SportsProf

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Saturday, June 04, 2005

Howard Gets a Good Coach

As the Washington Post put it, Howard ended the longest DI coaching search by hiring long-time Penn assistant Gil Jackson to be its head basketball coach. Why the search took so long is anyone's guess. Howard's program has fared very poorly in recent years, and they couldn't have made a better choice in Jackson.

The big adjustment for Jackson is that he won't be with a perennial contender anymore. Penn has run an excellent program during Fran Dunphy's 16-year tenure at the school, and Jackson had been a big part of it. Instead of helping an excellent program reload, he'll be trying to lead a resurgence. The next adjustment for Jackson is being a head coach; he's about 57, and and there aren't that many 57 year-old head coaches in DI, let alone 57 year-old rookie head coaches. The last rookie head coach at least that old, though, was an excellent one. I believe Bill Guthridge was about 61 when he took over from Dean Smith at North Carolina.

Part of the problem for "older" assistants is that being an "older" assistant becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If programs traditionally look for younger coaches when filling head coaching vacancies, perhaps early forties or younger, once you hit your early forties it can become increasingly harder to get your first DI head coaching job. And, the more you stay at one place, the more you get pegged as either a career assistant or someone who is very comfortable at that place and, perhaps, someone who might not be ambitious enough to be a head coach. Both of those tags, of course, can be grossly unfair, but if you review the ages of DI head coaches, you'll see what I mean.

Jackson was a finalist for the Dartmouth job last year, a job that ultimately went to then-Colorado assistant Terry Dunn, who is about 12-13 years younger than Jackson. My guess is that Jackson had feelers for other head coaching jobs over the years, but none ever materialized.

The last Fran Dunphy assistant who left the nice Quaker nest was Fran O'Hanlon, who did so about ten years ago when he left Philadelphia for Easton, Pennsylvania and the head coaching job at Lafayette, where he has done an admirable job. If Jackson fares as well as O'Hanlon, Howard will have made an excellent choice. It says here that they made a good choice, and with luck Jackson will get the type of support from the Howard administration that he'll need to turnaround that moribund program. Clearly, he knows how to win.

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