Image Courtesy Fordham Athletics
In late April, the Atlantic 10 was rocked when Fordham Head Coach Kyle Neptune, after leading the Rams to their first 8-conference win season in 6 years, announced that he would be replacing the retiring Jay Wright at Villanova. In the days that followed, the rumor mill once again turned, with everyone throwing a name or two into the list of potential candidates to take over the Rams. While many reported that Fordham had interviewed several potential candidates, the Rams decided to go from within, and promote Associate Head Coach Keith Urgo from interim HC to the full-time position.
A few days after his introduction, I was able to speak with Coach Urgo on his new promotion, his relationship with the team, and what this change means for the immediate future of Fordham basketball.
Mere hours before Coach Neptune’s departure went public, Urgo was on a recruiting trip in Florida when he received a call. Over the phone, Neptune let Urgo know that he had signed a contract with Villanova, effective immediately. Half out of shock, and half out of confusion, Urgo asked for further clarification.
“I was like ‘What do you mean, a contract to play at the Garden?'” Urgo recalled. “And he was like, ‘No dude, I’m the next head coach at Villanova.'”
After taking a moment to digest this news, and checking his watch to make sure it wasn’t April 1st, Urgo and Neptune immediately moved into action to inform the coaches, and then the players of Coach Neptune’s departure. Around the time of the player meeting, approximately 7:30 PM on April 20th, the news had gone public, with Fordham making the official announcement around 10:30 that night. Once the players and coaching staff were fully briefed, Urgo explained that their thoughts immediately shifted to the future of the program.
According to Urgo, after talking it over with Coach Neptune and the rest of the team, whatever next step that was taken needed to ensure continuity within the program. Carrying the momentum from last season into next fall was the number one priority, and to do that, Coach Neptune and the team decided that the best move would be to do everything in their power to help Urgo land the job.
“After it took us about 20 minutes to realize the gravity of our situation, I said ‘Well, now it’s time to figure out how I can get this job,'” Urgo described. “Everybody was like ‘we want urgo to be the head coach’ and I was like ‘well that’s not guaranteed, but obviously that’s what you want, you gotta figure out a way to go about it.'”
Following the meeting, Fordham Athletic Director Ed Kull let the team know that Urgo would be the acting head coach while a national search got underway. In the days that followed, several Fordham players, such as Chuba Ohams, Antrell Charlton, and Pat Kelly voiced their support for Coach Urgo on Twitter. Eight days after Coach Neptune’s departure was made public, Fordham officially announced that Urgo would be promoted to full time Head Coach.
After going 2-0 in Atlantic 10 play last year for the first time ever, the Rams were confident that they would be able to make a deep run in the conference. However, following the departure of Antonio Daye, as well as injuries to Chuba Ohams and Darius Quisenberry which sidelined both players for several games, Fordham was forced to make some major adjustments to their gameplan. With a large portion of last year’s roster returning for 2022-23, Coach Urgo feels that this year’s team will be able to pick up right where last year’s team left off.
“We have a lot of guys coming back, everyone had an amazing spring,” Urgo said. “Every single one of our guys was tremendous in the spring. They’ve all gotten better, [and they] will continue to get better over the summer.”
Along with keeping returning players at Fordham, Urgo explained that his promotion to Head Coach was a key factor in making sure that Fordham’s incoming recruiting class stayed committed to the Rams. Will Richardson, a four star recruit on Verbal Commits, as well as three star recruits Romad Dean and Angel Montas, make up one of the strongest Fordham recruiting classes in the history of the program, so ensuring that they would be at Rose Hill in the fall was a major priority for Urgo and his team. According to Urgo, reconfirming their commitments was not a difficult task, as he and the rest of his coaching staff have spent months building very close relationships with these players, checking in with them on a regular basis.
“The reality is, the way we do things here at Fordham is that every single one of our staff members is involved in the recruiting process for our players,” Urgo explained. “A lot of times assistant coaches move on, and if you only have one coach in involved with the recruiting of a player and that assistant moves on, it becomes harder for the staff to maintain the relationship, and keep kids excited about coming. It puts a lot of pressure on the head coach. The way we go about recruiting is we’re constantly recruiting with all of our guys, all of our recruits on a daily basis, on a weekly basis, so each one of us develops a relationship with those players, that’s unique.”
According to Coach Urgo, while the season is still several months away, he and his coaching staff are already working on how to fit each player on the team into a role that will maximize their talent, and produce wins. In terms of filling out some spots via the transfer portal, Coach Urgo revealed that they had reached out to several players, and are still maintaining contact with several potentials candidates. A few hours after our conversation on Monday, Verbal Commits reported that Georgia Tech transfer Khalid Moore had committed to Fordham.
In terms of what Fordham will look like out on the floor, Coach Urgo expects a lot of what fans saw last year to be carried into this season. Echoing comments made by Coach Neptune all throughout his time at Fordham, Coach Urgo described the importance of defending home court, as well as coaching a team that prides itself on tough, scrappy defense. Aside from racking up wins, Coach Urgo believes that this team will be capable of silencing any doubt cast upon the program following Coach Neptune’s departure.
“Come out and see for yourself,” Urgo said. “I can’t change their [the fans’] mindset, we haven’t done anything. There shouldn’t be a whole lot of doubt. If you came and watched our program last year in person, or watched us on tv, I think you’ll have a good indication of what we’re capable of accomplishing.”
During our conversation, Coach Urgo made it clear time and time again that his focus was on the success of the team first, before furthering any of his own personal goals. However, when asked about what it meant to be the Head Coach at his father’s alma mater, after being educated by Jesuits throughout his life, Urgo described this opportunity as a “story book situation.”
“Everybody in this program wants to be a trailblazer. They all want to sign on and do what’s never been done in program history,” Urgo said. “We can’t promise wins and losses, but we can definitely promise that we represent this university, this fanbase, with an immense amount of pride in the name on the front of the jersey.”