Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Cornell Basketball Coaching Tree: Jeff Jackson '84

Jeff Jackson (Cornell '84, School of Industrial & Labor Relations) is currently one of several Division I head basketball coaches with connections to Cornell. Currently the the head coach of Furman in Division I's Southern Conference (SoCon), Jackson, a Cornell alumnus, never played a single basketball game for Cornell as an undergrad. In fact, he was recruited to Cornell for football. During his last two years at Cornell, however, he served as a student coach/manager of the men's basketball team under former Big Red head coach, Tom Miller.

Jackson subsequently earned assistant coaching positions at USC, St. Bonaventure, Colorado State and Stanford before he earned his first head coaching position at New Hampshire in 1996. Holding the head position for the Wildcats until 1999, Jackson later served as an assistant at Vanderbilt for seven seasons until Furman brought him back to the head coaching ranks in 2006.

During his time away from Ithaca, Jackson actually coached against his alma mater Cornell several times, including on January 3, 1987 as an assistant for St. Bonaventure (Cornell won 69-66 in Olean, NY), on December 12, 1987 (Cornell won 61-57 in Ithaca), on December 29, 1994 as an assistant for Stanford (Cornell lost to the Cardinal 67-55 in Palo Alto) then finally during the 1997-1998 season when New Hampshire faced the Big Red in Cal's Golden Bear Classic.

Today as a head coach in the Southern Conference, Jackson regulary coaches against Mike Dement, the head coach of UNC-Greensboro. Dement served as Cornell's head coach between 1986 and 1991 and guided Cornell to the 1988 Ivy League title and NCAA Tournament. Dement and Jackson were also both assistants on Tom Miller's Cornell staff during the same years.

Below, a 2006 news article published in the Greenville News just after Furman announced Jackson's hiring.

By Bart Wright
The Greenville News
April 26, 2006

It was a cold night in Ithaca, N.Y., in February of 1984 when Jeff Jackson got his first look at the Princeton offense. It was not a pretty sight.

"Oh man," Jackson said Monday when reminded of the experience, "the greatest game I've ever been involved in."

It's good to know the new Furman University basketball coach has an appreciation for sarcasm. Was the Princeton game memorable? You bet. Great game? Not so much.

Cornell won that night, 33-31 after playing a first half that ended, "somewhere in the teens," Jackson said. Advertisement

"When I went to Vanderbilt and coach (Kevin) Stallings started talking about the Princeton-style offense, I had to jump in," Jackson said. "That game stood out to me so much, I told Coach, ëWe'll do whatever you think we should do, but that Princeton stuff isn't going to get the job done here.'"

As it turned out, Vanderbilt did install a modification of the Princeton offense, with an up-tempo pace and a scrambling approach on defense that helped carry the Commodores to one NCAA tournament berth and five NITs in the seven seasons Jackson was an assistant on Stallings' staff in Nashville.

The simple thing would be to say Jackson and Furman are a perfect fit, but that's a judgment for another day, like after the new coach has taken the Paladins to a couple of Southern Conference championships and an NCAA berth or two.

Perfect means the marriage couldn't possibly be better, and if it turns out that way, we'll all be shooting confetti out of pop guns in a parade down Main Street and the next thing we know, Jeff Jackson will be the new coach at Vanderbilt or Stanford.

So, instead of perfect, let's say Furman's decision to turn over its men's basketball program to Jeff Jackson seems like an obvious choice. They go together like books and tuition.

The son of a former mail room employee at the New York Daily News and a homemaker in Queens, N.Y., Jackson grew up with a head for learning and a body inclined for athletics. He played all the usual sports and found himself caught up in the excitement of being a New York Islanders fan, back when they dominated the National Hockey League for a period of years in the late 1970s and early '80s.

An African-American hockey fan?

"Are you kidding me?" Jackson said. "Bobby Bourne, Mike Bossy, Bob Nystrom? Come on, we were the team back in the day."

He rattled off hockey names like some people list the names of the crew they ran with in high school, which tells you this is a guy who lives with passion and knows very well where he comes from.

When he attended Cornell and had his shoulders banged up playing football in his sophomore season, he turned to basketball and then became an assistant coach and junior varsity coach for the Big Red, which is, in terms of athletics, a hockey school.

Had he not grown up with an appreciation for hockey, that might have been an issue, but it didn't become one until later when he accepted his first head coaching position at New Hampshire, another hockey school.

Unfortunately, he was the basketball coach and his 21-60 record in three seasons is remembered now for the way in which it helped inform him on the big world that's out there.

"It was actually a great experience," he said, "in between those times we had to wait for the hockey team to finish so we could practice."

It was at Stanford and Vanderbilt that Jackson figured out his path would take him to those places where academics washed over and through the athletic programs. You find those coaches who don't fit in places with rigorous academic standards and you also find those who don't feel comfortable anywhere else.

Jackson is in the latter group, and he has a reputation for knowing talent when he sees it.

He met his future wife, Carolyn, on the first day of classes in their freshman year at Cornell.

"It was on the steps of the Student Union building," said Carolyn, a Spanish major who was born in Barbados and raised in New York, "my girlfriend introduced us. She was the bridesmaid at our wedding."

When she was asked if she had been smitten from the moment she met him, Carolyn smiled, then winked.

"No," she said, "but he was."

She seemed an obvious choice for him, just as he does for Furman.

Below, the tree of currently employed NCAA basketball coaches with connections to Cornell University.

Jeff Jackson (Cornell Class of '84)-Head Coach of Furman University (Division I).

Kevin App (Cornell Class of '07)-Assistant coach at Army. Played for Cornell under Steve Donahue.

Yanni Hufnagel (Cornell Class of '06)-Assistant coach at Harvard. Served as student-manager at Cornell under Steve Donahue.

Steve Donahue-Head coach of Boston College. Served as head coach at Cornell between 2000-2010.

Mike Dement-Head coach of UNC-Greensboro (Division I). He served as head coach of Cornell between 1986-1991. In 1988 he led Cornell to the Ivy League title and the 1988 NCAA Tournament.

Zach Spiker-Head coach of Army. He served as an assistant coach at Cornell under Steve Donahue from 2004-2009.

Joe Burke-Head coach of Skidmore College (Division III). He was an assistant coach at Cornell under Steve Donahue between 2001-2004.

Izzi Metz-Former Head coach Hobart College (Division III). He served as a Cornell assistant coach for five seasons between 2001-2006 under Steve Donahue and is currently an assistant coach and head of basketball operations at Boston College under Donahue.

Nat Graham-Associate Head Coach (assistant) at Boston College under Steve Donahue. Served as an assistant coach under Donahue at Cornell from 2005-2010.

Woody Kampmann-Assistant coach at Boston College under Steve Donahue. Served as an assistant coach under Donahue at Cornell from 2007-2010.

Ryan Woerner-Former student intern coach under Steve Donahue during the 2009-2010 season and assistant coach for Cornell's women's team during 2010-2011. Currently an assistant at SUNY New Paltz (Division III).

Steve Robinson-Assistant coach at North Carolina under Roy Williams. He was an assistant coach for Mike Dement at Cornell for two seasons, including on the 1988 Ivy League Championship team.

Paul Fortier-Assistant coach at Washington under Lorenzo Romar. He served as an assistant coach at Cornell during 2003-2005 under Steve Donahue.
Desmond Oliver-Assistant coach at Charlotte. He was an assistant coach at Cornell between 1998-2000 under Scott Thompson.

Ricky Yahn-Assistant coach at Longwood. He was an assistant coach at Cornell during 2010-2011 under Bill Courtney.


Anonymous said...

Don't forget Larranaga

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

Jay Larranaga is not a college coach.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many Division I basketball head coaches never played at the collegiate level. I have read that only five current FBS football head coaches never played in college.