Ivy League: Best Training Ground For College Hoop Coaches

By: 07.08.11
Joe Jones

Joe Jones (photo. Steve McLaughlin, BU Athletics)

The coaching carousel can spin fast and furious. Take the chain reaction that followed Billy Lange‘s decision to leave Navy for the associate head coaching position at Villanova. Ed DeChellis fled his post at Penn State to fill the vacancy at Navy, causing Patrick Chambers to leave Boston University to lead the Nittany Lions.

You got all that?

With a spot open at the helm, Boston University athletic director Mike Lynch decided to go a route that has become increasingly common in recent years. Lynch tabbed former Columbia head coach Joe Jones for the job, making him the seventh coach since 2000 to be hired by an outside program after starting his head coaching career in the Ivy League.

The list consists of Georgetown’s John Thompson III, Boston College’s Steve Donahue, Temple’s Fran Dunphy, Oregon State’s Craig Robinson, and Northwestern’s Bill Carmody. And when the 2011-12 season tips off, Jones will join Sydney Johnson – who was recently hired by Fairfield after guiding Princeton to a share of its first Ivy League title since 2004 – as the newest additions to the list.

Why, you may wonder, have athletic directors from more highly-esteemed basketball programs dipped into the Ivy League – a conference with small athletic budgets and no athletic scholarships – to fill its coaching vacancies?

According to Donahue, the conference’s modest operation might just be the very reason. Donahue, who was hired by Boston College after coaching at Cornell from 2000 to 2010, says that the Ivy League’s strict admissions standards, back-to-back conference games, and limited resources force coaches to hone their skills, thus making them attractive candidates.

“It’s a very difficult situation in every aspect of coaching around basketball,” says Donahue. “There is a great deal of responsibility put on you as a coach that I think, once you get years and years of that, you really develop your craft.”

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing Ivy League coaches manifests itself on the recruiting circuit. Ivy League coaches must first deal with a limited talent pool, as only players who reach certain academic qualification can be granted admission. Second, coaches must convince players and their families to cover the schools’ hefty price tags without the aid of an athletic scholarship.

“You figure out ways to be successful,” says Donahue, who led Cornell to the Sweet 16 in 2010 with a core of players who were not heavily recruited out of high school. “I think it really helps when you go to other places and try to go in and develop a program. I think you’re more prepared than you could ever imagine.”

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