NORTH ADAMS — The last time Derek Shell stood on the floor at the Amsler Campus Center Gymnasium, he was celebrating a MASCAC men's basketball tournament championship. He'll get a chance to do it again — this time with the home team.
Shell, who spent seven years as the men's basketball coach at Fitchburg State University and most recently was an assistant at Division III Anna Maria College, was named the new men's basketball coach at MCLA on Tuesday. He takes over for interim head coach Tony Skiffington, who did not return after the job was made a full-time one within the athletic department.
In addition to his basketball duties, Shell will be the athletic department's assistant communications director.
Shell guided the Falcons to a NCAA Division III tournament berth in the 2013 MASCAC championship game. As the fifth seed in the tourney, Fitchburg beat MCLA 80-72 in the championship game. Shell's team went on to lose to the University of Rochester 90-82 in the first round of the tournament that year.
"That's the ultimate goal, to win the league and take the team to the NCAA Tournament," Shell said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. "Hopefully, I'll be able to experience that again, and hopefully in the same gym."
Shell was one of 100 candidates who originally applied for the job. MCLA athletic director Laura Mooney said that eight candidates were interviewed by phone, two candidates were brought to the North Adams campus, and Shell was offered the job in mid-June. He will begin his new duties on Aug. 1
"Derek is a very qualified coach. He's been in the MASCAC for quite a few years over at Fitchburg. He obviously beat us to take the title," Mooney said. "He has great knowledge of the conference, great knowledge of Massachusetts in general.
"He has really great recruiting ties to parts of the state that we don't typically pull from. He's an overall great fit."
Shell comes to MCLA after spending time on Shawn Conrad's staff at Anna Maria. It was the second time they had worked together, as Shell was Conrad's assistant at Fitchburg before Conrad took over at Anna Maria. Last year, the AmCats went 15-13.
And in the small-world division, Tony Skiffington's son Brian was an assistant with Shell at Anna Maria last year. Skiffington also played for Shell at Fitchburg.
In seven years at Fitchburg, Shell was 72-104, but qualified for the MASCAC tournament five times.
The new coach said he's getting ready to begin the process of putting a staff together.
Of the 100 applicants, most were assistants looking for a head coaching job. Mooney said while it wasn't a deal breaker, it was important to hire someone who has had head coaching experience.
"To me, it was really important to get that had previous head coaching experience," the athletic director said. "Someone who knew the ins and outs of what needed to be done, instead of bringing along a young coach, who maybe hadn't had some of those experiences."
For Shell, resigning at Fitchburg turned out to be a case of taking a step backward to take two steps forward.
"When I left Fitchburg, I did some research and realized that most of the full-time head coaches at the Division III level have either master's degrees in some sort of athletic administration, and or some top college level experience as an assistant," said Shell. "The thing I could really control there was the master's degree. I took two years when I wasn't coaching off, to pursue a master's degree in athletic administration at Endicott.
"After I finished that, I jumped back on board at Anna Maria."
Shell said that in a perfect world, he would like his team to play 94 feet in both directions. And that, he said, leads to easy baskets.
"An aggressive, up-tempo style certainly favors that," he said. "Conversely, I'd like to have a team that's able to play 94 feet, not just to force turnovers but to wear the other teams down."
Shell said he knows there's a challenge ahead, but it's something the new MCLA coach says he's ready to attack.
"We're going to have to build it from the ground up," said Shell, "which is a challenge I embrace.
"It's going to be all about recruiting and establishing a culture that's going to be able to attract quality student-athletes, who want to come so we can be successful."
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.