On Day 1, new Redhawks men's basketball coach Jim Hayford guarantees a NCAA tournament berth. Seattle University hasn't made the Big Dance since 1969.

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During his introductory press conference, new Seattle University men’s basketball coach Jim Hayford received the loudest applause when he promised to deliver a NCAA tournament berth and snap a drought that’s nearing 50 years.

“The alumni here is rich and the tradition is rich and I embrace it,” he said Thursday midway into a 10-minute speech. “I want to connect this generation with that generation with a trip to the NCAA tournament.”

Hayford could have stopped right there and sent everyone home smiling.

After all most of the spectators who crammed in the lobby of the school’s student center to meet the new coach – including the SU players in attendance – weren’t alive when the Redhawks made their last NCAA tournament appearance in 1969.

Hayford, who became SU’s 17th coach, knows his postseason promise made a good sound bite in front of a receptive audience that included his wife Robin – they celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary Thursday – and parents who live in Bothell.

But it’s the same thing he told Eastern Washington fans in 2011 when he took the job. Four years later, he guided the Eagles to their second ever NCAA tournament in 2015.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Hayford said. “If you’re a Division I basketball coach and you’re not crazy focused on the NCAA tournament, then you’re not going to be successful. I don’t shy away from it.

“They looked at me crazy when I said we’re going to make the NCAA tourney at Eastern and we’re going to win. So now I got to go back it up.”

A top priority is hiring a staff that’ll include Chris Victor, who spent the past two years as an assistant at Eastern.

Since taking the Seattle U job, Hayford has been peppered with questions about why he left Eastern after a six-year stint in which  he had a 106-91 record. He won 66 games in the past three seasons, including a 22-12 record in 2016-17.

Inexplicably, he traded a perennial Big Sky contender for a Seattle U team that’s had just two winning seasons in the past eight years. The Redhawks were 13-17 this season during its final year under Cameron Dollar.

“I love what I built there, but this isn’t a lateral move,” Hayford said. “It’s not looking at where things are at now. It’s about looking at where things can be. And that’s what drew me to this job.

“I see more upside. I really do. I love Eastern. … I love those players. I cried tears leaving them. But as I look forward to the next stage of my life, I turn 50 in May, I wanted a new challenge. I love building programs.”

Hayford built Whitworth into a Division III powerhouse during a 10-year tenure and revived Eastern, which had one winning season during the previous seven years before his arrival.

It was Hayford’s proven track record, which ultimately sold SU athletic director Shaney Fink. Terms of his contract were not disclosed.

“It’s definitely an important hire,” she said Thursday. “In terms of his experience and what we have to offer at Seattle U, it’s a great match. Bringing in an experienced winner was very intentional. I think he can not only raise our basketball profile, but our entire athletic department.”

Hayford spent Wednesday – his first day on the job – meeting with SU players.

He told them: “I’m here to care for you because I care about you. We’re going to build this program with love and hard work and with a mindset of growth.”

And to SU fans, Hayford said: “We’re going to win on the court. We’re going to play smart. We’re going to play a brand of basketball that’s fun. It’s going to be fun to watch.”

After Thursday’s news conference, the new Redhawks coach huddled with former Seattle U stars Johnny O’Brien, Jim Harney, Eddie Miles and Ernie Dunston.

“I want to be clear to the alumni, we need your involvement and we want your involvement,” Hayford said earlier. “I want to get to know you and I want to welcome you to enjoy and be a part of the Seattle University men’s basketball journey.”