ODU Athletics

Minium: Jeff Jones Didn't Need to Win a Conference USA Championship to Prove he Was a Good Coach

March 17, 2019
By ODU Athletics

By Harry Minium

FRISCO, Texas

Jeff Jones is not a guy who cries easily in public.

So to see him become very emotional twice after his Old Dominion basketball team won the Conference USA basketball title Saturday night says a lot about just how dear this victory was to him.

ODU defeated Western Kentucky, 62-56, with a typical Jones kind of game, a defensive slugfest in which his players proved to be tougher and more poised than the more talented Hilltoppers.

WKU has had top 20 recruiting classes in each of the last two years, but ODU swept the Hilltoppers this season, winning twice in the regular season and then in the C-USA final.

Sometimes great coaching, mental toughness and hard work overcomes superior talent.

The victory ended ODU's eight year absence from the NCAA tournament.

Jones teared up after the game, while his players were celebrating. He did so again as he was standing down from the podium after his post-game press conference.

Jones acknowledged there were two reasons he got emotional. The first is well known to ODU fans, but not so much nationally – Jones is battling prostate cancer.

Not to belabor the point, but I’ve been through prostate cancer and know the meds Jones has taken. I’m amazed by how poised, how energetic and just how well he coached.

"You'd never know he had cancer," guard Ahmad Caver said. "He hasn't slowed down a bit."

I don’t think average fans, especially those who’ve never had cancer, can understand just how magnificently Jones performed.

Nor do some fans realize just how well Jones coached prior to this season.

If you recall, his predecessor Blaine Taylor was well-thought of coach, but for whatever reason, when Jones replaced him, the program was in disarray. The Monarchs were coming off a 5-25 season.

Jones is 140-66 in six seasons at ODU. That’s an average of almost 24 victories per season.

Incredibly, prior to this season, some fans were grumbling about Jones.

I get why fans were frustrated. ODU hadn’t gone to the NCAA tournament since 2011. But I don't think many still understand just how difficult it is to go to the NCAA tournament as a mid-major.

C-USA has 14 teams and it's a one-bid league. That means you have to be better than 13 other teams to make the tournament.

Jones has narrowly missed going twice.

In 2015, the Monarchs suffered an early loss in the C-USA tournament to Middle Tennessee and ODU was among the last four teams not to make to the NCA tournament.

The following season, ODU won three games in three days in the C-USA tournament before falling to MTSU by two in the final.

In 2015, Jones took the Monarchs to the NIT semifinals in New York. And now he’s taking them to the NCAA tournament.

Finally getting to the NCAA tournament after so many near-misses, Jones said, was the second reason he got emotional. 

"I think the cumulative effect of having good seasons and falling short was another reason," he said. "You know, it's been a great year so far, but it hasn't been an easy year for both personal and professional reasons.

"At the conclusion of the game, my emotions overwhelmed me a little bit," he added, and then again as he stood up, teared up a bit.    

When I asked Jones what the NCAA tournament bid meant to the ODU community, Jones defended his program to those internet message board types who have been critical.

“What I will say for the tournament-or-nothing crowd is I’m still not there,” he said. “That’s still a bunch of garbage. We’ve been very successful without making it to the tournament.

“It’s not easy to make the NCAA tournament. And for mid majors and conferences like Conference USA, it’s getting harder very year. Let’s see what happens tomorrow” on the NCAA tournament selection show.

“I’m rooting like hell for Belmont, Lipscomb and Utah State and all of those really good mid majors” he added. “But it’s getting harder. We’re very proud of the success we’ve had.

“The one threshold we hadn’t crossed was getting to the tournament. We knew we needed to get there and we fortunately for us we kicked in the door today.

“That doesn’t diminish what’s happened in past years. But it sure as heck puts a big star, a big check mark for us.

“The tournament is where everyone wants to be.”

Jones answered another question, before turning to me to finish answering the original question. He thanked ODU President John R. Broderick and athletic director Wood Selig for hiring him and giving him a contract extension last fall.

“All the fans, Wood Selig and John Broderick who gave me this opportunity six years ago, I’m really happy for them. There are a lot of folks who have supported us that I'm so happy for," he said.

“It’s not just about the team. It’s about, as you said, people in the community. We get great support not just from Norfolk but the overall Tidewater community. I’m thrilled especially for the players but there are a lot of different folks I’m so happy for."

“John Broderick has been great. He's been right there for us. He’s given us such great support. I couldn’t ask for a better boss than Wood Selig. And we couldn’t ask for better fans.

“It’s about all of us, not one or the other. It’s about one big Monarch Nation. I’m really, really happy we were able to do this for everyone.”

The Monarchs won't find out who they play until Sunday night. Given the team's relatively poor standing in the computer ratings, ODU will be a low seed. Some prognosticators predict the Monarchs will be as low as 14th.

If that proves to be true, that means ODU will play one of the nation's top 12 teams. In other words, likely a Power 5 school that generally declines to play mid-majors such as ODU for fear of losing. ODU will be a major underdog. But superior talent doesn't always win, as the Monarchs proved against WKU.

Especially with Jones calling the shots.   

Email Minium: hminium@odu.edu

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