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Ron Jirsa

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.

It’s 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 nervous kind.

The consequence: Marshall, an erstwhile cradle of the free wheeling, high speed, fast break, wallowed in seas of inconsistencies during much 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 the coach.

“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.”

That’s 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 it,” Jirsa 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 I schools

Dayton ranked second in nation in rebounding margin, 15th in field goal percentage defense and 22nd in scoring defense in 2001-02

Coaching History

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 College (1988-1989)

Assistant Coach at University of Tulsa (1985-1988)

Graduate Assistant Coach at Virginia Commonwealth University (1984-1985)

Assistant Coach at University of Delaware (1983-1984)

Assistant Coach at Connecticut College (1981-1983)

Education

Bachelor of Arts in Biology, Gettysburg College, 1981

Master of Arts in Athletic Administration, University of Tulsa, 1987

Personal

Married to wife Laura with one daughter, Hannah (2)


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