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Photo by Joseph Staszewski
By Joseph Staszewksi

Mike Eisenberg has come to grips with the fact that he may never get the chance to coach a high school girls’ basketball team again and take another squad to Madison Square Garden for the PSAL Class AA title game.

It has the former Francis Lewis coach currently targeting a different path to the mecca of basketball — as a referee. Eisenberg is set to begin his first season as a girls’ PSAL junior varsity game this year and is working toward being certified as a boys’ official as well. His former player, Zoe Robbins, made history by being the first person to play and referee a city championship game at the Garden. Eisenberg is hoping for his own piece of history.

“It may be unrealistic, I’m not saying it is, but my goal is to be the first person to coach and referee at the Garden …. Maybe it could work out.”

For the 55-year-old Eisenberg refereeing is a way for him to stay around the game he loves. He hasn’t been on a bench as a head coach since being fired as the Patriots’ head man in 2008 after 15 seasons and six trips to the championship game. Eisenberg spent more than a year in the city Department of Education’s reassignment centers, or “rubber rooms,” and an investigation found that he had “failed to maintain accurate records” and “failed to turn in $600 in proceeds from the candy sale in a timely fashion,” according to the Special Commissioner of Investigations documents obtained by The New York Post in 2011.

His case with the Department of Education had been settled in May 2010 and he was free to begin teaching as an Absent Teacher Reserve, the paper reported. He made a small return to coaching as an assistant at Bayside before he said he was unexpectedly asked to leave by Commodores Principal Michael Athy. Eisenberg said Athy later told him that head Coach Steve Piorkowski had never received permission to bring the former Lewis coach onto the staff.

Now, he is trying to put that all behind him.

“I miss being with the kids,” Eisenberg said. “If I can’t coach. I’ll ref.”

This isn’t the first time Eisenberg has dabbled in refereeing. He first took the certification test 15 years ago, doing so to better understand the game as a coach. He mostly worked recreational leagues because of the time he spent coaching. With that no longer a priority, it opened the door for him to return.

“I think I start out a little better than most people because I’ve coached, I’ve played, I’ve refereed in outside leagues,” Eisenberg said.

He understands getting a coaching job again won’t be easy considering his past and the fact many PSAL coaches own retention rights to their positions. When he first put on the striped shirt, he still found himself dissecting a game as a coach, but said that’s 99 percent gone now when he is working games. Coaching will always be his first passion, but that hasn’t stopped him from enjoying his new one.

“Now I’m not supposed to worry about [being] down one and 30 seconds to go,” Eisenberg said. “It may never leave 100 percent. I like to ref. I think I’m good at it.”

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