Ruland isn't kidding about second chances.
One of his assistants is Tony Iati, a former teammate at Iona. Iati was a successful banker until the market crashed and a number of his deals went bad. He landed in jail for 11 months and is now living with Ruland while trying to restart his life.
Four of the current players are former Division I players, including Nigel Munson - who played at Virginia Tech - and Herbert - whose last game before his UDC debut this past fall was in an NCAA tournament game for Binghamton at Greensboro Coliseum against Duke. "I went from playing in front of 23,000 people to playing in front of 100 people," he said with a laugh. "Quite a transition."
Said Ruland: "Life in D-II is a little different in every way. The recruiting, the things you took for granted in D-I, the fast food, the seven-hour bus rides. Hey, it's a beautiful thing."
Life hasn't been all that beautiful for Ruland in recent years, even after taking the head coaching job at Iona in 1998 and leading the Gaels to four NCAA tournament appearances.
Ruland split from his wife and college sweetheart, Maureen, because he says neither he nor their three daughters could persuade her to get help for a drinking problem. In 2007, coming off a trip to the NCAA tournament in 2006, Iona went 2-28 and Ruland was fired.
"In a way I saw it coming because the president and I hadn't seen eye-to-eye on a lot of things," Ruland said. "On the other hand, we'd had a lot of success and it was my school. So it hurt. It still hurts."
That pain was nothing compared with the phone call he got almost a year later while coaching the Albuquerque Thunderbirds in the NBA Development League. Maureen had gotten sober after the divorce and she and Jeff had stayed close.
"My daughters called," he said, his voice getting very soft. "They said: 'Mom doesn't feel well but she won't go to the hospital to get a checkup. You have to come home and talk to her.' "
He paused and laughed for a moment. "Maureen was 5 foot 3 and I swear she was the only person in the world I've ever been scared of. My girls said I was the only one she'd listen to, so I went home to talk to her."
Maureen went to the hospital, where the news was very bad, but not all bad: leukemia, but it had been caught early enough to be treated.
"She breezed through the first two rounds of chemo," Ruland said. "Didn't even lose her hair. Then, during the third one she had a massive heart attack. She was gone like that."
For a moment, Ruland sat silently in the tiny office, putting a hand inside his glasses to quickly wipe away tears. He reached inside his shirt and pulled something out. "My wedding ring," he said, breaking down as he held it in his hand.
A few seconds later, he was on his feet, moving lightly for someone so big and someone who has had so many knee and foot problems in his life. "We've got a recruit on campus," he said. "I want to make sure everything's all set up right for him."
He walked quickly down the hall, his journey continuing as he headed into the cold night, convinced that redemption was out there and not that far away.
For more by the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com.