Social media, (WAVY.com, Facebook, and comments from nameless readers at the end of articles on newspaper web pages) is the new water cooler gossip zone, reminded my colleague and Old Dominion graduate Jeff Myers today. Jeff is a season ticket holder for both ODU football and basketball, and like thousands of others, had an opinion of the hiring of new basketball coach Jeff Jones.
In less than 24 hours, anonymous pundits typed their fingers raw, calling for the firing of Old Dominion athletic director Dr. Wood Selig after word leaked out Selig had hired Jeff Jones away from American University in Washington, D.C. to replace longtime coach Blaine Taylor who was fired in the midst of Old Dominion’s most miserable season in school history.
Looking back, I must admit I think Dr. Selig made his first mistake by being honest and saying he was looking for a hard working, maybe young coach, who would work hard, knows the area and would bring excitement back to the Ted Constant Center.
So much for honesty. Like other AD’s, Dr. Selig should have just clammed up and said he was looking for the best coach possible. But that is not his style.
His second mistake (and this is only my personal opinion) came when he publicly proclaimed in late February that interim coach Jim Corrigan was not only in the running for the job, but that “another candidate had to come in and beat him.” A great slap on the back for a job well done under difficult circumstances, but nothing I ever believed to be true. Although I am sure Dr. Selig will disagree.
I wonder how ecstatic Monarchs fans would have been if Selig had hired the loyal 54-year old Corrigan who had spent 19 years as an ODU assistant, but had only won three games as a head coach? Not a very sexy hire.
Virginian Pilot reporter Ed Miller, one of the best, and who’s primary beat is ODU basketball, reported the finalists to replace Taylor were down to a handful. Dennis Felton, who left Western Kentucky to move onto Georgia where he was fired in 2009. Kevin Keatts, a promising assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville, who’s previous job was as a Prep School coach at Hargrave Military Academy. And 56-year old Steve Robinson, Roy Williams’ top assistant at North Carolina, who was fired as head coach at Florida State after five years. Felton has been out of the business for four years, and although Robinson is considered one of the top assistant coaches in basketball he did not fare well in his only shot at being a head coach.
Keatts seems to have the most upside, but there is no guarantee he would be the next Brad Stevens, Shaka Smart or Danny Hurley (my guess to be the next coach at Rutgers, if they can get him).
So who would have drawn cheers had they been introduced today instead of Coach Jones? Alabama’s Anthony Grant would be nice, but his $1.8 million price tag is a little out of ODU’s reach. Seton Hall took a chance with Tommy Amaker, a then young Duke assistant, who left Seton Hall after three short years for a better job at Michigan where he was fired and replaced by Richmond’s John Beilein. Amaker is at Harvard now, where he turned down a $1.1 million a year offer from Miami last year.
Of course, it would have made national news today had Florida Gulf Coast’s Andy Enfield donned a Blue and White Monarchs cap. Dr. Selig had the darling of this year’s NCAA tournament secretly on his radar before March Madness began and had already interviewed Enfield before his team’s unbelievable run in the NCAA tournament two weeks ago. Selig was so interested in Enfield he had a private plane ready to fly down to Ft. Myers to bring Enfield and his wife to Norfolk for a final talk and maybe a final offer. The plane was sent back into the hanger when Enfield instead flew to Los Angeles where he landed a six-year $6 million dollar deal to become the new coach at USC.
But let’s be honest. Let’s say FGC (where is it, again?) had not beaten San Diego St. and Georgetown two weeks ago. Let’s say Enfield had agreed to come to Old Dominion. How many Monarchs fans had him in their coaches search bracket? What would the reaction have been when word leaked out that ODU’s new coach was a former businessman with two years of coaching experience at the school nobody had ever heard of.
“Fire Wood Selig” would have been the rant of the day.
So with Enfield in LA, and all the other finalists with their fair share of question marks, Selig may have taken the safe way out. ESPN college basketball guru Fran Fraschilla, the former coach at St. Johns and New Mexico convinced Dr. Selig that Jeff Jones was the perfect man for the job. A hard worker, a great strategist, well connected in the world of AAU basketball (maybe the most important complement). A coach who can calmly make the kind of adjustments on the fly which is worth two or three wins a year. That can be the difference between making the postseason and being a bubble team bust.
ESPN host Tony Kornheiser pointed out today that Jones’ record at AU was the best in the school’s history and even more impressive considering the private school in the Patriot league with tough academic standards is no Duke. NBA reporter David Aldridge said this morning Jones had taken American U to the NCAA tournament twice, something none of its previous coaches including Gary Williams (Ohio St. and Maryland), Jim Lynam (St. Joseph’s), or Tom Davis (Iowa) was able to do during their coaching stints there.
Aldridge said what impressed him the most, was that Jones stayed at AU for 13 years and did not use it as a stepping stone for a better job. Aldridge said Jones respected the people and fans at American University and appreciated their love of basketball, that he gave the fans there the excitement of having a winning and championship team. When AU beat Colgate in 2008 and made the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history, Jones sat on the bench after the game with a towel over his head and sobbed with joy over what his team had accomplished and what it meant to the fans. He brought respectability and a winning attitude to the program, and the AU fans will forever be grateful for that.
It may not be sexy—but it appeared to be sincere.
Boo Williams, one of the most successful AAU coaches in the nation, who lives in nearby Hampton, told David Teel of the Daily Press today, “They (ODU) needed to get somebody who knows the 757 and North Carolina. Jeff knows the area. I think it’s a good hire.”
But in the age of the web, where every game is on TV, and a totally obscure coach with a hot wife can get a million dollar a year raise by winning two games, fans want flash. You know, Mark Schmidt at St. Bonaventure, Scott Nagy at South Dakota State, Chris Mack at Xavier, Baylor’s Scott Drew. Had Dr. Selig been able to steal away any one of these household names how excited would Monarch fans be tonight?
I pointed out to Dr. Selig today, something he already knew of course, that some ODU fans were disappointed and were wishing for a “sexier” hire.
“I can understand that but my number one goal is to put ODU basketball in a position to win championships, because I believe championships are sexy. So if ODU is going to win Conference USA championships, if ODU is going to go to the NCAA and compete and make noise in the NCAA Tournament, the position I believed was best suited to put us in a position to accomplish that was Jeff Jones.”
And considering the options, I tend to agree.