By Ed Miller
© April 4, 2013
A national search for the next Old Dominion University men's basketball coach lasted nearly two months and began with more than 150 applicants but ended with a familiar name, best known from more than a decade ago and living a few hours up the road.
Jeff Jones, a seasoned basketball hand who became the University of Virginia's coach at 29 but has spent the past 13 years in the relative obscurity of the Patriot League, will be introduced as the Monarchs' coach today.
He replaces Blaine Taylor, who was fired in February after 12 seasons.
Jones, 52, has 21 years of experience as a head coach - most recently at American University in Washington - and 29 overall. That experience was among the factors that made him ODU's choice, Athletic Director Wood Selig said.
"Anybody in the business that you speak to about Jeff, if you know basketball, they rave about him," said Selig, who was at U.Va. for part of the time Jones was there. "His knowledge of the game, his ability to teach, his work ethic, his recruiting contacts.
"I was excited and pleased that he had interest in the job."
Jones did not respond to a phone message left Wednesday afternoon.
The son of a coach, Jones grew up in Owensboro, Ky., and played at Virginia during the Ralph Sampson era in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He joined Terry Holland's coaching staff after graduation and took over for Holland in 1990. Jones coached the Cavaliers to five NCAA tournaments, highlighted by a Sweet 16 appearance in 1993 and an Elite Eight run in 1995.
His teams had losing records in two of the next three years. A series of off-court incidents involving players contributed to his resignation in 1998. In addition, the NCAA took away a scholarship from the basketball program in 1999 for a secondary violation that occurred while Jones was coach.
Jones was hired at American in 2000 and had a 212-182 record there. The Eagles reached the NCAA tournament in 2008 and 2009 - the only appearances in school history - and have won 20 games in four of the last six years. They were 10-20 this season, however.
"Jeff Jones has proven himself as a coach at every level," Holland, the director of athletics emeritus at East Carolina, said Wednesday in an email. Holland said that as a head coach, "Jeff was demanding but always calm and able to communicate constructive instructions to the players on the floor."
Jones was one of four finalists, according to a source. Others were Dennis Felton, the former coach at Western Kentucky and Georgia; Steve Robinson, a North Carolina assistant who was the head coach at Tulsa and Florida State; and Travis DeCuire, a California assistant who coached under Taylor at Old Dominion.
ODU conducted about a dozen preliminary interviews, including one with Andy Enfield, whose Florida Gulf Coast Eagles were the darlings of the NCAA tournament when they pulled a pair of upsets to become the first 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. Enfield, who spoke to ODU before the NCAA tournament, was hired Tuesday to coach Southern California.
"Fans are always eager to get a big name; people are shooting for the stars," said Brian Gilmore, a Great Bridge High graduate who played for Jones at American. "Jeff's a great fit for ODU. He was someone who demanded a lot out of his players.... Defensively, he's one of the best coaches in college basketball."
At first glance, Jones would not appear to match ODU's goal, expressed at the beginning of the search, of hiring a coach who favors a fast-paced style. American ranked 335th of 345 Division I teams in points per game this past season, averaging 57.8.
Jones' teams at Virginia were not known as fast-paced. But Cornel Parker, a Maury High graduate who played for Jones at Virginia, said that doesn't mean the coach won't speed things up.
"I think he can run an up-tempo offense, and he did it a little at American," Parker said. "They pushed the ball up when they had the chance.... He will coach to the strength of his team."
Terms of the contract are being ironed out, Selig said. Old Dominion fired Taylor with two years remaining on a contract that paid him about $750,000 in 2011, the most recent year public tax records are available. Taylor and the school are negotiating terms of a settlement.
Selig said Jones told him that he hopes to make ODU his last coaching move.
"Obviously, we're not afraid of long-term contracts," he said, noting that football coach Bobby Wilder is signed to one.
Jones was scheduled to fly to Norfolk this morning and then to the Final Four this weekend in Atlanta, where he will represent ODU, Selig said.
"We've got a box of ODU gear waiting here," he said.
Ed Miller, 757-446-2372, firstname.lastname@example.org
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