New coach bringing ‘New York City swag’ to Dartmouth women’s basketball

St. Francis head coach Linda Cimino reacts to a play during an NCAA basketball game against Michigan St, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021 in New York. St. Francis won 66-63. (AP Photo/Vera Nieuwenhuis)

St. Francis head coach Linda Cimino reacts to a play during an NCAA basketball game against Michigan St, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021 in New York. St. Francis won 66-63. (AP Photo/Vera Nieuwenhuis) ap file photograph — Vera Nieuwenhuis

Linda Cimino, former women's basketball head coach with St. Francis Brooklyn, has been named to the same position at Dartmouth College. (Dartmouth Athletics photograph)

Linda Cimino, former women's basketball head coach with St. Francis Brooklyn, has been named to the same position at Dartmouth College. (Dartmouth Athletics photograph) Dartmouth Athletics

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-20-2023 4:17 PM

Linda Cimino did not expect to be out of a job this spring.

The head women’s basketball coach at St. Francis Brooklyn had just completed her fifth season with the Terriers, finishing fourth in the Northeast Conference with an 11-9 record in NEC play. But less than two weeks after St. Francis fell to top-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson in the conference tournament semifinals, the school announced it would be eliminating all of its varsity athletics programs at the conclusion of the spring semester.

Two months later, Cimino was named the new head coach at Dartmouth College, inheriting a Big Green program that won a mere five games in two seasons under Adrienne Shibles, losing 19 in a row to end the 2022-23 season.

“I was sad. I loved St. Francis and I loved the people there,” Cimino said. “It was a great place to work and a special place to be, and we had a really tight-knit group of coaches and athletes who all supported each other. So it was a sad day, but on the bright side, most all of our players had really good landing spots and have moved on to really good programs and schools. It was fun and challenging helping them all through that process.”

Cimino played her college ball at Adelphi University on Long Island, then went into coaching immediately after her graduation, starting as the head coach at Queensborough Community College. She then spent one season as an assistant at her alma mater before becoming the head coach at Division II Caldwell (N.J.) University for eight years, going 126-100 with the Cougars.

That led Cimino to her first Division I head job at Binghamton. The Bearcats went 4-26 in her first season in 2014-15, but by her fourth season, Binghamton was 22-12, finishing tied for third in the America East with a 10-6 conference record.

“I’ve worked my way up. I was a high school coach, a junior college coach, a Division II coach, now a Division I coach,” Cimino said. “I didn’t skip any steps…. It’s almost like I’ve had a little chip on my shoulder throughout my career.”

Following her first winning season at Binghamton, Cimino took over at St. Francis Brooklyn, where in her first year, the Terriers won a then-program record 12 conference games — a record they broke three years later when Cimino led them to a 13-3 conference mark and second-place finish in 2021-22.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Kenyon: How much do Upper Valley landlords have to raise rents to stay in business?
A Life: Mary Koloski was ‘like an unfiltered version of Dear Abby’
Residents question Hartford’s payout to former superintendent
Lebanon halts paving of Miracle Mile due to asphalt mistake
West Lebanon warehouse damaged in fire
Hanover Selectboard gives $130,000 severance package to departing town manager

But Cimino’s tenure in Brooklyn also included a number of NCAA violations for impermissible communications and contact with three players she had coached at Binghamton. Cimino said she had no intention of bringing those players to St. Francis Brooklyn in the transfer portal — and none of them ended up transferring there — but the Division I Committee on Infractions determined that she had 254 impermissible communications (mostly text messages) and 11 impermissible contacts with the three student-athletes.

“During the search, she was really transparent about her NCAA violations while she was at St. Francis Brooklyn,” Dartmouth athletic director Mike Harrity said. “We thoroughly reviewed the underlying facts relating to the violations and communicated with the NCAA Committee on Infractions. And we’re confident that Linda has the strength of character and ability to lead Dartmouth women’s basketball going forward.”

The impermissible in-person contacts included purchasing meals for the players, allowing them to stay in her home and taking them on sightseeing trips in New York City. The NCAA report said Cimino incorrectly believed the inducements were permissible due to her previous relationships with the players and their families.

Cimino was fined $5,000 and served a three-game suspension, and significant restrictions were placed on her ability to both travel for recruiting and welcome potential recruits to campus.

“I fulfilled all my obligations, and a lifelong learner learns from everything,” Cimino said. “I’m better for it now because I can educate others on those rules. It shows what kind of person I am — I left the (Binghamton) job and I still maintained contact with a few of my players, because I loved and cared about them. It’s really hard to leave a job and then just completely cut off conversations and not talk to players anymore.”

In addition to helping her St. Francis Brooklyn players navigate the transfer portal after the school cut sports, Cimino began looking for her own next opportunity, even making a recruiting trip to Europe before accepting the Dartmouth job. She was a finalist for two other Division I head coaching roles and turned down four other positions before being named to lead the Big Green on May 23.

Dartmouth has won 17 Ivy League championships, 12 of them under Chris Wielgus across two stints with the Big Green, but has experienced just one winning season since its last title in 2009. The last two years have been rock bottom, with 2022-23 marking the Big Green’s first winless Ivy campaign since they went 0-5 in conference play in 1977-78.

“(Cimino) has set about to truly understand the nuances and complexities and the challenges and opportunities within this program,” Harrity said. “She’s still undergoing that process.”

Cimino has not yet announced who will be joining her on the coaching staff, but Harrity hinted that the group will include plenty of Division I experience — something neither Shibles nor any of her assistants at Dartmouth had before arriving in Hanover.

The Big Green ranked 333rd out of 350 Division I teams in scoring offense this past winter, averaging a paltry 53.7 points per game. All five of their top scorers, though, are slated to return, led by incoming junior guard Victoria Page, who was the only player to average double figures.

“I’m an energy person. I have a little bit of that New York City swag, but it’s not cockiness or an ego,” Cimino said. “I believe in myself and I want our players to believe in themselves. It’s just shifting our mindset and thinking more optimistically and positively. I’m authentic, I am who I am, so I’m excited to bring who I am to Dartmouth and to the Ivy League.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.