BATON ROUGE, La. — Ben Jobe, an iconic basketball coach who guided Southern to multiple Southwestern Athletic Conference championships, died Friday. He was 84.
Former coach of the Denver Nuggets and ex-president of the Indiana Pacers Donnie Walsh, who was an assistant at the University of South Carolina with Jobe, once put him in perspective, saying he had all the ingredients to be a special coach.
“He had a great basketball mind,” Walsh said. “But he combined it with the ability to teach and lead young men. I thought he was perfect because he had the right balance and toughness that you need to have, particularly with younger people.”
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Jobe demonstrated those traits. A builder of downtrodden programs, Jobe coached eight teams over a span of 31 seasons, winning at a 61 percent rate and accumulating 524 victories. But his longest tenure of 12 seasons was at Southern. In two stints with the Jaguars (1986-96; 2001-03) in which he coached such notable athletes as Avery Johnson and Bobby Phills, Jobe had a 209-141 record — perhaps none bigger than the Jaguars’ 93-78 shocker in 1993 over ACC champion Georgia Tech in the NCAA tournament.
The No. 13 seed Jaguars, the last of the 64 teams admitted into the tournament, fell behind by 15 points in the first half, then came roaring back against the Yellow Jackets, coached by his old friend and ex-co-staffer as assistants at South Carolina under the legendary Frank McGuire.
“I feel bad for this team,” Cremins said of his vanquished Yellow Jackets, “but I do want to congratulate my good friend Ben Jobe. To me he’s always been the equivalent of a John Thompson, a Bobby Knight or a Dean Smith, and if I was going to lose to anyone, it was great to lose to a person like Ben Jobe.”
Jobe coached the Jaguars to four NCAA tournaments and one NIT berth. His Southern teams won three regular-season SWAC championships and four tournament titles.
“He was one of those coaches who was a trailblazer, broke down a lot of barriers,” legendary Southern baseball coach Roger Cador said.
Jobe had a reputation of fast-break basketball, which he adhered to throughout his career. He learned at the knee of pioneer and his mentor John McLendon at Tennessee State, who in turn learned the strategy from James Naismith, the game’s originator at Kansas in the 1930s.
“My philosophy was 93 shots a game, and try to score with eight seconds, upbeat tempo all the way, 94 feet of offense,” Jobe explained.
His impact on basketball is reflected in the presentation of the Ben Jobe Award, which annually goes to the top minority coach in Division I basketball.
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Jobe also coached at Tuskegee, Talladega, Alabama State, South Carolina State, Denver and Alabama A&M. Jobe briefly served as an assistant with the Denver Nuggets.
Johnson was his most famous former player, hitting the championship-winning shot for the San Antonio Spurs against the New York Knicks in the 1999 Finals and going on to a successful NBA coaching career. He is currently the head coach at Alabama.
Jobe, a native of Nashville, Tennessee, played at Pearl High School, where he was a guard and captain of the team in 1951 and named to the National High School team. In college at Fisk University, he was All-Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference as a junior and senior, before embarking on his noteworthy coaching career.
His first job, right out of Fisk, was at Nashville’s Cameron High. In his one season there, Cameron went a school-record 24-0. He left Cameron for an assignment coaching a junior college team in Sierra Leone, West Africa. In his two years there, Jobe’s teams didn’t lose a game.
Jobe was always impeccably dressed and always intensely passionate about social and political issues.
“He came out of that system at historically black schools that taught you that you had to make the right first impression,” Cador said. “I know about it, because I came out of the same system. Ben lived it to the fullest. I’m sure he impacted a lot of young men’s lives, on and off the floor. Even in my 40s, I was impressed. I thought it was a thing of beauty.”