Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Entry That Came Too Late: Why I Want Rob Jeter at Iowa State

So I just heard that Rob Jeter announced that he won’t be heading to Iowa State, making the entry that I wrote last night on the topic of this situation sort of moot now. But what the heck, you’re not getting anything else from me today, so I’ll post it anyway. Now that Jeter’s sticking around, I’m even more embarrassed by some of my thoughts, but in the interest of brutal honesty, here they are:

So, Rob Jeter’s looking more and more likely to get an offer to be the head coach at Iowa State. So I guess it’s time for me to come clean on what I think of Rob Jeter, and what I’d like to see happen with regard to all of this. I’ll give some warning in advance, because this may very well be the single most offensive post that I’ve ever written in regards to UWM. But bear with me, because I’m just being honest.

I think Rob Jeter is an excellent coach. There are some people out there that would tell you that he stepped into an easy situation with tons of talent returning from a Sweet Sixteen team. I might agree with this assessment if UWM returned two or three key guys this year, but the Panthers had seven seniors, and Jeter was looking to completely revamp the way that they played ball. If that’s not a set-up for a mutiny, I don’t know what is. But somewhere along the line, Jeter got these guys to buy into what he was selling (Although to be fair, some of Joah Tucker’s comments this year lead me to believe that he never totally got on board with the new system, but he bought in enough to make UWM a winner again.). Jeter was smart enough to recognize his challenges, and made shrewd moves to win his team over, most notably re-implementing the full court press that was such an effective weapon the prior year. And in one of the more surprising moves that I saw all year, Jeter took Jason McCoy, a forward who’s primary role prior to this year was guarding inbounds passes, and made him a solid starter.

By the end of the year, Jeter’s UWM squad was playing solid, efficient, winning basketball. As a reward, they won the Horizon league regular season and tournament championships. They then won their first round NCAA tournament game. In fact, it would be tough to argue that UWM wasn’t playing the best basketball of any team in the state of Wisconsin in March. If you saw the last 3-4 games that the Panthers played, you know that they were playing at a higher level than they had all year. They were undoubtedly playing better than the rapidly collapsing Wisconsin Badgers, and were probably just a notch above the Marquette Golden Eagles, who are on the verge of being great, but weren’t quite there yet this season.

So, after all of this success, and Jeter imparting his winning ways on UWM, it is a bit awkward to say this, but I will say it anyway. I hope that Rob Jeter is offered, and accepts, the head coaching job at Iowa State.

This all goes back to something that I’ve been discussing all year with my friends. You see, while I have tremendous respect for what Jeter does, and truly appreciate his coaching ability, his efficient style of basketball is something that I don’t enjoy watching at UWM. For me, UWM has always offered something different. While Wisconsin will always be the place that I primarily hitch my wagon to as a fan, UWM has provided me with a much-needed change of pace. Last season was probably the best example of this. With Bo Ryan winning with his methodical, structured system, and Bruce Pearl running his team up and down the floor at record pace, flailing his arms and sweating up a storm, I could honestly say that I could attend a Big Ten game at the Kohl Center and a Horizon League game at the Mecca on consecutive nights and be equally entertained. (Let’s forget last season even happened for Marquette, okay?). This wasn’t because UWM was winning (though this helped), but rather, it was because the Panthers were running up and down the floor in a frantic manner that I would never see the Badgers do. As I’ve crudely explained to friends in an analogy that does not reflect my moral values, but is the only way that I feel like I can accurately describe the situation, it was as if Wisconsin was my wife, who I loved with all my heart, but UWM was my kinky mistress that I could not keep away from. Only, because this was just basketball, I was actually free to enjoy both.

This year, however, that dynamic changed. UWM players weren’t sprinting up and down the floor like their hair was on fire, and the coach on the sidelines wasn’t slamming down his expensive suit-coat from Harley's and waving his arms to pump up the crowd. The Panthers were still winning, but at the end of the day, things seemed a lot less fun. Instead of watching Wisconsin pick an opponent apart, and then watching UWM rip an opponent apart, both were doing something very similar (even if UWM was still more athletic). Sure, the rubber chicken toss during timeouts in the second half was still fun, but the excitement level afterward just didn’t maintain. UWM was playing good basketball, but that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted them to provide something different from Marquette and Wisconsin.

So my ideal? Jeter, and his solid coaching resume gets out of town so that Iowa State fans can appreciate his ability as I cannot. He’s a pretty good guy, as well, from what I hear, and this works out for him, too, since he’s got a job in a major conference and he doesn’t have to rebuild a mid-major program that just lost seven seniors. Meanwhile, UWM gets a $900,000 buyout from Iowa State (which is an insane move by Iowa State, by the way) and can buy a good coach for 2-3 years. Who should that be? Well, UWM has had success by bringing in dominant guys from lower divisions (Bo Ryan, a division three master, and Bruce Pearl, a king in division two), and nearly did the same a year ago before hiring Jeter. Last year my friend Adam emailed me an article about Mike Dunlap, the coach of division 2 Metropolitan State. He’s a guy that routinely holds 4am practices, punishes players by making them run two miles with a medicine ball, and has run a 100-mile ultra-marathon. (Best quote in the article: "The race begins at the 75-mile mark," Dunlap said. "About the 16th and 17th hours, you start hallucinating. I had a guy running with me, holding a flashlight, and I started jumping over rocks. He looked at me and asked what I was doing. I told him I was avoiding those rocks. There weren’t any rocks.") Tell me that’s not a guy who’s just insane enough to make UWM basketball the exciting show that it should be? If he's at all intested in coming to Milwaukee, I'll drive out to Denver and pick him up myself.

In the end, I do feel somewhat guilty that I’m hoping for more style to go along with UWM’s substance. The substance should be enough. But when you’re the little guy in town, and you don’t have the allure of the Big Ten or the Big East coming to town every night, you’ve got to do something extra. Hopefully, Jeter moves on and that something extra comes back to town. If not, at least we’ll have another team playing solid basketball in Milwaukee.


At 10:10 AM, Blogger dl004d said...

Sure, but isn't the goal to win not to sprint up and down the floor?

At 12:07 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Agreed that winning is the primary goal. And while I want the solid, consistent guy at Wisconsin, I'm looking for a more exciting, gambling type of winner to suck me in at UWM. (Yes, UWM is of secondary concern for me.) The knowledgeable basketball fan in me hates the fact that I had a lot more fun at Bruce Pearl UWM games than at Rob Jeter UWM games, but that's the way it is. I don't blame Jeter for any of this, since he's doing his job very well, but Bruce Pearl spoiled me by winning with flair.


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