JackPerri

First-year SNHU men’s basketball coach Jack Perri has designs on building his own winning tradition at the university.

Jack Perri: New SNHU coach isn’t Stan Spirou. But, like the legend he succeeds, Perri wants to build a winning tradition.

MANCHESTER — How do you replace an icon who presided over three decades of consistency and plenty of success? If you’re asking first-year Southern New Hampshire University men’s basketball coach Jack Perri, he’ll say you simply don’t try.

Perri will lead SNHU this winter following the retirement of legendary coach Stan Spirou last March. It’s a task Perri knows brings great honor and challenge. However, since his hiring in June, Perri has made it clear that the intention is to bring his own flair to his new gig, meaning he won’t try to be Spirou, a 640-game winner and architect of SNHU’s rise to perennial contender in the Northeast-10 Conference.

“(SNHU President) Paul LeBlanc said it best when he told me that I am going to create my own legacy and vision,” Perri said. “I’m not trying to replace Stan. I’ve told the guys that the way he did things was awesome and amazing. I appreciate the success he had, but I am going to do things my way because my way works as well.”

All that said, Perri is hardly ignoring the foundation and history Spirou has created. Perri has seen SNHU’s climb firsthand as he played four years at Bentley and was a top assistant coach for six seasons at his alma mater before spending the last 13 years in the Division I ranks, including five seasons as head coach at LIU Brooklyn. In addition to the familiarity, Perri has been in close contact with Spirou, who’s still lurking around campus in the infancy of his retirement.

“We’ve talked a number of times already through the summer just seeing him around,” Perri said. “To learn from somebody that knows the ins and outs of this place … I mean, why wouldn’t I take his knowledge that way? I’d be foolish not to.”

Besides dismissing the notion of being or replacing Spirou, SNHU’s brass didn’t have to do much to sell Perri on the job being a fit. The overall environment spoke for itself.

“When I came up to this place for the interview, it had totally transformed since the last time I had been here,” Perri said. “I heard great things about the school, all the money they’ve put back into the program, and all the great things they’re doing on campus. I was so impressed and I wanted to take it to the next level, and obviously the process worked out great.”

On the flip side, Perri didn’t have to sell the school on him being fit to take the reins of a program that’s won at 15 games each of the last six years while making three NCAA Division II Regionals and winning two NE-10 titles. Perri’s NE-10 background gave him a boost, but he felt his time leading LIU Brooklyn tipped the scales. Perri posted a pair of 20-win seasons, a Northeast Conference tournament and regular-season title, and guided the Blackbirds to an NCAA Division I Tournament appearance.

“I think they looked at my resume and saw I’ve been doing this for 20 years with background at this level,” Perri said. “I know and understand the league very well, but my experience at LIU with success, going to the NCAA Tournament, bringing in top recruits and doing it all with confidence. Replacing somebody like Stan, I really believe they looked and said that I was somebody with the lineage to come in and do a good job.”

The pedigree of what Perri has in his first season with the Penmen is still yet to be determined. The 2018-2019 club is a blend of holdovers from Spirou’s recruitment, highlighted by guards Daquiase Andrews and Charlie Russo, while Perri has added a few fresh faces like Shawn Montague, a 6-foot-6 transfer player who Perri likens to recent Penmen standout Chris Walters.

Perri offered high praise to his new team for its desire to focus when they arrive at the gym each day. Perri said the focus has been necessary while he creates a new standard with new drills, training and styles of play.

“There’s a lot of work to do, but our guys have embraced me as well as they can considering they didn’t choose me,” Perri said. “They could’ve gone one of two ways and to their credit, they’ve accepted and embraced who I am and what I’m trying to do with them.”

Recent SNHU squads have lived and died by playing an up-tempo style and shooting well from distance. Perri will try to maintain bits of that prior style of play, but has some different focuses in mind.

“My main disciplines that I talk about are playing tough, physical defense and rebounding, which is a key to the way we do things,” Perri said. “We’re going to try to focus on things we can control, like taking care of the ball and limiting our fouls. We’ll have to see what we have in terms of our offense, which has some pieces and good shooting, but we don’t have the post presence.”

Perri added that playing styles might change based on opponent, but will be more dependent on what the Penmen show in terms of strength and capabilities. Players will get their first chance to make an impression in Saturday’s 4 p.m. season opener as SNHU hosts New York Institute of Technology in a non-conference tilt at the newly named Stan Spirou Field House.

“The hope is that these guys will be ready and really engaged with each other,” Perri said. “You’ll see tight huddles, a group that’s in great shape, and a team that plays unselfish and tough.”

jduball@unionleader.com