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Tag:Florida Atlantic
Posted on: April 14, 2009 1:11 pm
Edited on: April 15, 2009 5:29 am
 

Doubting Thomas? Sun Belt may get big-time boost

For once in his post-playing career, Isiah Thomas might actually help a league he's joining.

After running the Continental Basketball Association and two NBA teams into the ground, Thomas accepted the coaching job at Florida International on Tuesday, making him the second big-name coach to join the conference recently.

"He's provided a lot of publicity for the Sun Belt the past couple days, which in this business is helpful. The more people talking about your conference the better," Florida Atlantic coach Mike Jarvis said in a phone interview.

Jarvis would know. After guiding three teams to the NCAA tournament and amassing at least 100 wins at Boston, George Washington and St. John's, he returned to basketball to take the job of putting Florida Atlantic on the map.

When it comes to maps, FAU (Boca Raton) and FIU (west of Miami) are separated by about 50 miles in South Florida and when it comes to divvying up recruiting geography Jarvis says the Zeke Factor is a non-factor.

"Every school is different," he said. "I think schools recruit different kids and every school has different needs. I think the more kids looking at anybody in your conference the better."

The Panthers went 13-20 overall and 8-12 in the Sun Belt last season, including two wins against Jarvis' Owls. Thomas replaces Sergio Rouco, who was reassigned Monday after posting a losing record in each of his five seasons as coach. FIU finished fifth in the six-team Sun Belt East Division this past season, and averaged only 693 fans for its home games, which was one of the lowest totals in Division I.

It's a similar script to the one Jarvis inherited when taking over for Rex Walters, who bailed to San Francisco after two seasons with the Owls. It's not just about coaching and recruiting, it's about program creation. It's about dealing with commercial airline travel, setting up the appropriate "money games" (games in which BCS conference schools solicit smaller schools to come to their campus) and selling a community on attending games.

Those are all things Jarvis has a one-year head start on, and all things that should become easier for the conference now that it has two big-name coaches.

"FIU is in South Florida. That in and of itself, makes it just like us. FIU, like FAU, all the schools in Florida ... this is such a big state. There are so many athletes here. There are enough players for all of us and we don't all need the same players. If they're successful down there it helps us up here."

The AP contributed to this report

Posted on: January 13, 2009 11:31 am
Edited on: January 15, 2009 2:59 pm
 

Jarvis Owl in for biggest coaching challenge yet

Mike Jarvis is on the phone while he waits to depart from Nashville International, and the conversation stops so he can hear about his team's Southwest flight.

"Hold on," he says.

I can hear an airline rep say, "flight 22-- (something) is ..."

"Delayed or on-time?" I ask.

"Looks like we may be here a while," he says with curbed enthusiasm.
Mike Jarvis
It didn't always used to be this way for Jarvis, once one of college basketball's most prolific coaches. He's led three different programs to the NCAA tournament and won more than 100 games at each stop. However, all three schools on his resume -- Boston, George Washington and St. John's -- are private institutions with large coffers.

Florida Atlantic, where Jarvis is in his first season as coach, is a public university with a 15-year-old D-I basketball program.

Hence, Southwest. Hence, his slight frustration.

"The big difference between public and private is money," he says, adding a calming trademark chuckle. "We need cash in our basketball program. We have to start chartering to away games. We can't waste time in the airport. These kids should be in the classroom right now, they're going to miss another day of school. We left Wednesday, they missed that day, they played Thursday and now they're missing Friday classes. That's going to happen a few more times this year. We need to be chartering and that's a big reason why the bigger schools win on the road and smaller schools like us don't."

There are other significant differences between FAU and his previous stops. The Owls arena seats around just 4,000 fans, the alumni base is bare at best, and FAU's main campus sits in the heart of Boca Raton, Fla., a city known more for Del Boca Vista than basketball.

It's also where Jarvis, now a you-would-never-know-by-looking-at-
him 63, has called home since being fired from St. John's during the 2003-'04 season. It was there he compiled a respectable 110-61 record, including an Elite Eight trip in 1999. His career mark is an impressive 364-201 during 18 seasons prior to FAU. But he was practically un-hirable after St. John's, where off-the-court problems plagued the program. It got so bad at times near the end, fans would chant, "fire Jarvis" at home games.

"There were times when I was really angry with the process, with individuals," said Jarvis about his dismissal from St. John's. "There were times when I questioned my own self, what happened and why it happened."

St. John's was placed on two-years probation after an investigation revealed the program was funneling money to a player. The school's director of basketball operations alleged some of the money was provided directly by Jarvis, who denies any wrongdoing and was never charged with such by the NCAA.

Jarvis at St. John'sSo after the St. John's storm that also saw his son and assistant coach Mike Jarvis Jr. get fired, Jarvis and his wife relocated to Boca Raton. They joined a country club, as is the custom in the nearly 90,000-resident sprawling city, and became involved with a local church. He also waited for the smoke to clear from St. John's.

During that time he still worked, albeit during two brief stints in Taiwan. He was invited to coach a group of underclassmen in the Jones Cup, a nine team, nine country, nine day sprint of a tournament. Jarvis loved it so much, he returned the next year.

"It was probably the greatest experience in my life," Jarvis said.

And then came FAU, a school with a large commuting body, located in his backyard. The program is known more for its recent coaching carousel than its one tournament appearance in 2002. Jarvis took over for one-and-out Rex Walters (now coaching at San Francisco), who replaced Matt Doherty (coaching at Southern Methodist) after the former UNC coach's one-year stint in Boca.

"I know those other guys used it as a stepping stone," Jarvis said, "but I have an intention of being here."

He tells me this on the heels of his Owls dropping their 12th game of the season, a heartbreaking 59-57 loss in the last seconds to Sun Belt foe Middle Tennessee State. Jarvis' Owls have yet to break into the conference win column. They sit 0-5.

But in year one, wins and losses aren't the metric for Jarvis. With only four seniors, and a program on its fourth coach in four years, Jarvis' goal is slightly more long term.

"Getting a better understanding of the game, of themselves and then what the team has to do," said Jarvis on what he wants from his players. "That means being ready to come in and improve every day, even if it's practice, we have to have the mentality that every day is gameday."

There's no denying the Owls are a project. It's a constant sales job on three fronts: the current squad, incoming and potential student-athletes and the community.

Jarvis has three incoming players -- including Xavier Perkins, who averaged 12.6 points per game before redshirting this season due to injury -- he talks excitedly about, all of which are already enrolled in school, and he's working from the ground up to build college hoops awareness in Palm Beach County.

"People from my church and my country club are buying season tickets. We're going to build this one fan at a time and we'll get the Jarvisstudents excited. I believe once they see what we're putting together, really next year, they'll get excited. Our place is small, it gets filled up and it can get loud."

Something Jarvis isn't on the phone is loud. He's cool, collected, yet enthused when talking about FAU. Every coach sells, every coach comes equipped with canned conversation points, but there's a sense the fresh start is part and parcel to who Jarvis is. In those 18 seasons at urban campuses he trailblazed the international student-athlete trail, he coached projects and five-star recruits. He is one of the most successful black coaches in history. Then it all came crashing down at the job that was supposed to cement his status as one of the game's premier coaches. Now two years away from collecting Social Security, he has a chance to reinvent himself.

"I really feel blessed to be able to do what I love to do. There's a lot of talk about racial discrimination in coaching, but there's also age discrimination," said Jarvis, with that chuckle of his. "That may be even more difficult to overcome. I feel like I'm in my late 40s, I know how fortunate I am to be reborn professionally and spiritually."

That's why FAU could be the right fit. On the football side is legendary 74-year-old coach Howard Schnellenberger and his trademark white locks. He's taken the Owls to back-to-back bowl games, won both and because of his presence an on-campus stadium is in the works.

With similar goals, the two have developed a scratch-my-back relationship.

"We talk often, we've agreed to do whatever it is to help each other," Jarvis said. "He was at our last game after they won the bowl, and we both realize that the better each of us do, the better it helps each other. When they build the stadium it will be huge for us. Our job is to build a basketball program and keep people excited and keep FAU in the news."

Jarvis has reunited with his son, who was picked up by longtime friend Mike Krzyzewski and Duke as an assistant, after St. John's. His wife, who he's been married 41 years to and considers "my best friend" is supportive of the move.

A move that takes Jarvis back to where he started. In his early years at Boston University, crowds were sparse and it wasn't easy drumming up interest in the Terriers. And this was after a stint at the school by up-and-coming coach Rick Pitino.

"You have to have something special to draw people. Once you do that, as long as you're patient, take for example when I went to Boston University in '86. They would average 200 to 300 people a game. We brought in some local kids and got it to where 1,200 to 1,500 were showing up.

"Before I came to FAU, I saw a game with 200 people in the stands. We haven't had sellouts, but eventually we will, we're up to 1,800 to 2,000 ... we may not be winning, but people see what we're doing."

 
 
 
 
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