Chris Day’s first encounter with the University of Vermont’s women’s basketball program came five years ago when he was an assistant at St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia. The Hawks were part of the four-team field in UVM’s annual November tournament early in the 2011-12 season.
“I walked around a little bit and I honestly said to myself, ‘Wow, I could see myself here,'" Day said. “Vermont has always been on the radar for me if (the head coaching position) was to open.”
That memory came back to Day at the press conference officially introducing him as Vermont’s new women’s head coach. He is the eighth person to lead a program that once was the gold standard for excellence in New England but fell into a black hole during former coach Lori McBride’s six-year tenure.
McBride was let go in March with two years remaining on a four-year extension after compiling a 46-134 overall record, 26-69 in America East conference play. The Catamounts never finished better than tied for fourth in the league and ended this season with a 42-point loss to Albany in the AE tournament.
‘Rebuilding’ the glory days
Day has been given the challenge of returning Vermont to the glory days that began under Cathy Inglese in the late 1980s, continued under Pam Borton and Keith Cieplicki, and ended under Sharon Dawley in 2010. They combined to make six NCAA tournament appearances and made the Catamounts into fan favorites across the state before leaving for head jobs at schools in major conferences.
“I am very good friends with Cathy Inglese and I’m also friends with Sharon Dawley,” Day said. “I had a chance to briefly meet with Pam Borton and just touching base with those guys and knowing what they did here has really helped me know what we need to do.
“Right now everyone uses the word ‘rebuilding.’ But this place has won before. I’ve learned to be a patient person; I know there is work to be done. But there is talent in this building. Things can be done sooner rather than later.”
Day, 41, signed a four-year contract with a base salary of $140,000. He comes to UVM after spending the last three seasons as an assistant at Pennsylvania, helping the Quakers earn two NCAA bids and one NIT invitation. At Penn, he coached nine all-conference players and two that earned player of the year honors.
“It’s well deserved,” said Penn head coach Mike McLaughlin of Day’s appointment. “Chris has helped make our program better and it’s an opportunity for him that he’s ready for.”
A long-awaited dream job
Senior associate athletic director Jeff Schulman, who will succeed Bob Corran as athletic director when Corran retires in June, chaired the search committee that selected Day from a field of more than 50 candidates. The three other finalists were former UVM men’s great Eddie Benton, an assistant at Duquesne, and assistants Katie Rokus from Cincinnati and Colleen Mullen at Army.
"Chris was somebody we looked at right away – we knew about him before he applied for the position,” Schulman said. “His values align with ours. He cares greatly about academics and he has had competitive success everywhere he’s been.”
Day interviewed for head positions at Colgate, William & Mary, Wagner and Lafayette before UVM’s position opened. The reality that he had finally achieved his dream of leading his own Division I program brought him to tears at the press conference.
“This is absolutely a dream come true,” Day said to a gathering that included his wife, Megan, their five children, and several other family members. “This just means so much to me. It’s been a really long time coming.”
Gearing up for a championship
Schulman was clear about the expectations the university has for the program.
“Our goal is to re-energize our program,” he said. “Over the years we’ve had a fantastic relationship between our program and the community and fans. It’s something we want to get back but we want to do it in a sustainable way.
“I think basketball is a sport where you can turn things around pretty quickly. We’re not unrealistic about our expectations in the short term but in the long term we want to compete for a championship in America East and beyond.
“There is no question that we can do it. We want to be patient with Chris but we really feel he has a plan to move us forward.”
Vermont returns nine players from last year’s team Day met with all of them during the interview process. He also watched tapes of seven or eight full games from 2015-16 and 50 clips on each individual.
“I just think they need a little bit of restructuring on the court to really fit the skill sets of the kids in the program now,” Day said. “We need kids who are going to run through a wall, get up and down the court. We’re not here to teach effort. As long as you give full out 100-percent effort, you can play for me.”
UVM men’s coach John Becker and former coach Tom Brennan were among those at Day’s press conference. They are part of a leadership team that has taken the Catamounts to five NCAA tournaments and 13 seasons of 20 or more wins since 2001.
“I think our men’s program is a great model for our women’s program to follow,” Schulman said. “It’s not easy to sustain a high level of success over a long period of time but the recipe certainly exists. Our men have shown that it can happen here at UVM.”
Day is already officially on the job and while he is still playing phone tag with one or two players, his first order of business has been reaching out to his new team.
“Basically what I was trying to do is maybe get them to re-iterate some of the things they said (at his interview),” Day said. “I asked them, what are the two things that you absolutely need to have changed, fixed or added.
“That’s the process I am going through now, collecting data in terms of what they want. Because it’s all about their experience. I want them to graduate from UVM and say, ‘My goodness, that was the best experience of my life.’ I want to find that out early as what we need to do as a staff to make that happen.”