Sunday, April 28, 2013

Jordan's Situation A Lot Like Another Ed(die)

Eddie Jordan's road to success at Rutgers mirrors that of a coach with the same first name hired two years ago, that being Providence's Ed Cooley.  (Photo courtesy of the Asbury Park Press)

Six days ago, Rutgers University officially moved on from their three-year marriage to Mike Rice, annulling it with the hire of former Scarlet Knight point guard and one-time NBA head coach Eddie Jordan.  Since Hurricane Michael passed out to sea, the basketball community around central New Jersey is now more hopeful; arguably than ever before, that their new leader can bring about the same success he once spawned nearly four decades ago en route to becoming the all-time assist and steal leader in program history.

When you look at what Jordan has in front of him just one week into the head basketball coach position at his alma mater, it may seem like a lot on the surface, but the potential is clearly visible.  With the five scholarship players he inherits, led by incumbent shooting guard and All-Met honoree Myles Mack, Jordan's maiden voyage on the banks of the old Raritan bears a striking resemblance to another coach who returned home to right the ship of a program who had seen better days, but was described as having been "run into the ground" by his immediate predecessor.  Ironically, both Jordan and this coach share the same first name.

In 2011, Providence native Ed Cooley was somewhat of a hot commodity in the coaching carousel, having led Fairfield to a regular season MAAC championship and NIT appearance in his fifth season in charge of the Stags following a successful run as Al Skinner's lead assistant at Boston College.  Not too long after Fairfield's season ended, Cooley "sprinted home," in his own words, to the Friars as the school's replacement for Keno Davis; who, despite his offensively-influenced schemes, was never able to get Providence into the top half of the Big East standings.  In yet another striking parallel to Jordan's arrival at Rutgers, Davis spent just three seasons in the Ocean State, just as Mike Rice did in Piscataway.

Technically, ten players from Davis' final Providence roster made their way onto Cooley's first Friar squad, but for all intents and purposes, the new coach only had five players of significance for his first season in Rhode Island, just as Jordan does now.  In addition, both coaches will have gone through year one in their new positions having to replace their leading scorers: Cooley lost MarShon Brooks to graduation and the NBA before he could have the chance to coach him, whereas Jordan will not have the services of Eli Carter after the sophomore guard announced his intent to transfer in the aftermath of the Rice fiasco and a broken leg that ended his season prematurely.  For the record, Carter will choose between Maryland and Florida, and could get a waiver to play right away.

Each coach also has arguably the team's best player coming back for two more seasons, as Myles Mack enters his junior year for Jordan the same way Vincent Council did when Cooley was hired in 2011, with mounds of potential and expectations of a breakout season from media, coaches, and fans alike.  Council thrived in Cooley's defensive-minded system, becoming a well-rounded player on both sides of the ball that played his way into all-Big East honors and a perennial spot at or near the top of the conference's assist leaderboard.  Mack comes into his third season having led Rutgers in assists and steals just as his new mentor did when he wore the Scarlet Knights' uniform, and Jordan is already eager to work with his new protege, waxing poetic about being able to look at him during timeouts in games, telling him 'What do you see out there?'"

Finally, both coaches are brilliant basketball minds with no other instinct than to make an immediate impact.  Although Cooley's 15-17 record in his first season at Providence was to be expected, his young team entered Big East play with an 11-3 record, and managed a resounding upset victory over eventual Final Four participant Louisville on a night where the Friars celebrated the 25th anniversary of the program's 1987 Final Four appearance, ironically with Rick Pitino; who coached the Billy Donovan-led Friars to the national semifinals that season, on the opposing bench.  This past season, Cooley's Friars advanced to the quarterfinals of the NIT, with a 19-15 record that saw the team finish eighth in the Big East and play its way onto the NCAA Tournament bubble with a late-season surge that brought Cooley consideration for the Big East Coach of the Year award that should have gone either to himself or Marquette's Buzz Williams, but was ultimately; and perhaps wrongfully given how March Madness played out, to John Thompson III of Georgetown. Eddie Jordan may have a losing record over his seven-plus seasons as an NBA head coach, but the winning percentage obscures four consecutive postseason appearances with the Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler-led Washington Wizards, not to mention a Princeton-inspired offense that adapts to fit his talent and a natural teacher who seeks only to help those he comes into contact with, as evidenced by his selflessness in coaching the freshman team at his alma mater Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C.

Eddie Jordan.  Ed Cooley.  Two similar first names, and, in a much shorter time span than most expect, similar results.  If you're still not convinced, see for yourself next season.

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