Jacobson back at N. Iowa after flirting with A&M
Most figured that if Ben Jacobson was ever going to leave
Northern Iowa, it would have come on the heels of the Panthers’
stirring run to the NCAA tournament’s round of 16 in 2010.
That’s what made his interest in the Texas A&M job last
spring so surprising.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Jacobson was granted permission by
athletic director Troy Dannen in May to talk with the Aggies about
their opening. Nothing came of it, as Texas A&M hired Billy
Kennedy and Jacobson pledged his commitment to Northern Iowa.
Jacobson’s back at the place he never left, trying to build a
team that can contend for the Missouri Valley Conference title
after folding down the stretch in 2010-11.
Jacobson said Tuesday at the team’s annual media day that the
support he has received from the community and the school and the
relationships he has built with his players helped sway his
decision to stay.
”We had some serious discussions about that opportunity,” said
Jacobson, who’s entering his sixth season as Northern Iowa’s head
coach. ”At the end of the day, it ended up being an easier
decision than what I might have thought going into it simply
because we’ve got such a good thing going here.”
It wasn’t such a good thing at the end of last season.
The glow from that memorable NCAA tournament run some 19 months
back faded with a 1-7 stretch to end Missouri Valley play,
culminating in consecutive losses to Creighton.
The Panthers finished 20-14, reaching the 20-win plateau for the
third straight season. But it took a stint in the lower-tier
CollegeInsider.com postseason tournament to do so.
The Aggies came calling two months later, as Mark Turgeon left
to replace the retired Gary Williams at Maryland.
Though Jacobson had been a hot property after leading the
Panthers past top-seeded Kansas in March 2010, he signed a 10-year
contract with Northern Iowa shortly before losing to Michigan State
in the regional semifinals.
Still, Jacobson was intrigued by the opportunity to lead a
high-major program like the Aggies.
”They’ve positioned themselves well as a basketball program, as
an athletic department. They’ve got some things from a resource
standpoint, from a facility standpoint, that are pretty good.
Enough to take a look,” Jacobson said.
But that was all it ended up being.
Now, Jacobson’s challenge will be rebuilding the Panthers after
a troubling finish and the loss of senior point guard Kwadzo
Ahelegbe and frontcourt spark plug Lucas O’Rear.
Ahelegbe was a first-team All-Valley pick and the league’s
defensive player of the year. O’Rear’s presence was highlighted by
the fractured ankle that ended his final season and precipitated
Northern Iowa’s slide from the top of the league standings in early
This season’s team will be built around guard Anthony James, who
averaged 12.4 points as a sophomore in 2010-11, and senior
perimeter threat Johnny Moran, who Jacobson said is fully recovered
from offseason shoulder surgery.
Forward Jake Koch, the team’s top returning post player, is
working his way back from ankle surgery. Jacobson said Monday that
center Austin Pehl will miss the next 5-to-6 weeks with a stress
fracture in his shin.
Northern Iowa likely won’t be picked to win the Valley this
season. But the Panthers have their coach back after a brief look
at what life could be like if he had left.
”This place has been very good to me, and very loyal and very
supportive, and those are things that I do not take lightly in any
way,” Jacobson said. It was ”a combination of factors as to why I
feel like I’m in the right place and continue to really enjoy being
our head coach.”