Slam dunk on and off the court

In June 1983, “Flashdance… What a Feeling” was the top song in the United States. The average price for a gallon of gasoline was $1.24. Michael Jordan was entering his junior season of college basketball at the University of North Carolina. And a new era in college basketball at RIT was beginning to take shape as Bob McVean was hired to guide the men’s team.

McVean will begin his 30th year with the Tigers this 2012–2013 season. A grizzled veteran with more than 40 years in the coaching fraternity, McVean is just seven wins shy of 500 for his career. When he hits that milestone, he will become the 32nd head coach in Division III history with such an achievement.

McVean’s successes are well documented. Six NCAA Division III tournament appearances, including three No. 1 seeds in the East region and a berth in the 1996 Sweet 16, six Empire 8 Conference championships and two Wendy’s College Classic titles. He is also a two-time East Region coach of the year and seven-time Empire 8 coach of the year.

But the wins pale in comparison to the hundreds of young men McVean has nurtured as freshmen and helped shape into accomplished adults by the end of their senior seasons. In fact, all but one of his 94 four-year players have graduated.

“As a person, Coach McVean is second to none,” says Jeff Haskell ’88 (business administration), who played for McVean from 1984 to 1988 and is a member of the RIT Athletics Hall of Fame. Haskell now lives in Franklinville, N.Y., and works as a teacher and basketball coach in the Franklinville Central School District. “He is a role model for all his players and I am in awe of his love of the game to this day.”

Many of the traits McVean has ingrained in his student-athletes throughout the years include sportsmanship, character, ethics and accountability.

“Bob’s an extremely hard-working, blue-collar coach, who passes on a lot of wisdom to his players in many different ways,” says longtime assistant coach Neil Kromer, who has coached with McVean for part of five decades. “He puts the important parts of life in perspective for his players, stressing academics and family first.”

Lou Spiotti, executive director of Intercollegiate Athletics at the university, hired McVean to replace Bill Nelson, who left for Nazareth in June 1983. Spiotti and McVean have worked together seamlessly ever since.

“From the start, Bob impressed me as a passionate go-getter,” says Spiotti, who has led RIT’s athletic program since 1980. “We are fortunate to have had him lead our basketball program for such a long time. He is incredibly loyal and has a strong set of values and ethics that he has passed on to his players, who have a great deal of respect for him.”

To be a successful coach in any sport, there is always a strong support group needed. For McVean, that is his family. McVean’s wife of 38 years, Debbie, sits in her familiar spot at all RIT home games and many road games—15-20 rows above the RIT bench. Usually sitting next to her are McVean’s two daughters, Carrie and Tara. Son Scott, RIT’s associate director of athletics, is usually roaming the sidelines in a shirt and tie. The McVeans have five grandchildren who are at nearly every home game, cheering loudly for the Tigers.

“I grew up with RIT basketball,” says Scott McVean, who was 3 when the elder McVean was hired. “I remember shooting baskets at halftime of games when I was a kid and now my kids do the same thing. My sisters come to every home game and my mom is the program’s biggest fan.”

Bob McVean readily admits that perhaps the only difference between him when he started and now is his energy level, but that he enjoys coaching every bit as much as he did when he entered the profession 40-plus years ago.

“It’s enjoyable every year to teach and mold a different set of players into a group, having them learn the true benefit of being a student-athlete and how that relates to what they encounter later in life,” McVean says. “Every year is different, regardless of what players return because of injuries and many other factors.”

In 2011, McVean was inducted into the RIT Athletics Hall of Fame. As a testament to their former coach, nearly 20 former players were in attendance for the induction ceremony.

“Coach was like a father figure to me on campus, a very supportive man,” says RIT’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder Craig Jones ’98 (social work), who was also the 1996 NCAA Division III National Player of the Year. “He always went above and beyond to prepare us, not only for games, and he cared about us outside of basketball, always stressing academics, which was huge for me.”

McVean has no urge to step aside anytime soon.

“I’ve been fortunate to have such a great group of young men play here throughout the years,” McVean says.

“I will know when it’s time to stop coaching. But the competitive fire still burns and fuels me for the next day of practice, next game and next season. We certainly look forward to getting back to the success we’ve had and get better on a daily basis.”

Honoring 30 years

Coach Bob McVean has created a legacy of success at RIT. Celebrate his 30 years at the helm of the men’s basketball program by helping raise $30,000 in support of the team. To learn more or to make a gift, go to

The Road to RIT

About Coach McVean

“Bob’s teams always reflect his competitive nature. I’ve admired his solid core values and how he treats his players with respect.”—Mike Neer, former University of Rochester and current Hobart head coach.

“He stresses self-discipline and time management but is also a player’s coach who cares about us off the floor as students and men.”—Brendan Reinert, third-year finance major and forward on the team.