Mike McLaughlin knows how to win basketball games.
Before coming to Penn to coach the women’s team, McLaughlin became the fastest women’s coach to reach 400 career victories – at any level. With a staggering 407-61 record over 14 seasons at Division II Holy Family, the 43-year-old won about as often as a college kid goes to class – once every 3.5 days.
So it must have come as quite a shock to him when it took a month-and-a-half to win his first game at Penn.
“Well, it’s a different challenge,” McLaughlin told Penn Gazette Sports about a week after the Quakers snapped its nine-game season-opening winless slide with a 52-48 win over St. Francis (N.Y.) on Dec. 31. “It wasn’t difficult. I don’t think the players have been discouraged. My goal is to run a program over time.
“There’s no doubt people look at the results. I’m not blind to that. But I didn’t put any expectations on winning and losing this year.”
It’s doubtful many people are rushing McLaughlin, who inherited a team that averaged less than 10 wins a season for five years under Pat Knapp.
If his track record is any indication, McLaughlin should have the Quakers back at the level they were in the early part of the decade when then-coach Kelly Greenberg (who’s now at Boston University) took them to two NCAA tournaments in four years – the first two in program history.
It just may take a little time.
“Our message to players constantly is that we have to build a foundation,” the first-year coach said. “We’ll continue to make strides.”
There’s no tiptoeing around the fact that is a rough time for Penn basketball as both the men’s and women’s teams are sitting on one win. But with each squad directed by a young, energetic coach, there is reason for hope, McLaughlin says.
“Jerome (Allen) and I talk about passion and if you watch how we practice, you can see the energy in both programs,” he said. “There’s a great amount of energy for two teams that have not won a great deal of games.”
The Quakers (1-11) will undoubtedly keep that energy level high when they host rival Princeton tomorrow night at the Palestra in the first game of Ivy League competition.
Could that game turn into win No. 2 on the way to another 400 for McLaughlin?
“That’s the goal,” the coach said with a laugh.