Rarely does the Tipoff break news. But rarely does our organization's pulse announce his retirement.
And trust me, Joe Mitch is the U.S. Basketball Writers Association's pulse. His retirement as our executive director, a position he has graciously and tirelessly held since 1983, is a time for reflection – how the heck do we replace him? – and, mostly, applause.
By the time Joe presides over the 2019 Final Four in Minneapolis, he will have served as executive director for 36 years. The job's previous three occupants – Ed Schneider, Ray Marquette and Steve Guback – combined for 28 years of service.
But Joe's work transcends numbers. He is the USBWA's welcome mat, and most everything good about our group of 900-plus basketball mavens is rooted in him.
As your incoming president, count me among the most thankful that Joe has given us a year to unearth his successor. Following mentors and friends such as – deep breath here, because the list is lengthy – Bill Brill, Bill Millsaps, Malcolm Moran, John Feinstein, Hoops Weiss and Mike DeCourcy, Steve Wieberg, Jim O'Connell, Alex Wolff, Blair Kerkhoff, Bob Ryan, Robyn Norwood and Lenox Rawlings, John Akers, Dana O'Neil, Pat Forde, Ed Graney and, most recently, Vahe Gregorian, is humbling and unnerving enough. Doing so without Joe would have been downright terrifying.
My fervent hope is to further the progress those folks crafted so well.
As my graying hair and expanding bald spot attest, the USBWA needs to get younger. We need more diversity and, most important, we need more members.
Strength in numbers, right? So I ask a favor: Recruit, recruit, recruit. There is no dead period or maximum number of offers.
After Villanova's dominance in San Antonio, I sat down with the USBWA directory – worth the price of admission, by the way – and cross-referenced our membership rolls with familiar reporters from the ACC circuit. More than 40 potential new members emerged, including student journalists on ACC campuses. I suspect many of y'all could compile similar lists of targets.
Anyone privileged to attend our functions at the Final Four saw the organization's selling points.
Thanks in large part to Vahe, Malcolm, John and the NCAA's David Worlock, the USBWA's relationship with the Division I men's basketball committee is cordial and respectful rather than contentious. We don't have enough courtside seats at NCAA tournament or regular-season venues, or enough access to the committee's deliberations, but the dialogue continued in San Antonio and remains positive, witness the bestpractices memo the Basketball Oversight Committee sent to every Division I program before the season.
Moreover, our awards continue to resonate. Sam Dowd (Most Courageous), Joe Castiglione (Katha Quinn) and Jalen Brunson (Oscar Robertson) were truly moved by their honors, as were, at other times and locales, Don Donoher (Dean Smith) and Tony Bennett (Henry Iba).
The USBWA was also front-and-center at the Women's Final Four – the games, just wow – where we honored our national player (South Carolina's A'ja Wilson), coach (Mississippi State's Vic Schaefer) and freshman (Texas A&M's Chennedy Carter) of the year.
And yes, we (rightfully) hail our own. The Hall of Fame acceptance speeches from Lew Freedman, David Jones, Kirk Wessler and Charlie Pierce were poignant, amusing and included this classic question: "Got any speed?" Nicole Auerbach affirmed what we all knew, that she richly deserved the Rising Star Award.
So as we head into a uniquely uncertain offseason – what's next, FBI? – I encourage you to email, text, call or DM with questions and suggestions for our organization. Since my first-grader requires well north of four timeouts per game, Worlock-like responsiveness is unlikely, but I promise to reply.
Until then, if you get a chance, thank Joe Mitch. He deserves it.
Some well wishes to Joe Mitch, upon the announcement of his retirement in 2019:
Tony Barnhart: All of us, especially the past presidents, simply cannot thank you enough for your incredible service to the USBWA. It has been such a pleasure working with you over the years. Please enjoy your well-deserved retirement.
Seth Davis: Adding my praise and thanks Joe. Appreciate all you have done for us.
Dave Dorr: Back in the day the USBWA was a feel-good organization. Presidents' roles were largely honorary. Members were happy with their seating at big games. When money began driving college basketball decisions the USBWA faced new challenges. Your management style of patience, sensitivity and ability to find sponsors carried the day. You transformed the USBWA. You'll be leaving with the organization at its apex. Members will long benefit from your legacy down the road. We salute you and thank you.
John Feinstein: Like everyone else I have mixed emotions about your decision. I'm thrilled for you, not so thrilled for us. I know you've worked very hard to make the USBWA as good as it can possibly be for a long time. But what stands out to me is the remarkable decency you have brought to your job, to all of us and to everyone you deal with for so long. I'll miss that more than anything.
Pat Forde: Enjoy a well-earned retirement, Joe. The USBWA would have curled up and died without you years ago; thank you for all you did for the organization. Every past president in particular owes you a huge debt of gratitude.
Vahé Gregorian: Echoing Dana's echo, particularly as the latest beneficiary of your dedication to the organization and propping up of presidents, very thankful for all you've done for us collectively and personally.
Bob Hammel: Joe, let me start with congratulations – in this case, a mild word – for leadership that took a good organization to heights none of us could have imagined way back when we were just getting to know you. Your unflappable style made crises rare and brief. Always know those traits that made you so irreplaceable all those years were noticed and appreciated by everyone who cared about the existence and the purpose of our organization – in truth, your organization. ... Thanks for everything, Joe. I hope this last lap is your best one.
Malcolm Moran: Congrats, Joe. I'm proud to say I'm grateful for what you have done for all of us.
Dana O'Neil: So happy for you, Joe! You deserve a wonderful and joyous retirement. ... I am so grateful for everything you've done for all of us.
George Schroeder: Belatedly ... WHAT THEY SAID. I can't begin to say it better, but I wholeheartedly agree. Thank you for everything, and may God continue to bless you.
David Teel: Please add me to the praise chorus, Joe. You make every USBWA member feel welcome.
Kirk Wessler: Congratulations, Joe, and a thousand thank-yous for all you've done for the organization – and many of us personally – over the years.