By Jim Moyes
What a pleasant surprise I had recently when I picked up our local paper here in Jacksonville, Fla. and saw a front-page sports headline announcing that Jacksonville University had hired Whitehall’s Tony Jasick as its head basketball coach.
It had been many years since I had last seen Jasick, but Tony could not have been more accommodating. The very congenial young coach treated the ‘ole announcer’ like royalty during my most enjoyable visit at his new office, located on the picturesque Jacksonville campus.
As one of his assistants guided me into his office, Jasick was already working the phones in an attempt to build a solid roster for the upcoming basketball season.
Jasick will take over the reigns of a program with a storied history, featuring one great shining moment. Jacksonville University advanced all the way to the National Championship game back in 1970, before losing to John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins that were right in the midst of their unprecedented run of seven straight NCAA championships.
The former Whitehall and Muskegon Community College cage star brings a solid resume to the Sunshine State, including a pair of awards earned during this past season when he directed Indiana Purdue of Fort Wayne to their school’s all-time best record of 25-10.
This achievement propelled Jasick to the Hugh Durham Award, presented annually to the top coach in mid-major basketball.
His other award earned was for being named the “sexiest coach in mid-major basketball,” an award that I discreetly didn’t bring up during my conversation with the happily married Jasick.
Jasick will now take over a program that has struggled over the past few years, a predicament that Tony is more than familiar with during his coaching career.
When I brought up a few dour comments that have been accompanying Jacksonville U’s basketball fortunes of late, it was clear to me that Jasick had not lost his sense of humor.
“That’s why we’re here, to build a program. It’s like my Mom said shortly after I took this job when she asked me about the status of our program. I told her ‘Mom, we have a lot of work to do,’ and she said: why do you always take jobs like this Tony?” said Jasick, laughingly.
“I said, ‘I don’t know Mom but we are going to get it going. It may not be tomorrow, and it may not be this year but we are going to get in going,’” said a confident Jasick.
His many friends in the Muskegon/White Lake area can be assured of one thing as Tony climbs the ladder: He has not forgotten the impact his former coaches, teachers, friends and family have had on his career.
When our local paper (Jacksonville-Times Union) displayed a photo from the news conference that included Tony, his wife Melissa and daughters Rowan and Reece, it quickly became apparent to me that Jasick had not forgotten his roots.
There can be no greater honor than to have your first-born named after one’s self.
I was mesmerized when I saw that the oldest of his daughters in that photo was named Rohen, who I quickly recognized was the last name of his former basketball coach at Whitehall, the late Mike Rohen, who passed away very unexpectedly in 2000.
The Vikings were an impressive 34-10 in Jasick’s final two seasons under Rohen, where Tony pumped in a hefty 22 points per game in his senior season back in 1996.
The jovial Jasick quickly turned 180 degrees when I asked him the impact Mike Rohen had on his career. A very somber Tony paused a few moments before responding.
“He was extremely influential in my life … and … by just playing for a guy who does everything right, everyday.
“There was no difference from day one and the last day of the season. His expectations were still the same, the accountability was the same. So as a player, who kind of thought that perhaps coaching was an avenue that I might take up later on, just seeing him, going through with him, and watching him go through his business was extremely powerful” expressed a very genuine Jasick.
Jasick continued on with his reverence for his late coach who left us all too soon in 2000. “Once I graduated from high school, he became more of a personal mentor/friend. We played golf together, but now as I look back on it, not as much as I would have liked to. He was a good man.”
When I asked Jasick of others that that played a helpful role in his development, he was quick to point out a number of mentors from the Muskegon area.
“I was fortunate that when I was growing up at that time there were a lot of guys who were really good, and because our area was so small, you could have relationships with a number of people and they were really generous people.
“Whether it was rival coaches like Jim Tate at Montague or Rick Zoulek at Shelby, all they cared about was helping young people grow in the game. So just to be around those guys and having them work with me – and just talking about the game – was so important to me,” added a grateful Jasick.
And how about the run veteran basketball coach Gene Gifford has been on of late with the accomplishment in the coaching ranks?
Former Gifford products include, not only current Muskegon Big Red coach Keith Guy, and Tony Jasick, both of whom played their college basketball here at Muskegon Community College for Gifford, but Tennessee has hired another Gifford player from yesteryar with the recent hire of Donny Tyndall.
Tyndall played for Gifford during his early years of coaching at Ravenna.
“I talk with Coach Gifford all the time. Gene Gifford may be one of the most undervalued coaches in the area,” the former Jayhawk point guard said.
“There are very few people who get into coaching who don’t have an ulterior motive, but when you talk to coach Gifford, all he cares about is how can I help Tony (Jasick) be successful.”
Although still a few years shy of reaching 40 years of age, Jasick now has more than a decade of college coaching experience on his resume.
One certainly cannot question Tony’s relentless work ethic.
When I first contacted Jasick here in Jacksonville, I thought he was putting me on when I asked him where he was temporarily residing here in NE Florida.
“Right here in my office,” he said.
But one quick glance around his office led me to believe that maybe he wasn’t pulling the ‘ole announcers’ chain.
When I asked him if this office was truly where he lived, Jasick quickly burst out with a big grin: “Yes, it’s true.”
It was about this time in my interview that Jasick, not wanting to waste valuable time, grabbed a power-bar and a banana out of his desk drawer to consume for his hasty daily lunch.
Although it has been less than a month since Jasick was officially announced as the head coach with the Jacksonville Dolphins, Tony has made a number of trips back to his now former hometown of Fort Wayne.
“I was literally on a plane between here and Fort Wayne for five days.
Before I could get very far into gushing about my new digs here in Jacksonville, Tony was quick to interrupt me by stating that he truly loved his stay in Fort Wayne.
When I asked Jasick if there was one point in his life when he thought that coaching would be in his future he replied: “I think I always had this infinity towards coaching, and I think it was because of the impact from all these guys that I told you about earlier, as well as others like Jim Heeres, the late Duane Lamiman, and Greg Russell.
Jasick still keeps in touch with many of his former pals, including longtime teacher and coach Jim “Red” Heeres.
“When I was in college I would work out every morning with ‘Old Man’ Heeres at 6 a.m.
“I’m telling you, I learned more about life from just working out with him with our morning talks, like how to treat other people, how to deal with adversity…” he said. “I’ll tell you, I’m a lucky guy to have to have all the good people around me at that time.
“He (the 79-year-old Heeres) still challenges me to get back to Whitehall so they can play some one-on-one basketball.”
I figured there had to be a bigger attraction for Jasick coming to Jacksonville than just the great weather.
“When I asked him why here, with Jacksonville University,” Jasick said, “I realize the program has struggled the last few years, in a number of areas. And unfortunately, or fortunately, that’s kind of what our reputation has been. We’ve been able to go in, clean it up, fix it, and head things in the right direction.”
I voiced my concern to Jasick on the possibilityof losing some of his current players by transferring to other universities.
“My feeling is that if you don’t want to be a part of what we’re doing, then I wish them nothing but the best,” Jasick replied with the utmost sincerity.
“What we do have here now are four guys, maybe five, that want to be a part of the foundation of what we are doing and I am excited at what I have seen them doing,” Jasick said. “However, we have a lot of work to do and that’s one of the reasons why I’m sleeping here on the couch until Melissa and the kids join me down here.”
I certainly didn’t have to do any prompting to find out how important it is to have a supporting wife during these exciting, but stressful times, for coaches that spend an inordinate amount of time away from their family.
“It’s a hard deal to be a coach’s wife, especially with a husband that takes jobs that I take.” Jasick said, perhaps only partly in jest.
Jasick spent a great deal of time just raving about how supportive his wife Melissa has been over the years.
“There is just no way possible that I would be where I am today without her support,” Jasick said several times.
The two have known each other since they were about 13 years of age, and both were graduates of Whitehall High School in the class of 1996.
After I completed my great conversation with the new hometown head coach, I had the opportunity to spend a few moments chatting with a few people of his support staff.
They were all so excited to have Jasick on board and were confident that he is the perfect fit to rebuild a once mighty program.
And I couldn’t agree more. Welcome to Jacksonville, Tony.