The Old Dominion administration was trying to make a statement last week when it gave Jeff Jones a raise and extended his contract an extra two years through the 2022 season. Athletic Director Dr. Wood Selig was pretty clear about that in a release.
“This sends an important message to recruits and others that institutionally we are extremely pleased with the leadership and body of work, both academically and competitively, that Jeff has provided during his first five years,” Selig said.
Optically, the extension makes sense. Over his five years in Norfolk, Jones has averaged 22.8 wins per season and won nearly 70 percent of ODU’s league games. Playing solidly consistent defense, the Monarchs have been a mainstay in CUSA’s upper echelon.
Jones’ ODU resume is good, but it’s not as good as the resume of the coach that had the job before him.
Blaine Taylor racked up more wins than any coach in program history during his 12-year Monarchs’ tenure. This included multiple NCAA Tournament appearances (four) and regular season titles (two, in the CAA), neither of which Jones has been able to wrangle to this point. But midway through a miserable 2012-13 season, Selig and the ODU administration made a very different statement to Taylor: they fired him.
The Monarchs were 2-20 in early February when the school dismissed Taylor. It was a miserable year, but the decision still seemed abrupt for a coach that had made eight straight postseason appearances. It was accompanied by cryptic messaging:
ODU dismissed Taylor with a terse statement in which it said the decision was not based solely on wins and losses. Rather, it cited a need for the players to have “mentorship, leadership and guidance.” It also said the ODU administration “needs confidence in our leadership.”
Details have been scant in the years that have followed. There was a radio appearance shortly before Taylor was let go that may or may not have had something to do with the decision. Taylor and the university also reached a settlement agreement — again, without much color — in July 2013.
That closed the book on a jarring end to a hugely successful time in program history.
Jones swooped in immediately bounced back, as ODU was able to put together a solid 18-18 season the following year, even as it moved to CUSA. Since then the results have been great: four top-3 regular season finishes, four top-76 KenPom defenses and an NIT semifinal run in 2015. Even if the top-level numbers aren’t there — albeit in a tougher league — like they were for Taylor, whatever Jones is doing differently is making Selig and the ODU administration happy.
The show of faith may come at an important time.
As expected, Middle Tennessee won the CUSA regular season crown last year. But ODU — which finished 15-3 — kept the pressure on the Blue Raiders all season, staying within two games until the season’s final week despite MT’s gaudy 16-2 league record. The Monarchs, however, lose a good chunk of their core.
Randy Haynes (12.2 PPG) and leading rebounder Brandan Stith (8.8 PPG, 7.7 RPG) are out of eligibility, taking two starters of the equation. ODU also took a big blow when breakout junior center Trey Porter (13.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.3 BPG) joined the parade of talented players transferring to Nevada. That removes the Monarchs’ highest upside player, and an athletic force in the paint.
Though Jones has to rebuild his front court, he does have an experienced guard duo to lean on. Senior Ahmad Caver (14.2 PPG, 6.2 APG) was one the country’s most efficient playmakers last year, racking up the sixth-best assist rate in the nation (31.9%) while rarely turning the ball over. He’ll start next to versatile wing B.J. Stith (14.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 40.3 3P%), giving ODU a decent foundation.
That should guarantee that ODU avoids another crater of a season like the one that did in Taylor in 2013. Yet even if there is some regression from a 25-win season, Jones appears to have the support he needs to continue building the program back to the on-court heights it saw under his predecessor.