Jim Jabir built Dayton women’s basketball into a program that transcended the mid-major level to achieve national success on a consistent basis. The all-time winningest coach in program history with a with a 251-154 (.619) overall and 116-76 (.604) Atlantic 10 record, Jabir led the Flyers to six NCAA Tournaments, the 2012-13 and 2013-14 Atlantic 10 Regular Season Championships, and the 2011-12 Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship (all firsts in program history).
In September, Jabir stepped away from leading the Dayton program to focus on his health and family. While that continues to be his focus, he hasn’t been able to completely stay away from the game he loves, as he has spoken at the Texas A&M Women’s Basketball Coaching Academy and visited practices of the Timberwolves and UConn. This time away has allowed Jabir to reassess how he approaches the job he has been so successful at for so long, but it is hard to believe Jabir will stay away from the sidelines for very long.
What inspired you to become a coach?
The two most powerful things in my life has always been serving others and basketball so coaching made perfect sense to me. In high school and college at Nazareth College, I lived in the gym. I worked on my game so much to unfortunately no avail, but I did find my passion. I was fortunate to have some very good coaches and mentors in my life, from Brother Myles Davis at Our Lady of Angels elementary school to Coach Gigliotti and Coach Emery at Nazareth College. I loved that you could see concrete results if you worked hard at it. Serving young people, watching them develop is so gratifying to me. It has become as important as winning.
You led Dayton to 251 wins and six NCAA Tournaments during your 13 years as the program’s Head Coach, how do you feel you were able to maintain a high level of success on a consistent basis?
All the success we had at Dayton is a tribute to the great administration, coaches, and players I was surrounded with. We built a program from nothing into a nationally successful program with a lot of help.
I became a process-driven coach, understanding who we were and who we needed to have in our basketball family to succeed. There was a formula I figured out that was a tangible identity and obvious to anyone who looked at the program. You could come to a game and watch the players and coaches and know what was important to us, but success is much more than winning games. It has more to do with teaching character, unselfishness, and discipline, among other things.
At Dayton, we could sell a great academic institution, great facilities, and a rabid fan base that we grew. Players who committed to Dayton weren’t missing out on anything that BCS schools could offer. Identifying the student-athlete who was strong enough to walk away from the perception of the BCS and tell their friends they were coming to Dayton became the focus. We got pretty good at that.
What did you learn during your previous Head Coaching positions at Providence and Marquette that made you a better Head Coach at Dayton?
All my previous coaching positions readied me for Dayton. As a coach, you are always evolving and either getting better or worse. You never stay the same. I learned so much of what to do and what not to do. I learned what worked for me at that particular institution and what didn’t. The one thing pretty unique to my situation is that I have been a Head Coach for almost all of my 31 years in coaching. That has been a good way to learn but difficult too.
I was fairly young at Marquette and I’m sure I made a lot of mistakes. I did learn there though that my sheer will, enthusiasm, ability to motivate players, and work ethic went a very long way. At Providence, I really learned about recruiting and what kind of student-athlete I really wanted to coach. I feel I may have stumbled there as a recruiter, but took some very valuable lessons with me to Dayton where we regularly had nationally ranked recruiting classes. I am grateful for each and every opportunity that was provided to me and shaped me as a coach.
Since stepping away from Dayton two months ago, what have you been up to?
Since leaving the best job I ever had, I have been resting, reading, traveling, and talking to a lot of college and professional coaches. I needed to reassess the pressure I was putting on myself and why I was coaching. The concept of being “process driven” has become central to me. Reading about people like Brad Stevens has been good for me. I was emotionally exhausted and I’m finding that putting all that pressure on myself to better “your Elite Eight run” isn’t the way to get to the Final Four. What I’m learning is that if I just concentrate on today and that “one play in front of me”, I will have a better chance of getting where I want to be as opposed to worrying so much about how that one play in front of me may shape my entire future. I put so much pressure on myself and I’m now taking time to re-evaluate my philosophies and it’s been very healthy and productive.
You built Dayton into a program that transcended the mid-major level and was successful nationally, what advice do you have for Head Coach at non-BCS schools to do the same?
To build a nationally successful program, having strong administrative support is important. Your administration must be partners with you. Having said that, if you don’t have a huge commitment in resources or facilities, you must identify what is unique to you, your school, and your program. There are some jobs where you don’t have a lot to sell. If that is your situation, then you have to sell yourself, your vision, and your style of play. Finding players with a chip on their shoulder can then be important. Shaka Smart made a point of recruiting tough athletes who may have been under-recruited and built an “us against the world” mentality that worked well with his pressing, attack style of play. Great players make great coaches. That is a fact. There are however, some programs that rely heavily on a “system” if they don’t have great players. A tough defensive style coupled with a controlled, low turnover offense can be a formula for success.
At the end of the day, every coach must periodically evaluate and re-evaluate your program, the language you put out there, and how you are viewed and perceived. You must continually ask yourself if you are being true to the vision and identity you have created for yourself and your program.
Written originally for CollegeInsider.com on November 17, 2016.