Behind FDU coach Tobin Anderson’s journey to upset Purdue

Albany — Brendan Leary well remembers the car ride when he and Tobin Anderson argued about basketball.

They were the backcourt of Division III Wesleyan University and were the coach’s sons, close friends and roommates in the mid-1990s.

Leary loved the Fab Five and always felt that the best players make the best coaches.

Anderson argued that good coaches can do more with less. He idolized Bobby Knight for exactly that reason.

“He said, ‘Bobby Knight could bring five guys out of the cafeteria and win the game. Just like his coaching and the way he gathers and syncs talent,'” Leary said. remembered what said

Thanks to what Anderson did to Fairleigh Dickinson, doing more with less, Leary laughs about it now.

In his first season in Division I, Anderson led a small school in Teaneck, New Jersey, after nine seasons in Rockland County’s Division II St. Thomas Aquinas. And in a Purdue upset, the 16th seed beat the 1st seed for the second time in history.

Anderson engineered a massive turnaround to take the Knights from 4 wins to 21 on the season.

Tobin Anderson led FDU in a big upset against No. 1 seed Purdue.
Photo by Tyler Schank/NCAA via Getty Images

Anderson, 51, from Iowa, has always wanted to be a coach. He wanted to follow in his father Steve’s footsteps when he returned to college.

He spoke openly about it.

His dream job was Notre Dame.

Leary and Anderson frequently attended the University of Massachusetts games during the height of the John Calipari era to analyze the sport.

When no one was left at the Wesleyan Gym in Middletown, Connecticut, they worked on the game late into the night.

“A lot of people say he loves basketball, but he eats, sleeps, drinks and breathes basketball,” Leary said. “He cares about winning, basketball, players and his love of the game. He will coach his basketball team.”

Anderson got his first break in 2011 when Mitch Buonagro hired him as one of his assistant coaches at Siena at Division III Hamilton College in Clifton, New York.

Buonagro met Anderson through the famous Five Star Basketball Camp run by the late Howard Garfinkel.

He was seen as a rising star, the rare coach in his twenties who Garfinkel tapped to talk to campers.

Early in Anderson’s first season, Buonagro was in awe of the new assistant coach after watching principal Reverend Kevin Mullen give an individual training session for one of the team’s security guards. I remember walking into his office.

“I witnessed something really special. Coach Anderson, the assistant you hired, did an incredible 45-minute workout,” Mullen told Buonagro. It was a 45 minute demonstration and I was fascinated.

Tobin Anderson, head coach of the St. Thomas Aquinas Spartans, coaches the players as they face off against the Gonzaga Bulldogs on November 22, 2014 at the McCarthy Athletic Center in Spokane, Washington.
Anderson coached at St. Thomas Aquinas before joining FDU.
William Mancebo/Getty Images

Nicole Ryan, Athletic Director of St. Thomas Aquinas, had similar memories of Anderson.

Emphasis was placed on player development.

His staff worked around the clock.

“He sweats as much as the players,” Ryan said.

She’s not surprised by what he’s accomplished with FDU.

She saw a similar turnaround in St. Thomas Aquinas.

The year before Anderson’s arrival, the team won just five.

In his third season, he embarrassed St. John’s in the exhibition game, beating Chris Mullin’s team by 31 points.

That season, the Spartans reached the first of seven Division II NCAA tournaments under Anderson.

“It was shocking at the time, but now he’s taken it to the next level,” Ryan said.

Watching the Purdue upset, what surprised Buonagro the most was the conviction that FDU played.

The stage wasn’t that big.

The Knights weren’t the least bit intimidated by the Big Ten regular season and postseason champions.

Sean Moore #11 of the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights team after defeating the Purdue Boilermakers 63-58 in the first round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament on March 17, 2023 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. celebrate with
FDU’s victory marked the second time in NCAA history that a No. 16 team knocked off the No. 1 seed.
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Buonagro, consultant for both men’s and women’s hoop programs at Division II College of St. Rose’s in Albany, said: “Most teams in that position are in awe. It looked like

For years, Anderson waited for his chance after racking up wins at St Thomas Aquinas.

He was turned down for the job and told to be promoted as a Division I assistant.

He tried it in Siena for two years.

he didn’t want to go back to it.

Finally, last May, the FDU gave him a chance.

“It’s proof that there are great coaches at every level,” Buonagro said. “Some of them coach anonymously.”

That’s no longer the case with Tobin Anderson – not after the Knights’ Friday night shock at Purdue.

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