Interview with Bill Harris the Coach of Fordham University

Trevor Freeman.
Water Polo Planet

So I was sitting back eating an Italian hero and basking in the glory which was me scoring one for the Alumni side in Fordham’s annual Alumni game.  While the final result was reminiscent of a clash between the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote as the current squad toyed with the alums, I was letting everybody know that one of those few goals came off of this right hand.  I did not let facts get in the way, i.e. that the only reason why I scored was because I was cherry picking.  In the midst of some good-natured trash talk, it was pointed out to me that I had interviewed a number of coaches, but never the one who guides my alma mater.  With that, this interview was truly born.

Bill Harris came to Fordham University in 2004 and instantly breathed life into one of the oldest East Coast water polo programs.  With a series of successful recruiting classes, this 1997 U.S. Water Polo Hall of Fame inductee has the New York City school emerging as a contender in the East.  Harris himself had a storied college career at St. Francis College, where he was a 1966 NCAA All-American and led St. Francis to four straight ECAC Championships. Following his collegiate career, Harris represented the New York Athletic Club from 1967-1992, where he was a member of eight National Championship teams. Below is a transcript of the conversation that occurred between two people who are both proud to be Rams.

Fordham is shaping up to be a deep sleeper in the Northern Division this season as they return six of their seven starters from a squad that played St. Francis and Brown very tough last year.  What do the Rams need to do in order to get over the hump and cause some damage at both the Northern and Eastern Championships?

Well I am not sure about the “sleeper” title, my bet is that the teams in our conference respect our program as we do theirs and are prepared for a hard fought game when we compete. To improve over last year we need to be more consistent. Last season we started out flat in a few key games and at this level it is hard to be down a few goals and come back and win. The team did show all season long that it would not quit and that is one reason why I really enjoy working with this group of athletes.  They have character.

Bill HarrisFordham had a competitive squad up until about 2000 and then it really fell apart for about four years until you took over in 2004.  What would you say was the hardest part about restoring respectability back to a program that has been a staple of East Coast water polo?

The most difficult challenge was the first year of recruiting. I was hired in the spring so there was no time to recruit for the fall. We had a few talented athletes, senior goalie P.J. Toolan, from Fenwick High (Chicago), helped keep most of our games close. We had a number of experienced athletes but not enough to be competitive against the better teams.   During recruiting the first year some recruits told me they wanted to play for a strong program, which was understandable, my response was that I was looking for athletes that wanted to make Fordham a strong program and a few took the challenge. The opportunity to study and compete in New York City with a coach who would work to improve the program convinced some talented athletes to take a chance and now in ’09, the first year of recruits will graduate with a degree from a top school having experienced four years of competing and helping our program develop, I am proud of their dedication and accomplishments.

Tell us a little bit about Timmy Will and what makes him in my opinion the most underrated goalie on the East Coast.

Timmy Will is going into his senior year and he has started in goal for us since his first season.  Timmy is a very talented goalie and he is a student of the game. My bet is that he is well respected by our competition.  Timmy has a strong work ethic, is team captain and has greatly contributed to any success our program has shown these last three years. 

The offense looks to be pretty explosive this year with Alex Powell and Todd Conway returning.  I think both players have the ability to be All-East performers this season.  Can you give us a little insight into each player and what makes them each tremendous water polo players?

Todd Conway is a high school All-American from Torrey Pines (San Diego).  Todd along with Timmy was in the first group of recruits to arrive in 2005.  Todd has been instrumental in advancing our program. Todd played with a nagging injury last year so if he can stay healthy it will a pleasure to watch him play up to his full potential this season.  Alex Powell, a sophomore from Palos Verdes had a strong season in 2007, if he can stay injury free I am hoping for him to be a big contributor this coming fall along with several other second year athletes who began to contribute last season.

How has this year’s recruiting class been thus far?

We have a talented group of recruits coming in this year; I see you have already listed them on the Water Polo Planet site.  I believe they will be able to adjust to the college level game early on.  All of the athletes are from strong programs and they will give us some additional team speed, which will strengthen our offense; I look forward to begin working with them in August.

The first thing that pops into people's minds when discussing Fordham is that it is located in New York City and that it has one of the nation's premier undergraduate business programs.  In my opinion, what makes it a truly great institution is the Jesuit experience.  What are your thoughts on the benefits of attending one of the nation's premier Jesuit institutions?

That question is way above my pay scale but I will give it a shot.  Students at Fordham are expected to excel in academics while they are here but just as important is the philosophy to give back to the community during their four years of college life. I guess the best way for me to explain it is to give some examples. Two years ago the team volunteered to assist at a local triathlon, which was a charity fundraiser. The guys had a good time and felt proud to be a part of a community event.  This spring every member of the team visited the pediatric ward of a local hospital and read stories to the young patients, this had a strong positive effect on our athletes and they are learning the best way to receive in life is to give.

Finally, here is the toughest question of all and one in which I am sure will cause you many an agonizing night trying to answer. Let’s say Alex Powell has 56 goals going into the last game of the season, how many glowing articles would it take by me about Fordham in order for you to sit Alex and not let him pass the immortal Trevor Freeman for fourth place on Fordham’s single season scoring list?

Trevor no offense regarding your alleged “immortality” but ..........I believe that the number of goals scored in a season is not a true measure, goals scored against strong teams, in close games.... that athlete is the real deal. I trust you are in that elite category.

Well, I think if you go back and analyze each of those 57 goals, I can promise you that at least four to five of them came against strong teams when the game was still close.  In all seriousness, there are a lot of ways to define a program’s success.  Sure, Fordham hasn’t been a true national contender since the Reagan administration although they are beginning to rise back up the Eastern ranks.  However Fordham water polo has been successful in another way that can only be captured by the next story I will tell.  About a month ago, I was invited to attend Fordham’s Executive Leadership Series.  The event was for young Fordham alums working in Finance to have dinner, network and ask questions of four prominent Fordham alums working in their field.  All four of these individuals looked to be in their 40s.  Two of them were already retired and the other two were Managing Directors at two of the largest financial institutions in the world.  Unknown to me until I introduced myself and began to chat was that of these four people, three of them played water polo for Fordham University.  Maybe Fordham is just beginning to reassert itself in the pool, but I would submit that the Rams program has already been successful.