Andy Toole: building a champion

If you’re Uptown grabbing some ice cream or yogurt before the autumn leaves start to fall, look around. You’ll probably see Robert Morris University men’s basketball coach Andy Toole, 33, and his wife, Brooke, 33,  with their son, Ryan, 1, in a stroller. The Tooles often walk from their house on Birch Avenue to enjoy the various pleasures of Washington Road.

“We’ll go to Yogli Mogli, and the back deck at Il Pizzaiolo,” Toole says. “When I became the head coach at Robert Morris, we celebrated at Bistro 19.”

Toole, currently the sixth youngest coach of all NCAA Division I programs, has a lot to celebrate. His greatest accomplishment since becoming head coach in 2010 came earlier this year when his Colonials stunned defending NCAA champion Kentucky in the first round of the 2013 National Invitational Tournament. The nail-biting 59-57 victory at RMU’s Sewall Center had students storming the court in arguably the greatest game ever witnessed on the Moon Township campus.

Robert Morris basketball coach Andy Toole, 33, is one of the youngest head coaches in the game.
Robert Morris basketball coach Andy Toole, 33, is one of the youngest head coaches in the game.

The opportunity to become the head coach at RMU came about when former top man Mike Rice left for Rutgers University in 2010. Toole, the top assistant coach, stayed behind and moved up. “I was extremely fortunate,” Toole says. “I was at the right place at the right time. I did the best I could to prepare for this. Never did I imagine what has happened would happen. Now I have this opportunity and want to see where it takes us.”

The amazing win over Kentucky brought more exposure, both for Toole and for RMU. “When I grab a drink at The Saloon or other places, people notice,” he says.  “For the program, that game gave us a point of reference for Robert Morris, informed people where we are and what we’re about. For recruiting, a lot of it is about name recognition, and we have it now.”

Toole’s coaching style is intense, and he expects nothing less than the best from his players. Those who know him well will point out his thorough and productive practices. He’s on the court and rubbing shoulders with players while instructing. It’s all a part of his plan to continue to build the Colonials into one of the top mid-major programs in college basketball.

“I think everyone’s goal is to be a part of the NCAA Tournament and March Madness,” said Toole. “That is going to be something that is in our future, and we want to compete to get there.”

Toole grew up in New Jersey and still has family there. He got an Ivy League education at the University of Pennsylvania, where he starred as a guard for the Quaker basketball team and helped lead Penn to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in 2002 and 2003. His journey in coaching led him to Pittsburgh, where he and Brooke lived on the South Side before marrying and moving to Mt. Lebanon in 2009.

“We wanted a place that had a real sense of community and the perfect blend of homes,” he says. “We like the neighborhood feel. Once we realized that Lebo was our place to live, we must have looked at five or six places.”

The Tooles don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. Brooke is established in her career as a corporate recruiter at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Coraopolis. In May, Robert Morris University extended Andy’s contract through the 2017-18 season (despite still having two years remaining on his initial agreement). In his three seasons as head coach, Toole has compiled a 68-36 record, including a stellar 39-15 mark in Northeast Conference play. The university made a statement to all of college basketball—Andy Toole is not available for hire.

“I’ve had some interest from some people,” Toole says. “I enjoy where I work and am fortunate to have great leadership at Robert Morris. Everyone is very supportive of me. My wife loves it here, and at this point in our lives, it is a great place.”