Hoop Group Coaching Tree: Merrimack Head Coach Joe Gallo talks to HG Insider about getting moved up to the division one level, what he has learned as a coach & more

By Pat Lawless

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Photo by Production Team

We are back with another edition of Hoop Group Coaching Tree and today we feature Merrimack Head Coach Joe Gallo. Gallo, a former Hoop Group Elite Director, has climbed up the coaching ranks to now getting ready for his first year as a division one head coach. Gallo spoke about Merrimack getting moved up from a division two program, what he has learned in his time coaching and much more.

Q: This is now your fourth year as the head coach at Merrimack. What have you learned on your journey there?

A: “Probably the most important thing that I have learned is that you can never stop learning and if you’re open-minded enough you can really learn from just about anyone. With that being said, I have also learned that you can’t do everything as far as basketball goes. While it is great to see what is out there and learning different ways people play, you have to have a system and you have to believe in that system. There is always room for growth and adjustment but I think you have to have some sort of team identity on both sides of the ball.”

Q: What has been the biggest adjustment for you going from an assistant coach to Head Coach?

A: “Outside of that first timeout three years ago in game 1 that felt like it was about 20 minutes long, the biggest adjustment early on is realizing that you are the final decision maker. As an assistant sometimes it seemed easy sometimes suggesting a play call, or a recruit, or even how to handle a situation within your team. You could kind of just throw some stuff out there without any true consequence. You realize as a head coach that every decision that you make comes back to you so you better really think everything through.”

Q: What is the most satisfying part of coaching?

A: “I say this all of the time how basketball can bring a group of people together that may have never met if it wasn’t for the sport. The friendships and relationships that are built are unlike any other. It is really satisfying getting a text or call from a former player or seeing a picture on social media of a bunch of former teammates getting together; it is a bond that you do not really understand unless you went through it. I would also be lying if I didn’t say how satisfying the wins are as well. When a group of guys work so hard together, follow a game plan, and come out victorious there is nothing like that locker room celebration. I don’t think people understand how hard it is to win a college basketball game at any level. I tell my guys that there better be a party going on in that locker room when I walk in after a win and to not ever take winning for granted!”

Q: You guys have moved up to the division one level. What excites you about this opportunity?

A: “First, as an alum and former player at Merrimack it is just really exciting to see the school grow into this. As a competitor, you always want the opportunity to play against the best so this is a really exciting time for us as a program. We have had great success over the last 3 years in division 2, and our guys deserve this opportunity to see how we stack up against a higher level of competition. Down the road to one day being able to see Merrimack on a bracket is something that I never would have imagined when I first step foot on campus 20 years ago.”

Q: Who are some of the mentors you have had through the years that have played a key role in getting you to this point?

A: “Naturally, some of my mentors are the three head coaches that I worked for, Bert Hammel (Merrimack), Paul Cormier (Dartmouth), and Andy Toole (Robert Morris). Andy is a mentor and a really close friend. We model a lot of what we do in practice after the things that I learned while working with him. Jeff Rafferty (NJIT assistant) is someone who took me under his wing when I first started as an assistant at Merrimack back in 2005. He showed me the ropes early on out on the recruiting trail and introduced me to numerous people in the business. Pat Beilein (Niagara) is another close friend who I worked with at Dartmouth and bounce ideas off of all of the time. I can’t forget about RC Kehoe (Robert Morris) who taught me the zone we play today when I was at Robert Morris. And outside of basketball, a guy by the name of Daren Alix (national sales manager of Quest Diagnostic) is someone who has had a lot of success in life built off of relationships and his positive upbeat attitude. While X’s and O’s are important, they are not as important as the relationships that you build with your players and staff!”