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The Son Sets at Dartmouth: Younger Cormier Brings Knowledge, Enthusiasm to Staff

  • Chris Cormier, the volunteer assistant coach for the Dartmouth men’s basketball team, made some sacrifices in order to join the staff. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

Hanover — The transformation takes place after tipoff, when Chris Cormier moves from mild-mannered, volunteer assistant to a shouting, arm-waving provocateur. He may be the fourth man on the coaching totem pole for the Dartmouth College men’s basketball team, but you’d never guess it by his intensity and wild gesticulations.

“Until we played a game, I wouldn’t have known he would do that,’’ Big Green guard John Golden said. “But games bring things out in some people.’’

Cormier missed the games. And the practices, and the video study and a thousand other details of basketball. Which explains why, at 29, he’s working for free and living with his parents. His mother, Susan, fills the third of her four sons up with home cooking and is a reality-TV-watching buddy. His father, Paul, is Dartmouth’s head coach.

“I was concerned about how the players and my assistants were going to react to working with the boss’ son, but it’s a tougher situation for Chris than for me,’’ said Paul Cormier, who’s in the third year of his second stint at Dartmouth. “I’m sure there are times he’d like to put in his two cents more often than he does, but I told him this is a place where your ears have to be open and you open your mouth only when you’re called upon.’’

Games clearly don’t fall under those rules. Chris Cormier is as animated as any other staff member, maybe more so, once the Big Green hits the court in front of a crowd. It’s nothing out of control, however, and his father sees benefits in his son’s exuberance.

“He might be the most emotional of my sons,’’ Paul Cormier said. “I would temper it if I felt it was out of line, but our players respond to it. We want to make them aware, right away, of the positives and negatives in their games.’’

Chris Cormier’s first days on the Leede Arena court came as a tyke during halftime of Dartmouth games in the early 1990s, when his father had the Big Green on the brink of an Ivy League title. He and his brothers would shoot baskets during the break, often delighting what were then large crowds with their long-distance buckets. After two years at Hanover’s Bernice A. Ray Elementary School, however, Chris departed for Connecticut with his family once his father took the head coaching job at Fairfield University.

After playing high school hoops in Trumbull, Conn., Chris Cormier was a four-year starter and two-time captain for Roger Williams University, an NCAA Division III program in Rhode Island. He spent more than three years toiling for a real estate company in Worcester, Mass., enjoying his co-workers, but not the career path on which he was headed. Out to dinner with his parents one night, Chris Cormier said he wanted to start over in basketball coaching.

“I told him he was going to have to sacrifice and earn his stripes,’’ Paul Cormier said. “You can either become a teacher and coach high school, or try and find somewhere to get your master’s degree and hook on with a Division III program.’’

Chris Cormier did the latter, landing an interview at Castleton State after another candidate for the job didn’t work out. During two victory-filled seasons with the Spartans, he didn’t receive a salary, but had his housing, food and tuition paid while earning a master’s degree in sports administration. He also received a coaching stipend. When Dartmouth’s previous volunteer coach, Chuck Bridge, took an assistant’s job at Long Island (N.Y.) University, Paul Cormier offered his son the gig.

“This will be his third year of making no money, but Chris is a hard-working guy and he gets to be around great kids at a great institution and learn how to build a program the right way,’’ the head coach said. “When he leaves here, he will have been in the trenches and have dealt with every aspect of being a basketball coach, except for being the head guy and making those decisions.’’

In actuality, Chris Cormier does make some money, but he earns every penny by checking student IDs at the Dartmouth dining hall during weekday mornings and helping to organize and run the Big Green’s summer basketball camps. It’s the afternoons and evenings where he can pursue his dream, however, when he helps with recruiting, scouting, individual player development and practice. After years of watching his father dissect video during his stops in college and the NBA, the son knows that skill inside and out.

Paul Cormier “is a big film guy and Chris is good at that, too,’’ Golden said. “They can both show you things you haven’t thought about. They both have that high basketball IQ.’’

Chris Cormier said there was a bit of anxiety on his part about how he would fit in with the team, but that his years hanging around his father and his previous squads paid off in a smooth transition. No one in the program knows how to read the elder Cormier better than his son, who’s well aware of the opportunity he’s been given.

“You’ve got to be a sponge and realize when to be a listener and not a talker,’’ said Chris Cormier, who often works until midnight before returning to his parents’ house near the Hanover Country Club. “It’s funny that I have a master’s degree and I’m working at a cafeteria and for my dad, who’s also my roommate. But I have no complaints other than we’d like to have a couple more wins.’’

Dartmouth (4-12, 0-2) twice led Harvard in the second half to open up Ancient Eight play, but eventually lost both contests, the latter by squandering a 10-point lead with 95 seconds remaining. Last night’s loss to visiting Brown is followed by tonight’s home game against Yale. Chris Cormier isn’t sure whether he’ll still be on the Big Green bench next season, but he’s optimistic good times are coming.

“I think the next couple seasons can be pretty special here,’’ he said. “As much as I want to move on for my professional career, I think the future is really bright here and it would be great to be part of that.’’

Hey, the rent’s free and his housemates are understanding. Sticking around might not be such a bad idea.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.