by ernie salvatore
Ron Jirsa ready to unveil his style of Old
School Basketball at Marshall
A change in fashion designed
by Ron Jirsa – not to be confused
with clothing designer Giorgio Armani – will be introduced to Marshall
basketball fans this season.
He calls it “Old School Basketball.” Old
School? How Old School? In the jet age? In Thundering Herd Country? Weaned
on the Cam
Henderson – he’s the inventor – high speed fast break?
Precisely. But, fear not. It’s really only an “Old
School” premise, more than it is a theory. And it’s energized
by an instinctive mind, a warrior’s heart and brass knuckles, all
of it springing from the basics of the game – its foundations – that
were hatched in the originator’s brain.
This is why Ron Jirsa’s
pre-season seminars began with “Basketball
101: How to put the ball in the hole without fear.” Can’t
be any more basic than that. Next came “Basketball 102: How to
prevent the other team from putting the ball in the hole without fouling.” Nothing
original there, either. Finally, “Basketball 203: Knowing how to
win by knowing how NOT to lose.”
Now there’s an intriguing
premise for any game.
So, here lies the heart of the coaching philosophy
Ron Jirsa is bringing to Marshall; and he spent the early weeks, when
it was legal – following
our long hot summer – drilling it into the heads of his players – strangers
every one – as a dentist does going after a crippled molar.
all so fundamental, anyway. So repetitive. Hence, Athletic Director Kayo
Marcum’s rationale in choosing Jirsa to be Marshall’s
24th head basketball coach in a line of succession that began 97 years
ago in 1906 – L. B. Crotty was the first and has continued down
to the recently resigned Greg White, a heroic but flawed specie of the
The consequence: Marshall, an erstwhile cradle of the free
wheeling, high speed, fast break, wallowed in seas of inconsistencies
of Greg White’s six seasons at his alma mater, proving love doesn’t
always conquer all.
When Jirsa arrived in July he quickly declared he
intended to take Marshall basketball in the opposite direction as a disciple of the “smash mouth, old
school.” Developed in the game’s pioneering years – predating
slam dunks, shot clocks, 10 second lines and three officials – when
it was played in high school and college gyms of varying sizes, not to
mention slick floored dance halls with poor lighting or even on theater
stages with orchestras in the pits.
Now here comes Marshall’s latest “new
guy,” with plans
to blend his intriguingly aggressive “smash mouth” philosophy with many of the non-contact
fundamentals and mindsets that have been slowly
disappearing from the modern game.
Remember them? The virtues of cohesive
teamwork; elevating the spirit of The Three Musketeers, and their “one
for all and all for one” ethos?
That’s Ron Jirsa’s philosophy.
At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, he speaks softly, he walks softly. But, the
defiant jut of his jaw and
the piercing stare warn he’s wielding a big psychological stick,
a suspicion that is easily confirmed by his successful 23 year coaching
career at nine schools. Fifteen were spent in the NCAA Division I level
where he has worked along side some of the biggest names in the college
basketball coaching business.
Let’s begin with Tubby Smith. The
Kentucky head coach had Ron as his assistant head coach – not just
a plain assistant – at
Tulsa and Georgia, where Ron succeeded him after Tubby answered Rick
Pitino’s summons to join him at Kentucky.
“I’m so proud of Ron,” Tubby told Marcum. “Marshall
has gotten a coach with a tremendous work ethic and all the values of
a proven winner. He has a great eye for talent and I predict that he
will be very successful there.”
To the Faithful’s worn out
ears, this has been chin music down through the years. But, it carried
a familiar Tubby Smith ring by what Ron said in his
reply. “Show me a player who’s willing to sacrifice his body
for the good of the team,” he mused dreamily, “and I’ll
show you my kind of player. My kind of player is someone who
understands what it takes to win basketball games. He has to know what to do in every situation
without taking the time to think about it. Teaching that is the job of
“But, forget the technical things,” Jirsa continues. “Lets
keep it simple. If I’m going to give up my body chasing loose balls,
if I’m going to go after rebounds and do whatever else the coach
says he wants me to do inside – in the battle zone – like
an offensive lineman in football, if I want something bad enough, which
is winning, then I’ve got to learn how to get it.”
Ron Jirsa’s way. It all began for him in New London,
Ct., home of the Coast Guard Academy and the
U.S. Navy submarine base; but he grew up in Ledyard, about 30 miles inland.
There he lettered in three sports at Ledyard High School. He earned his
Bachelor of Arts degree and starred in basketball as the team leader
at Gettysburg (Pa.) College; and a Master of Arts in Education at Tulsa
working with Tubby Smith as a graduate assistant.
The first stop
on his college coaching journey was as an assistant at Connecticut College in
1981. Not far from Ledyard. Eight more stops followed – two at
Tulsa (1985-88 and 1991-94). But his major breakthrough occurred as
the head coach at Georgia (35-30, and 4-2 in two NITs) and as a
senior assistant coach at Dayton.
“When I heard about the Marshall job I wanted
said. And he has it. For now.
Ron Jirsa Coaching Highlights
35-30 record as head coach at the University of Georgia
Coached 15 seasons in Division I
Nine 20 win seasons
Nine NCAA Tourney appearances
Three Sweet 16 appearances
Four NIT appearances
Six Conference titles
Two Top 5 national recruiting classes at Georgia
Helped Dayton attain the highest graduation rate among all Division
Dayton ranked second in nation in rebounding
margin, 15th in field goal percentage defense and 22nd in scoring
defense in 2001-02
Assistant Coach at Clemson University (2003)
Senior Assistant Coach at University
of Dayton (1999- 2003)
Head Coach at University of Georgia (1997-1999)
Assistant Head Coach at University
of Georgia (1995-1997)
Associate Head Coach at University of Tulsa (1994-1995)
Assistant Coach at University of Tulsa (1991-1994)
Assistant Coach at Gardner-Webb College (1990-1991)
Assistant Coach at Belmont Abbey
Assistant Coach at University of Tulsa (1985-1988)
Graduate Assistant Coach at Virginia Commonwealth
Assistant Coach at University of Delaware (1983-1984)
Assistant Coach at Connecticut College (1981-1983)
Bachelor of Arts in Biology, Gettysburg College,
Master of Arts in Athletic Administration, University of
Married to wife Laura with one daughter, Hannah (2)