Monday, May 28, 2007

Ron Jirsa: A Closer Look

Tubby Smith's top assistant, Ron Jirsa, may have considerable responsibility, but given his track record, let's hope Tubby is making most of the decisions.

To be fair, Ron Jirsa has had some success--just not much without Tubby Smith leading the way. In this column from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, which suggests Tubby should have stayed at UGA, where Jirsa succeeded him in the late '90s, Terrence Moore seems to want to forget the Jirsa era.

If Smith stays at Georgia, he saves the Bulldogs from the sorry years of his successor, Ron Jirsa...

Now, the Jirsa era in Georgia really wasn't all that bad. Jirsa racked up two top-five national recruiting classes and, while he lasted just three seasons (1997-99), managed to bring UGA a 20-win season, just the seventh in school history. He went 35-30 at UGA. But Jirsa wasn't able to successfully build on the success of Tubby, who in 1996 took the Bulldogs to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 13 years.

After three relatively mundane seasons in Georgia, Jirsa went back to the assistant coaching ranks, helping out now-Clemson heaed coach Oliver Purnell at Dayton. Jirsa has considerable experience on a college bench, with stints as an assistant at Delaware, Virginia Commonwealth, Tulsa, Georgia, Dayton and Gardner-Webb, among other schools. Jirsa got to know Tubby at VCU, and worked under Tubby at Tulsa and Georgia.

After a successful run at Dayton, Marshall came calling for Jirsa. But his time in West Virginia was even less inspiring then his time as the head man in Georgia. In four years, Jirsa compiled a 43-74 record. The few fans the Thundering Herd still had filling its arena were calling for Jirsa's head. Jirsa's Herd racked up 13 wins last year--the most during the Jirsa era. The Register-Herald in West Virginia suggests that Jirsa's teams had myriad issues.
They also had trouble maintaining leads. In a foreshadowing of what was in store the remainder of the year, Marshall’s first loss, 73-69 to Robert Morris, came after the Herd let a 15-point second-half lead get away. A 42-23 halftime edge over GW quickly evaporated in the last 20 minutes.A 40.1 shooting percentage — 29.3 on three-pointers — didn’t help matters.
Jirsa, it seems, has also become known for a style that is the opposite of fan-friendly. He preaches tough-guy basketball, taking charges, diving on the floor. Those are all great traits in a basketball player. But Jirsa, it seems, preached a defensive style of play, perhaps made for the Big Ten, but not for Conference USA or the SEC, where the John Calipari's of the world push up-tempo basketball.

A C-USA conference preview from last year, summed up why Jirsa was let go after another slow-paced year.

Reasons to be excited: Fourth-year coach Ron Jirsa has pledged to play faster this season. That's good, I think, because -- and this is a pretty solid rule for all coaches at all levels -- if you're going to lose it's always better to lose while being entertaining, and playing fast is more entertaining than playing slow.
Reasons to be depressed: The Thundering Herd only averaged 63.9 points in C-USA games last season, and now the top two scorers are gone. In Mark Patton, Marshallalso lost its top rebounder.
How it'll all shake out: In fairness, the upgrade in leagues didn't help. But the truth is that Marshall has won just 30 games in three years under Jirsa. That's an average of 10 per season, and, sadly, there's no guarantee the Thundering Herd will better than that number this season.

The style of play Jirsa was criticized at in West Virginia is the same style Tubby has been criticized for at Kentucky. Now, Tubby has a considerable track record winning games, and is coming to a conference where hard-nosed basketball is a fact-of-life.

There are clear negatives about Jirsa. He's seemingly struggled when outside the watchful eye of Smith and Purnell. But at Georgia he was able to build off Tubby's success on the recruiting front, if not on the court. And as a former head man, the hiring of Jirsa brings more experience to the Gophers bench. Tubby will have a sounding board with big-time college coaching experience. Dick Vitale, loud-mouth basketball guru that he is, makes a good point in pointing out that Jirsa and other former head coaches have signed up to assist this year.
It is a good hire when a smart man brings in a former head coach to be a second lieutenant. These guys are competitive, goal-oriented winners. They will work 24-7 to get the job done.
Had Joel Maturi brought Jirsa in as the Gophers' new head man, Gopher Nation would still be sleeping. As a #2, Jirsa should be serviceable if not solid. While his track record as a head man has been less than impressive, Jirsa has proved that along with Smith, he can win. For Gopher fans hoping for a more up-tempo game, Jirsa won't help that cause. He's a coach in the mold of Tubby. And in the Big 10, a conference I believe is suited for Tubby's style of play, Jirsa may fit in just fine.

This is part two in a series on new Golden Gopher asistant coaches. Last week we looked at Mike Dunbar. Over the next few weeks, we'll look into the backgrounds of Vince Taylor, Saul Smith and Everett Winters.


Buckeye Fan said...

Hopefully for Gopher fans Jirsa will help Tubby land a recruit or two. At this point it looks like all the Minnesota kids are still opting for Wisconsin or Iowa.