By René Reyes/DFP Staff
BOSTON – Nearly three weeks ago to the day since Patrick Chambers was hired by Penn State University as its new men’s basketball coach, Director of Athletics Mike Lynch couldn’t have been more thrilled Monday to formally introduce a 45-year-old to the Boston University community.
Out of approximately 50 candidates, Lynch spoke directly with 12 coaches and interviewed seven of them during the exhaustive three-week search for Chambers’ replacement. Last Thursday, he offered the job to a man he believes is best served to build on the successful foundation left behind by Chambers at BU, a man who was also responsible for the third-best single-season turnaround in Ivy League history.
That man is Joe Jones, the former associate head coach at Boston College, who was accompanied by his wife, Kristin, and 5-year-old son, JJ, at his unveiling at Agganis Arena as the 25th head coach in Terrier basketball history.
“It’s a really exciting time to be a part of our program … back-to-back 21-win seasons, couple of opportunities to go to postseason play, last year advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and putting on a fantastic showing against [the University of] Kansas on national television,” Lynch said. “I’d have to imagine that whoever steps into this seat, knowing the team we have back, has got to be really excited.
“I’m just really, really enthusiastic about this hire. I think Joe’s going to do a fantastic job for BU basketball.”
The sudden departure of Chambers this month left an enormous void at the helm of the BU men’s basketball program, one that would soon be filled by the energetic and charismatic Jones – the Terriers’ third head coach in four years. Serving under Steve Donahue, Jones spent the 2010-11 campaign as the associate coach of the Eagles in his only year as a member of the BC coaching staff.
“I talked to many people in college sports, inside basketball and out, and I couldn’t find one thing I didn’t like about Joe Jones,” Lynch said. “Everything that I learned about Jones was positive. It was enthusiastic. Everybody who I talked to was enthusiastic about Joe.
“They practically came through the phone at us about what a great guy he would be to bring to Boston University and that’s exactly the type of person that I want to bring into this program, somebody who’s enthusiastic, somebody who’s caring, somebody who’s knowledgeable and somebody who’s going to take us to the next place.”
He’s got a good sense of humor, too.
When he stepped up to the microphone, Jones said he was never a good enough basketball player to get his jersey at a podium before, acknowledging the moment he shared with Lynch when the AD presented him with the No. 25 jersey. A few minutes later, Jones talked about his time as an assistant coach at Hofstra University (1994-1997), noting that he “had a little more hair back then” and rocked “a little high-top fade.”
Like his predecessor at BU, Jones said he intends to implement an exciting, up-tempo style of basketball with a focus on working hard and playing unselfishly, a stark contrast from Dennis Wolff’s half-court offense and defensive-oriented system that came to define BU for 15 years.
Jones also said he made it his first order of business to reach out to current players, the incoming freshmen recruits, and their families, and he’s optimistic that everyone will come back for the 2011-12 season.
“We have a brotherhood and we’re just going to stick together,” said senior guard Matt Griffin, one of the Terriers' tri-captains last season. “We’re excited to be playing for Coach Jones and we’re just excited to move forward and get ready for the season.”
“Having three coaches in four years isn’t something you anticipate, but I think there’s a lot of things you can take away,” said senior forward Jake O’Brien, who missed the final 21 games of last season due to a foot injury. “Fortunately for us, we get to play for three great coaches. I think if we just stick together like we have been – we’re a really close-knit team – I think we’re going to get through this.”
Following his stint at Hofstra, Jones accepted the same position at Villanova University where he served under heralded head coaches Steve Lappas (1997-01) and Jay Wright (2001-03). He patrolled the sidelines as the head coach of Columbia University from 2003-10, compiling an 86-108 record in seven seasons in the Ivy League.
Chambers made a conscientious effort to increase fan support at BU during his two-year tenure on Commonwealth Ave., and he appeared to be succeeding in some regard before he joined the Nittany Lions in early June. But Jones certainly has experience recruiting a tough fan base to come out and offer its support, and he aims to continue what Chambers started.
“The two places I’ve been, Hofstra University and Columbia, we had to build that fan base from day one,” Jones said. “You really have to connect with the students first. They have to know who you are. You have to get our student-athletes in front of them. They have to feel like you’re a part of them. … We’re going to get out and be involved on campus and do whatever we can to bring people into our arena, and then we have to get out to the community as well.
“But people have to feel like you want to be a part of the community here, and you just can’t go and ask them to come to games without really giving up of yourself. I think that’s important and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Jones’ 9-year-old daughter, Sydney, was absent from her father’s press conference but for good reason.
“Yesterday, we went head-to-head in bowling,” Jones said. “The deal was if I won, she had to come to the press conference. If she won, she was going to go to soccer camp, so you see what happened. But she had those borders in bowling. I’m a much better basketball coach than I am a bowler.”
For the Terriers' sake, let’s hope he’s telling the truth.