Jordan knows the challenge he faces

Originally Published: August 29, 2013
By Myron Medcalf | ESPN.com

Eddie Jordan had his mind on football, not basketball.

In the 1970s, Jordan was a wide receiver for gridiron powerhouse Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C. He'd drawn interest from major Division I programs such as Maryland and Michigan.

But Tom Young, American University's basketball coach at the time, got a tip about a fiery, quick point guard in the area who might have a future in hoops.

"I didn't watch him in football," Young told ESPN.com. "He had great instincts [in basketball]. He was extremely quick and from the standpoint of being a point guard, he understands the game. His football coach is actually the guy that put me on him."

That conversation connected Jordan and Young, who took the prospect with him when he accepted the Rutgers job in 1973.

[+] EnlargeEd Jordan
AP Photo/Suzanne VlamisEddie Jordan (30) led Rutgers to the 1976 Final Four, played seven pro seasons and was head coach of three NBA teams.

"I decided on basketball because you play football in the winter, you play basketball in winter and spring," he said. "You couldn't play football by yourself. I had basketball courts up the street and you could always go on your own and shoot by yourself."

Jordan is still Rutgers' all-time leader in assists (585) and steals (220). As a player, he left the program as a hero after guiding the Scarlet Knights to the 1976 Final Four.

In April, when he returned to his school for the fourth time -- he'd been an assistant in the 1980s and 1990s under Young and former coach Bob Wenzel -- Rutgers needed an exorcist.

Jordan inherited a tattered program when he accepted the head-coaching position four months ago. Only rubble remained. Mike Rice had been fired for throwing basketballs at players and using anti-gay slurs in practice. Those incidents and others birthed a scandal that ultimately cost Rice and former athletic director Tim Pernetti their jobs.

In May, athletic director Julie Hermann faced abuse allegations from her former volleyball players at Tennessee. That same month, Jordan encountered his own drama stemming from an online bio that erroneously stated that he'd graduated from Rutgers.

Through the turbulence, Jordan also had to stabilize a squad that was suffering from so many departures that his tenure began with only four scholarship players. All of this for a man who is charged with leading the program to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991 -- a program that hasn't won a game in the Big Dance in 30 years.

"Let's face it. They're going into the Big Ten [in 2014], which is a really big deal and the fact that he was getting a group of kids that two or three of them were going to leave. … It's just not a great recruiting situation," Young said. "And yet for some reason, maybe it'll be better, the fact that they're going into the Big Ten. And that's a big maybe, believe me. He's getting himself into a situation which is not going to be easy, and I think he liked the challenge and I think he's going to like, probably, working with the young kids as opposed to the NBA."

Jordan stays positive, always. His decision to seize control of a program that's in need of a savior?

"You're starting from the place where it was really at a low point," he said. "And who wouldn't want to be a part of building something new? To me it was a chance to help my school."

The qualms about his personal academic status?

"It bothered me at first because I didn't catch it in the bio," he said. "I never like to read about myself. I'm enjoying school. I really enjoy it. I'm enrolled in classes for the fall."

The concerns about his thin roster?

Well, Jordan hit the road and found enough players to create a 13-player roster (assuming all are eligible) for 2013-14. And he has two commits for the 2014 class.

[+] EnlargeEddie Jordan
AP Photo/Mel EvansJordan will lead a program that hasn't been to the Big Dance since 1991 and has won just two NCAA tourney games since the 1976 Final Four.

"The most important thing is getting the best players in New Jersey to stay home," he said. "There are some great players out of New Jersey. If we can keep those kids at home and have some pride for their home state, if we can convince our guys you're playing for an NBA coach and a guy that really loves his school, that's important."

But this is a tremendous task. Rutgers will have to deal with American Athletic Conference powerhouses Memphis, UConn, Cincinnati and Louisville next season before entering the Big Ten's gauntlet in 2014.

Jordan's previous experience in the NBA should help. He coached some of the world's best players during stints with the Sacramento Kings, Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards.

He admits, however, that some of this is foreign. He hasn't coached college players in more than 20 years. When he attended Big Ten coaches' meetings this summer, he asked Thad Matta, Bo Ryan, Tom Izzo and Tom Crean for advice.

It's a different culture at this level. The players are younger and strapped with different responsibilities, on and off the floor, compared to the pros Jordan has coached for the past two decades.

"I made a joke when I saw Larry Brown on the recruiting [trail]," he said. "We sort of chuckled. We've been on vacation for the last 25, 30 years compared to the things we have to do now. It's a lot of work."

Jordan can win if he can attract players. That's the same philosophy on all levels. It's much easier to coach when there's talent on the floor. And he envisions an enhanced roster in the future that will feature top prospects from New Jersey, New York and beyond.

That project begins with the upcoming season, one that will certainly entail some mishaps and struggles. But Jordan hopes to show those who gave him control of the program signs of immediate improvement in 2013-14.

He'll heed Young's advice to make his inaugural year a bright one, he said.

His mentor taught him to coach according to his personnel. So the Princeton offense that Jordan has applied at past stops might not be the system he implements at Rutgers.

He'll take a thorough look at his crew once it is fully assembled when practice begins in October and go from there.

"[Young] allowed his team to show him how to coach," Jordan said. "We were a pressing team, we were a fast-breaking team. We had an open offense where we shared the ball and we had equal opportunity to score. And that's what I'd like to do. I want my team to show me how to coach."

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.