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Tobin Anderson’s Cinderella win with Fairleigh Dickinson a moment for lower-level coaches

Tobin Anderson and Demetre Roberts were on the 68th of 68 teams in the tournament this season, but FDU's upset of No. 1 Purdue in the first round made their NCAA appearance unforgettable.Andy Lyons/Getty

A few things I care about . . .

⋅ The stunning upset Fairleigh Dickinson pulled off against Purdue will live forever in March Madness history, with the mighty underdog Knights topping the short list — UMBC’s men in 2018, Harvard’s women in 1998 — as the only 16 seeds to beat a No. 1 in the NCAA Tournament.

The win belongs to the players. The win also belongs to the coach, Tobin Anderson, who was hired in May from Division 2 St. Thomas Aquinas to take over a four-win program in a one-bid league. Beyond that, what Anderson is doing is a win for his entire profession. A reminder that good coaching is good coaching no matter what level it’s done at, and a wake-up call to all Division 1 athletic directors previously unwilling to entertain the idea of hiring a head coach from the Division 2 or Division 3 ranks.

If Joe Mazzulla hadn’t already proven the bona fides of working in Div. 2, Anderson is willing to speak up for all of his anonymous coaching brethren out there driving team vans, scheduling practice time, running drills, securing uniforms, recruiting players, and doing anything else that needs to be done.


“I’ve seen them, I’ve coached against them, they’ve beat me,” Anderson said in Columbus. “People are talking about going Division 1. I was a Division 1 assistant for two years [at Siena], and being a head coach is such a better, in my opinion, a better training ground for your next job.

“I was told for years to go back to being a Division 1 assistant. ADs told me we will not hire a Division 2 coach, flat out said we won’t hire a Division 2 coach because our alums won’t support it. Quite frankly, that’s frustrating.”


None other than ESPN reporter extraordinaire Adrian Wojnarowski shared a text exchange he’d had with Anderson, who was looking to pick Woj’s brain about his futile attempts at drawing D1 interest after his success at both St. Thomas Aquinas and Div. 3 Hamilton. As Woj wrote of Friday’s win: “Remarkable … just remarkable.”

Tobin Anderson and FDU shocked the world.Andy Lyons/Getty

Historic. As someone who has been to FDU’s gym many times over my professional career and worked inside their not-much-bigger-than-a-high-school facility, believe me, this is the biggest upset in tournament history. More improbable than last year’s crazy Elite Eight run by fellow New Jersey school St. Peter’s. To wit:

— The Knights were 23.5-point underdogs, the largest spread since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

— By any measurable rating, FDU was the worst team in the tournament. They were ranked 301st by NET, 299th by KenPom, 307th by Jeff Sagarin, and 285th by RPI.

— FDU brought the field’s shortest average lineup. Purdue? The tallest.

— When FDU won its season opener at their Rothman Center gym, attendance was 335. They played in front of 19,564 on Friday in Columbus.

— The Knights didn’t even win the Northeast Conference tournament, but made the field because winner Merrimack is still in its provisional probation since moving up from Division 2.

— Purdue won both the regular season and conference tournament titles in the bruising, deep Big Ten.

Anderson and FDU’s run ended Sunday night against Florida Atlantic, but he will get tons of interest now. St. John’s needs a coach, and if they go with Rick Pitino, Iona will need one.


A win for the profession for sure.

⋅ New Jersey boasts the other great Cinderella too, with Princeton making the Sweet 16. Here’s hoping Pete Carril and Grant Wahl are enjoying it together somewhere in the great beyond.

⋅ Theoretically, I can understand the appeal of letting more teams enjoy the thrill of making March Madness. But please, please, NCAA committee, don’t add any more First Four-type play-in games or expand the tournament beyond its basic 64 teams. It’s magical as is. This month proves it yet again.

⋅ Bill Belichick has to be smiling over the success of his fellow Wesleyan alum Anderson. Next, we’ll find out Anderson is Croatian also.

Anderson had fun remembering his academic days in Connecticut, where he said even his studies in English couldn’t help him find the right words to describe his team’s stunning victory.

⋅ Legendary New York Mets’ PR chief Jay Horwitz is no doubt loving FDU, where his long-ago tireless work as their sports information director earned him a spot in the school’s Hall of Fame.

⋅ I still don’t endorse Gregg Berhalter continuing as US men’s national soccer team coach, but not because of anything to do with the embarrassing, manufactured drama of the recent investigation into Berhalter over an accusation made by Claudio and Danielle Reyna. The parents of rising US star Gio, apparently unhappy with their son’s playing time at the recent World Cup, responded by unearthing a decades-old college fight between Berhalter and his then-girlfriend, now-wife, which spurred an investigation.


As team star Christian Pulisic recently put it in an ESPN interview, “I think it’s childish. It’s youth soccer. People complaining about playing time. I don’t want to go too far into that, but that’s what we’ll say.”

Gio Reyna has to be a huge part of the puzzle heading into the next World Cup cycle. He’s that good. But his parents, and the coach whose hiring was clearly influenced by his brother Jay’s position as US Soccer’s chief commercial officer — one of the most illuminating details in the report — and whose tactical abilities were exposed in Qatar, should not.

⋅ Have you caught any of Aliyah Boston’s ongoing NCAA run? Single, double, triple teams — nothing is working as the reigning national player of the year tries to lead South Carolina to a second straight championship, and an undefeated season, before presumably becoming the first pick in the WNBA draft.

Can Aliyah Boston lead South Carolina to another title?Sean Rayford/Associated Press

⋅ Wonderful to see the headlines about prize money for this year’s Women’s World Cup increasing by more than 300 percent, but let’s remember their $150 million is still about a third of the $440 million awarded to the men in Qatar last year. From a total of $30 million for 24 teams in 2019 to $152M for 32 teams is progress. But on it goes. (FIFA has said it is aiming for parity between the two tournaments by 2027.)


RIP to Dick Fosbury. Few athletes in history made such a lasting impact on a sport. The Fosbury flop changed high jumping forever.

Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.