NORTH ANDOVER -- Greg Herenda had a decision to make last week, and to be honest, it took almost a full week to make it.
Does he remain as head men’s basketball coach at UMass Lowell, where he has spent the last five years and had just announced it was moving to Div. 1, and does he continue to live in North Andover, a place in which his wife (Jill) and son (Trey) had become regulars on the school and youth sports’ circuit and place he has called home for nearly 20 of the 52 years of his life?
Or does he look for a change and accept the offer to become head coach at Div. 1 Fairleigh Dickinson University, which is (according to Mapquest) only 8.66 miles from his home in North Bergen, N.J.?
In the end, after admitting he changed his mind, he decided to go home ... to FDU.
“The Merrimack Valley has been my home for a big part of my life,” said Herenda, who graduated from Merrimack College in 1983, and still holds the assists record for a game with 22. “Some of my friends live here. This is like home. But in the end, I felt like I needed to go to Fairleigh Dickinson and go back home. I am really looking forward to it.”
With UMass Lowell elevating all of its programs to Div. 1, it seemed like a natural decision to stay. His dream has always been to coach at the Div. 1 level, though UMass Lowell will have to wait five years (NCAA guidelines) before it can participate in NCAA tournaments.
But then Fairleigh Dickinson called him, knowing he is still very popular in his native Jersey City area. Hall of Fame high school coach at St. Anthony, Bob Hurley Sr., is a coaching friend of his.
Leaving UMass Lowell, which had reached the NCAA Div. 2 tournament four of the last five years wasn’t easy.
“(Chancellor) Marty Meehan and (athletic director) Dana Skinner have been very supportive of me over my five years here. I can not thank the both of them enough,” said Herenda, who has spent 14 years as a Div. 1 assistant at Holy Cross, Seton Hall and East Carolina University. “Without them, we wouldn’t have reached the high level of success we have enjoyed.”
He also admittedly had a tough discussion with his players, all of whom he personally recruited.
“That was a hard meeting to have,” said Herenda.
“It got a little emotional. These guys gave me everything they had. I can never thank them enough. No matter where I go, I will always consider them part of my family. Always.”
Herenda said one of the bittersweet pills coming from this is that he will no longer be down the street from his mentor and former coach at Merrimack, Bert Hammel.
“One thing I won’t miss is playing Merrimack six times a year,” joked Herenda, who coached under Hammel for four years in the late 1980s. “Honestly, I hated going up against Bert. He developed me as a player and as a young coach, and more importantly as a person. Wherever I have gone in this business we have remained the best of friends.”
Herenda had a press conference in Teaneck, N.J. today for the New York-New Jersey media. He will work out his players to get a feel for his current roster. And then he will hit recruiting trail.
“The Merrimack Valley will always hold a special place in my heart,” said Herenda. “This is my second home.”