Lee native Peter Cinella wins 400th game as head college basketball coach
One day after picking up a milestone victory, Lee native Peter Cinella chuckled about his 400th career win.
"You've got to coach quite a while, I guess, to get that many wins," he said.
Cinella picked up win No. 400 on Wednesday night, when his Fairleigh Dickinson women's basketball team beat New Jersey rival Monmouth 78-61.
The Lee High School and Western New England graduate is in his 11th season as FDU's head coach. He was the coach at Division II American International College for 14 seasons before that.
With the win, Cinella has a career record of 400 wins and 326 losses. He is the 49th active Division I coach with 400 career victories. It was his 109th win at Fairleigh Dickinson.
"I'm thankful for all the people who reached out and congratulated, but I really just wanted to win the game," he said, during a late-afternoon phone interview with The Eagle. "We played Monmouth, which is our local rival, and a team from the MAAC. I was more happy that we beat Monmouth than anything."
Cinella, who graduated from Western New England in 1990 and assisted his father Tom at Lee in 1991 as the Wildcats went 25-0 and won an MIAA state championship, has his team off to an impressive 6-2 start. It is the first time the Knights have been 6-2 since the 1991-92 season. FDU finished 23-6 that season, and hasn't been above .500 since then.
"We have a good team this year," Cinella said. "I didn't expect it. I thought we were going to be good ... but we've played a little better than I thought."
The six wins include road victories at tough foes NJIT and Longwood. Cinella's team has beaten Army, Colgate and now Monmouth at home. The Knights were 4-10 against Monmouth going into Wednesday's game on FDU's home court in Hackensack, N.J. Monmouth had won four of the last five games between the two teams.
"We've beaten some good teams. Army is traditionally a 20-win team. We beat a good Colgate team and Monmouth was picked in the top four of their league," Cinella said. "We've gotten off to a good start. It's tough, sometimes, out of conference because you play a lot of big schools. We play Rutgers [of the Big Ten] on Sunday."
It helps to have a good coaching staff, and Cinella laughed when he said that he wasn't sure if any D-I coaching staff in America had two 400-game winners on it. The other is former Vermont, Boston College and Rhode Island head coach Cathy Inglese, who joined Cinella's staff for this season.
"I love having a person who's a former head coach. Not just a former head coach, but a former head coach who beat UConn three different times. Someone who won the Big East and coached in the Sweet 16," Cinella said. "I knew her from her days at BC when I was at AIC and of course my father being a BC grad. She's able to bring, with head coach knowledge as an assistant, she's able to bring a lot of insight and she's really took over our defense. She's like our defensive coordinator, and it's no coincidence that we lead [the Northeast Conference] in almost every defensive category."
Cinella's team has done well for many reasons. He said this is as talented a group as he's had in New Jersey. It might also be the youngest. He has only two seniors on his roster and only 6-foot-1 forward Amina Markovic plays regularly. She is one of Cinella's starters. FDU starts three juniors and freshman Kamrin Weimer.
"We had a couple of years where maybe we had an injury or two, or we lost some close games," Cinella said. "I really thought we were going to be good. This is a new group of players, and they've got it figured out."
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter and 413-496-6253.
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