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Then-IPFW athletic director Tommy Bell knew exactly what he was doing two years and 50 weeks ago Sunday when he held the belief that “Our men's basketball program isn't broken, there's no need to fix it,” and he chose to stay in house and promote Mastodon assistant Tony Jasick to replace the departing Dane Fife.
In hindsight, the decision was ingenious, as IPFW recently finished its greatest season (25 wins) in its three-level NCAA history.
With multiple reports swirling that Jasick is the leading candidate for the same position at Jacksonville University, if indeed Jasick accepts the much more lucrative and attractive position with the Dolphins, it begs the question “Should IPFW make the same decision and stay in house again?”
Well, to reiterate Bell's thought process, “Does anyone in their right mind feel that IPFW basketball is broken in any way right now?”
The clear answers to those questions are “Yes” and “No.”
Yes, IPFW athletic director Kelly Hartley Hutton should promote current IPFW assistant Jon Coffman to the head coaching position. And no, this program isn't fractured in any semblance.
There are a number of athletic directors – particularly inexperienced ones – that would seize this opportunity to make a splash hire and go after a big name, all the while ignoring whether or not that candidate actually fits the position well and could ultimately succeed. That philosophy is called “winning the press conference” and you see it done with tremendous frequency, but with mixed results.
In the case of IPFW, former Mastodon athletic director Mark Pope chose that route in hiring a 25-year-old Fife and the result was fabulous.
But Hartley Hutton isn't your typical administrator. She spent two decades on the sidelines coaching women's volleyball; quite well, mind you; and at her core, she's a coach. And no one will grasp the importance of making the right hire, not for any headlines generated, but for the welfare of the student-athletes, more so than Hartley Hutton.
There are any number of candidates that would be very successful in leading this program. Former Saint Francis coach Jeff Rekeweg is doing what he always does, win games, at NCAA Division II Northwood, and would love the opportunity to return to his home area and lead the IPFW program.
And few know the inner workings of the Mastodon program better than Butler basketball analyst Dan Bere, who spent eight seasons as an assistant under Fife and Jasick.
But in Coffman, the transition would not only be seamless for, and welcomed by, the IPFW student-athletes, but it would also be in their best interests.
The veteran Coffman has proven an invaluable resource for Jasick through the past three seasons, as Jasick learned his way through his new role. There were countless times – virtually daily - that Jasick sought Coffman's insight regarding academic situations, recruiting matters, player development techniques, etc.
When Jasick took over the Mastodon program, his first hire was Coffman, and due to his experience, the coaching staff was able to immediately get to work without many obstacles and promptly signed players such as Isaiah McCray, Herbert Graham, and Joe Edwards.
The class of 2012, which included Joe Reed, Will Dunn, Kevin Harden, Steve Forbes, Luis Jacobo, and Pierre Bland, is simply the most successful recruiting class in the history of the program. And seven of the aforementioned players are still with the Mastodons.
Does anyone really believe that it is in those players' best interests to play in a different system, with different voices, and differing expectations, after following a philosophy – on and off of the court – that reaped the program's greatest success ever?
Coffman has spent 13 years as the No. 1 assistant at three different programs. He's been coaching at IPFW's level (or even lower) since 1997. That experience is immensely beneficial for the person coaching at IPFW, as opposed to a candidate from a more renowned program, whose budget and resources may essentially be unlimited.
“Doing more with less, not complaining, there's a lot to be said for that,” Hartley Hutton said recently regarding the permeating philosophy of IPFW athletics. “I think that trickles down to our student-athletes. That blue-collar work ethic.”
Hartley Hutton comprehends that level of challenge, which roams daily throughout the Gates Sports Center, as does Coffman.
If Jasick leaves and all indications are that he will, Coffman deserves this opportunity to prove himself to Hartley Hutton, his student-athletes, and the IPFW fan base.