By Katie Meier, Director of Athletic Communications
Think every Division I head coach is a former Division I student-athlete? Think it's impossible to transition from being a Division III student-athlete to a coaching position at the Division I level? Think again.
There are values, lessons and countless benefits to being a Division III student-athlete regardless of whether one wants to pursue a career in collegiate coaching. Former Susquehanna University men's basketball player Tommy Dempsey is proof that a Division III experience pays dividends.
Dempsey played basketball at Susquehanna from 1993–97 under current head coach Frank Marcinek and it didn't take Dempsey long to figure out what he wanted to do with his life post-Susquehanna. He wanted to coach and had a mentor at the ready in Marcinek. In fact, Dempsey shifted into an assistant coaching role at SU under Marcinek after his playing days as a Crusader came to an end.
"Tommy had the best instincts of any player I have coached, even to this day," Marcinek said. "When he wasn't playing he was another coach on the bench. He had a real feel for the game and had a positive impact on the team chemistry as well as the X's and O's of the game."
Dempsey credits his former coach for helping lay the foundation that would later help him make his mark in the world of Division I athletics.
"I really enjoyed playing basketball at Susquehanna for Frank," Dempsey said. "I learned a lot from him about the game of basketball and the game of life while playing, and then spending two years as an assistant coach. I have always considered Frank to be my greatest mentor because he believed in me and that gave me confidence I needed at a young age to pursue my dream of being a head college basketball coach."
And it did not take long for Dempsey to achieve that dream. He left Susquehanna to become head coach at Wyoming Seminary at the age of 24. Dempsey coached at both the high school and junior college levels for several years before becoming an assistant coach at Division I Rider University.
At Rider, Dempsey had the good fortune of working with another Crusader basketball standout—Don Harnum Jr.
While the move was a departure from the last several years Dempsey had spent as a head coach, he knew it was the right career move.
"After coaching high school and junior college for three years, I learned of the assistant coaching position at Rider," Dempsey explained. "The head coach was Susquehanna alum Don Harnum Jr. and although I did enjoy being a head coach, I knew this was my chance to get to the Division I level."
Don Harnum Jr. consulted his father, Don Harnum Sr. (who also happened be Susquehanna's Director of Athletics), for advice on the hire and after the conversation, Harnum Jr. offered Dempsey the job.
Dempsey's career move paid off, to say the least.
"After two years, Don [Jr.] left the bench to become the Director of Athletics at Rider and I became one of the youngest Division I coaches in America. A dream came true because of three men—Frank [Marcinek], Don Harnum Sr. and Don Harnum Jr.—and one school—Susquehanna."
Dempsey spent seven years as the head coach at Rider before being named the head coach at Binghamton University, another Division I program, prior to the start of the 2012–13 season.
"I am excited to be the head coach at Binghamton," he said. "This has been the biggest challenge of my career and I am truly enjoying it. I have prided myself in my coaching career on being a hard worker, bringing positive energy to my programs and running them with a steady hand. I believe those qualities will help make the Binghamton basketball program a winner of the next several years."
The words Dempsey uses—hard worker, positive energy—are values preached at the Division III level and Marcinek believes the Division III playing and coaching experience played a key role in Dempsey's career path.
"Tommy got more playing experience at the Division III level than he would have gotten at any other level," Marcinek said. "He got playing experience and then he got to stay on with the program as an assistant coach; you just don't see that very often at the Division I level. As a Division III coach, Tommy got to do everything so he was more than ready to become a Division I head coach."