In becoming Siena’s coach, Gerry McNamara leaves behind his adopted hometown of Syracuse: ‘It’s bittersweet’

In becoming Siena’s coach, Gerry McNamara leaves behind his adopted hometown of Syracuse: ‘It’s bittersweet’
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Albany, NY – For most of his life, Gerry McNamara was described in terms of his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

A blue-collar kid. The son of a Marine. The youngest of Gerard and Joyce McNamara’s four children.

But on Tuesday, as Gerry McNamara was introduced as the head basketball coach at Siena College with a ceremony held in the lobby of the MVP Arena in downtown Albany, Gerard McNamara made an interesting observation.

“Gerry has spent as many years now in Syracuse as he did in Scranton,” he said.

Gerry McNamara arrived in Syracuse in the fall of 2002. He was 18 years old and a freshman at Syracuse University. He would become one of the most beloved players in school history.

As a freshman, he along with fellow freshman Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA championship. McNamara scored more than 2,000 points. He set 3-point shooting records. He started each of his 135 games in his Syracuse career.

“I came to Syracuse as a young man, as a player, but I’m leaving as a father of four,” McNamara said Tuesday. “Regardless of what I did as a player, that’s the most important thing that I’ve done in my life in that city. They helped raise my family.”

Syracuse embraced Gerry McNamara and never let him go. When he played his final game at the Carrier Dome, a children’s chorus serenaded him with a rendition “McNamara’s Band.”

Oh, he left for a short time after his playing career ended in 2006. He spent a few years playing professional ball overseas.

But he talked with Jim Boeheim at the 2009 Big East Tournament. Boeheim could tell his former star he wasn’t happy.

Boeheim offered McNamara a chance to return to Syracuse as a graduate assistant. McNamara hedged. Boeheim pressed the issue.

“He asked me and then two short weeks after, he put me on the spot,” McNamara said. “I think he knew. That’s part of being a coach. Part of being a coach is knowing the players you’re working with. He knew me. I’d played for him for four years.

“I think he knew I was unhappy in terms of going to play in Transylvania or wherever I was.”

McNamara was back on the path his father had envisioned many years earlier.

Gerard McNamara’s kid didn’t just play basketball. He understood the game at a young age. He saw the game.

“It was like he was playing chess,” Gerard McNamara said. “He was always two moves ahead.”

Boeheim, as coach and mentor, had an incredible influence on McNamara.

“He’s someone who has meant the world to me,” McNamara said.

How fitting that on March 4, 2023, in what would turn out to be Boeheim’s final home game as Syracuse’s head coach, Syracuse University honored McNamara, raising his No. 3 jersey into the dome’s rafters.

Former Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins, who had recruited McNamara and then became friends as assistants under Boeheim, became the guy that McNamara emulated.

“If I could say who I model the most as far as a coach, it would be Hop,” McNamara said. “It’s because of how he treats people. He it’s how he I am. ”

McNamara said he pursued just two head-coaching jobs over the years. He went for the Siena job twice. Six years ago, the timing just wasn’t right for either the school or for McNamara. Since then, he has taken on more duties following Hopkins’ departure for the University of Washington.

And this past year, he was part of Syracuse’s succession from Boeheim to Adrian Autry. McNamara, elevated to the role of associate head coach, watched as Autry took on the task of making a dramatic transition.

“This last year was really rewarding for me because I watched Adrian Autry, one of my great friends, transition from associate head coach to head coach,” McNamara said. “The same transition I’m currently making. To watch one of your best friends dive head-first into that endeavor, never look back, confident, to be through that process with him, I was so proud of him.

“But at the same time, it was really rewarding for me because I got a chance to take from it, too.”

If Syracuse University was Gerry McNamara’s alma mater, Syracuse was now his home.

He and his wife, Katie, two high school sweethearts from Scranton, have four children. Family is important to McNamara. He said his life boils down to two things: basketball and family.

On Tuesday, the McNamara kids strolled around the MVP Arena’s foyer with their cousins.

McNamara said the toughest part of leaving Syracuse is having to move his family out of the only home it’s ever known.

“It’s an emotional time because we love where we are,” he said. “As great as my playing career was, I’m more grateful to the area and the Jamesville-DeWitt school district. They were phenomenal to our kids.

“This place took care of my children,” he added. “That weighs heavier on me than anything I’ve done on the basketball court.”

To replace closets full of Syracuse Orange hoodies, T-shirts and shorts, the McNamara clan raided the Siena College bookstore for Saints gear to wear to Tuesday’s press conference.

“The greatest thing about it is it’s always going to be my alma mater,” McNamara said of Syracuse University. “I’ll always be able to put on a Syracuse shirt and don’t judge me. At the end of the day, it’s my alma mater.”

When McNamara was playing for Syracuse, his parents, Gerard and Joyce, never missed a game. Home or away. And they were both there again on Tuesday, watching as their son was introduced as the head coach at Siena College.

“He was meant to be a head coach,” Joyce, wearing a Siena green sweater, said. “But it is bittersweet. Siena is a great place for him, but the Syracuse community embraced him and Katie and their family.”

The kid from Scranton is now a man with a career and a family and a dream of being a head coach.

“Now we’re on a different journey and that’s exciting, too,” McNamara said. “I get to live out something that I think I’ve earned the right to do and I think I’m good at it.

“I want my chance.”

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