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Coaching changes most often occur when a program is at its lowest. In Robert Morris' situation, however, new head basketball coach Andrew Toole couldn't have come in at a better time.

After the incredible mark left on the Colonials' program by former coach Mike Rice, which included two NEC coach of the year awards, a record of 73-31—including 53-9 in NEC play—and winning or sharing the last three NEC regular season championships, Toole took over this season to carve his own legacy with the program.
“I think the program is in good hands,” said Rice, who left the Robert Morris for the head coaching position at Rutgers this season. “Andrew has a lot of credibility and he'll do a fine job at (Robert Morris) I'm sure.”
Although Toole, 30, is the youngest head coach at the Division 1 level, he has plenty of experience and credibility both at Robert Morris and across the country.
A native of Red Bank, N.J., Toole—a four-year starter at the Division I level, playing for Elon University (1998-2000) before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania (2000-03)—spent the 2006-07 campaign as an assistant coach at Lafayette before joining Rice's staff as an assistant prior to the 2007-08 season.
Like no challenge he has faced before in his basketball career, Toole's job now is to continue something that has been going on at the Charles Sewall Center in Moon Township for four years now: the un-matched success achieved by Rice.
“I think the biggest challenge is just continuing that success. Not necessarily duplicating it but just continuing the direction that we've been going, which is upward,” said Toole.  “That's the No. 1 challenge and I think our guys have really been very good at not only wanting to continue the success but wanting to continue to play the way we play. They believe in our style and our system and our formula, so that's the purpose and the goal.”
Toole is following up a near record-breaking season that Rice and the Colonials posted a year ago,  finishing 23-12, defeating the top seeded Quinnipiac in the NEC championship game, and falling just short in a  73-70 thriller to the then No. 2 seeded Villanova Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament first round.
“I think it definitely motivated us in the spring and summer and into the fall,” said Toole about the close tourney loss to Villanova in March. “The guys want to prove that they can get back there again and that it wasn't a situation where it was a once in a lifetime thing. That's kind of been the driving force behind a lot of the things that we've done, especially for the returning guys.”
Those returning guys include the NEC Freshman of the Year from a season ago, guard Karon Abraham and several other returning starters and role players. Six newcomers have joined that talented crew—most of whom Toole helped recruit—to make an early statement this season when they defeated crosstown rival Duquesne and played a top ten Pitt team to the wire for nearly 30 minutes last month.
After the win over Duquesne, however, Toole suspended Abraham for four games after his start guard was charged with driving under the influence. The Colonials went 1-3 without him, including the loss to Pitt and a close defeat to then-unbeaten Cleveland State.
“It stunted our growth a little bit, to be honest,” said Toole about the suspension. “We had just come off of the Duquesne win, we were playing really good, we had gotten our rotation set and some situational things set, and then all of a sudden you lose one of your better players and your leading scorer for two weeks. Now you're trying to scramble for those two weeks, to survive. And then when he comes back, it's kind of like picking up where you left off two weeks earlier.”
By suspending his star player, the Colonials obviously have a clear understanding of where their coach stands. Often, former assistant coaches can have a difficult time transitioning from the role of a friend, or buffer, to the players to the less-friendly role of boss.
“Part of that transition was made a lot easier by Mike Rice allowing me to coach as much as I did,” Toole explained. “He was unbelievable in allowing me to coach and communicate, and rip guys at times, and at other times put my arm around them... I think the guys were used to hearing my voice in a setting where at times it was maybe more negative than another assistant coach may have been able to do. A lot of the guys got to know my personality as well as his.”
His team seems to be responding already, and his colleagues in the coaching world don't expect his youth to be a hindrance whatsoever.
“He's young, but he knows so much about the game that you wouldn't even notice,” said Duquesne head coach Ron Everhart. “He knows things and reaches his kids like a seasoned veteran coach would. Robert Morris knew they had a good hire in him, and he's showing it already this year.”

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