“I started to tell her the possibility of this job was there and she grabbed me and said, ‘You’ve got to go, you’ve got to do it.’ ”
“If that didn’t seal the deal, talking to Joanie about it and what was going to be involved did. It occurred to me that my kids are old enough now to understand who there dad is, what makes him tick. They’d never seen me passionate about anything. I wanted them to see that side of me.”
He will be easy to spot on Saturday afternoon when Syracuse plays Marquette in the East Region final. He’ll be the guy with the giant clipboard on his lap who won’t be able to sit still throughout the game.
“He’s just a lot of fun for all of us to be around,” Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams said. “None of us knew him when he got here but he fit in right away. I think we all figured if he was tight with Coach Hopkins he must be okay.” Carter-Williams smiled. “And he must be a little bit crazy.”
Hopkins and O’Toole argue often about who is crazier, and the locker room appears to be fairly divided on the issue. But there isn’t any doubt in O’Toole’s mind that he is back where he belongs.
“It’s been like a magic elixir to be back in it,” he said. “The hard part is the family. I drive 50 minutes to and from work [from his in-laws’ house] every day and every night when I drive home and realize I’m not going to be seeing Joanie and the kids I pretty much start to cry. Who knows where this will lead. Right now I’m just enjoying the ride.”
The ride may take O’Toole to Atlanta for the Final Four. After that? If Hopkins gets the job at Southern California, as rumored, O’Toole and his family might end up there. Or he could move to a full-time job on the Syracuse bench.
O’Toole’s only certain of one thing: “I’m back where I belong. I’m doing what I’m meant to do.”
At that moment, he was meant to take two players down the Verizon Center hallway for drug-testing. Undoubtedly, he would give the testers a big hug.
For more by John Feinstein, go to www.washingtonpost.com/feinstein.