coach at Monmouth University before moving on to run the Pocono Invitational Camp and Hoop Group businesses that his father started.

Rob Kennedy is currently a highly respected basketball analyst on television, working a lot with ESPN, especially doing NJIT games this past season.

So basketball has always been in Brian Kennedy’s blood, even when he stepped away from the game.

“When I was asked by Jim Engles to come back to coaching, I didn’t know what to expect,” Kennedy said. “I mean, there were trees and grass on campus at NJIT. I had no idea Newark had trees and grass.”

After meeting with Engles, Kennedy knew that he had a new home.

“I saw the vision that Jim Engles had for the program,” Kennedy said. “We built a partnership right away. I can’t thank Jim enough for giving me the chance to come here.”

Kennedy knows full well what his role will be with the Highlanders come time for the first tipoff next fall. Quoting an old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

“My goal here is to continue to build on the success we’ve had,” Kennedy said. “We’re going to continue to recruit the way we always did. We’re first going to recruit students, then athletes. We’ve proven that you can get a world class education and still play basketball here. I want those who share the same visions, people who are contenders and not pretenders. This is our family, whether it be adopted or not. We’re together every day for a few hours from mid-October to Feburary. We’re closer than most families.”

It was the family that gave Kennedy the rousing support. In the days following Engles’ resignation, the returning players took to Skype to speak to Kaplan about who they wanted.

“It was definitely a no brainer for us,” said senior Tim Coleman, who returns next year. “”As soon as Coach Engles decided to leave, then we stepped forward and told Kennedy who they wanted to coach.”

Coleman said that he was joyous to see that Kaplan hired Kennedy.

“I’m real excited about it,” said Coleman, the St. Anthony product who has become a pure scorer in college. “He helped me become more skilled and made me a better player. I think that’s only going to continue. If not for Coach Kennedy, I don’t know where I’d be.”

Kennedy, the father of four, summed up his triumphant day.

“I feel truly blessed to be here,” Kennedy said. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity. It is a transition going from assistant to head coach. Jim and I are different people. I will be myself. I will instill the utmost confidence in my guys. It’s going to be a change, but I think they’re up for it. The transition will be really easy.”

Kennedy feels he was born to be a head coach, so it just took a while for it to actually happen.

“Growing up in a basketball world, I was born for this,” Kennedy said. “Basketball has always been a part of me. It’s in my blood.”




NJIT men’s basketball coach Brian Kennedy (center) is introduced as the school’s 11th men’s basketball coach by president Dr. Joel Bloom (right) and athletic director Lenny Kaplan (left). Photo by Jim Hague



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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”