The 14-Game Tournament: The Dean Looks For No. 10

Reading the recent names off the list brings back a variety of memories – some jubilant, some exciting and some trying.

They’re the Deans of Ivy coaching. A spot that the famed Princeton head man Pete Carril held for many years, before yielding briefly to Yale’s Dick Kuchen, who quickly ceded the position to Penn’s Fran Dunphy. Like Kuchen, Dunphy’s successor, Harvard’s Frank Sullivan held the spot only briefly, taking us to today.

The dean returns to his sideline Friday at 7:00 p.m., and he brings with him quite the resume.

Game 2: Brown at Yale, John J. Lee Amphitheater, New Haven, CT, Friday, 7:00 p.m.

He’s the dean of Ivy coaches, but you might not know it.

He led the third most successful league program over the past decade, but you probably didn’t know that either.

And while every other Ivy institution had coaching turnover during the decade, there he remained, willing his sometimes talented, sometimes undermanned squads to nine-consecutive .500 or better league seasons and a share of an Ivy title.

Give up?

He’s Yale coach James Jones.

When the league season starts for his Bulldogs on Friday night at home against travel partner Brown, he’ll find himself in a familiar place. The expectations for his team were once again low, and with the best of Yale’s five non-conference, Division I wins coming on a neutral floor against Pomeroy No. 237 Colgate, there’s nothing from the past two months that would suggest those prognostications were incorrect.

But Jones has been here before. Last season, Yale managed just four Division I non-conference wins, before posting an 8-6 league mark. In 2007, the Bulldogs secured just three Division I wins out of the league, but went 10-4 in Ivy play. Over the past decade, only Dartmouth won fewer non-conference games than Yale, but once league play started, only Penn and Princeton won more.

The Ivy team that has given Jones the most trouble on a relative scale, however, is Brown. The Bears swept the Bulldogs three times during the decade, with Yale getting its only sweep last year, while the two sides split the other six. The Bulldogs did begin to turn the rivalry around toward the end of the decade, after Brown coach Glen Miller departed for Penn, splitting the four meetings when Craig Robinson led the Bears before taking both last year, but Brown still won the decade series 12-8.

In spite of that losing mark to the league’s fourth most successful team from the 2000s (and the obvious losing records to the Ps), Yale has still managed at least seven Ivy wins, every year, like clockwork. With Penn managing just six wins last year, the Bulldogs now hold the longest streak ahead of Cornell with five and Columbia with three.

But with Pomeroy predicting a 6-8 league mark and the media slotting Yale fifth in the preseason, can Jones get Yale to overachieve once again and keep that run alive?

If the Bulldogs want to do it, they’ll have to do it early, as their final three games are at Harvard, vs. Columbia and vs. Cornell, all three of which they are currently looking up at in any ratings system. A great way to start would be ensuring at least a split of what has always been a tough travel partner rivalry.

Game 3: Columbia at Cornell, Newman Arena, Ithaca, NY, Saturday, 4:00 p.m.

While the elder Jones may hold the leads both in tenure and in consecutive .500 or better league seasons, the coaches in second and third on both of those lists, Cornell’s Steve Donahue and Columbia’s Joe Jones, square off on Saturday in Ithaca.

For Donahue, the contest marks the beginning of what is viewed by most as merely a coronation. The program that he took over in 2000 and won just 18 league games in the first half of the last decade has won 50 over the past five seasons and made Donahue a hot commodity on the coaching carousel. His team is the heavy favorite to win the league for the third consecutive time and looks primed to claim the league’s first NCAA victory since Princeton in 1998.

Skeptics still remain around the league, however, as some point to Penn and Princeton’s unexpected and unprecedented demise as the primary reason for Donahue’s success. While that seemingly glosses over the years of eight, eight and nine victories from 2005 to 2007, when Penn was in the midst of a three-year title run, the theory has plenty of traction in Ivy circles, which only serves to steal some of the luster from a remarkable achievement.

Despite the mild cynicism from within the league, outside of it, Donahue’s accomplishments are well known and highly respected. If his title doesn’t involve the name of a BCS school next season, it will have been because he rejected the opportunity, not the other way around. When it comes to respect, he has earned it, and most of the nation is giving it to him.

For the younger Jones, that isn’t as much the case. Despite having spent the past three years at .500 in the league after having rebuilt the program from scratch (the Lions remain the last program to go winless in the Ivies, pulling the 0-14 mark in 2002-03, the year before Jones was hired), Jones remains relatively unheralded as a head man, much like his brother who toils in relative obscurity two hours north on I-95. His own fans often decry his inability to implement a fluid, potent offense and his oft-spellbinding substitution patterns. They ponder the direction of the program, almost unwilling to consider that they might have a potentially highly successful coach on his way up, and instead choosing to measure the exact size of the perceived plateau.

Recent injuries have obscured the fact that, once again, Jones has his team poised for a .500 league campaign and an upper division finish. He has one of the two most offensively dynamic sophomores in Noruwa Agho, a couple of intriguing freshman frontcourt pieces, and some experienced senior role players. While no one has this current edition of the Lions pegged as a title contender, it’s hard to look at expectations of an upper division finish as a disappointment, given where this program was when Jones took over. But that is precisely the corner into which a modicum of success has painted Coach Jones.

If Columbia could stun Cornell on Saturday, however, that might be a different story.

Michael James

Michael James wrote 98 posts

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