Columbia basketball head coach Joe Jones announced Friday that he will be leaving to become associate head coach at Boston College under former Cornell head coach Steve Donahue, putting an end to a week of speculation.
“He’s a great guy and he will be missed greatly,” sophomore guard Noruwa Agho said. “ I think he did an amazing job here and could have done even better if he stayed, but I wish him the best where he goes and I know he has a great opportunity.”
Jones will be joining Nat Graham, Donahue’s assistant at Cornell, and John Gallagher, an assistant at Penn, on Donahue’s staff.
In his seven-year tenure at Columbia, Jones resurrected a program that was just 2-25 overall and 0-14 in the Ivy League. In his fourth season at the helm, Jones led his team to its first 7-7 finish in conference play since the 2000-2001 season, and it’s first winning season since 1993.
“We are extremely grateful for all of Joe’s hard work on behalf of Columbia, and our men’s basketball team over the past seven years,” athletic director M. Dianne Murphy said. “His commitment to Columbia, the men’s basketball team and our student-athletes made a tremendous impact. Our men’s basketball program is in much better shape now than when he first arrived, and for that we are very thankful.”
Though Jones has definitely brought the program to the next level in terms of wins and losses, he has also changed the culture of the program.
“I just think the kind of people he brought in, and the family atmosphere of the program, is one of the biggest things he’s built while he’s been here,” senior point guard Patrick Foley said. “Just in terms of bringing alumni back and getting them to care about the program again, improving the facilities, our locker room, our team room, just really building a culture of Columbia basketball that was pretty much nonexistent before he got here.”
The family atmosphere that Jones created helped him bring in talented recruits, something he always excelled at.
“Coach Jones was my man,” Agho said. “He was the reason why I came here and the reason why I stayed here.”
Agho finished fifth in the league in scoring this year with 16.3 points per game, in addition to leading the nation in 3-point shooting percentage for a large portion of the season.
Freshman point guard Brian Barbour echoed Agho, explaining that the care Jones showed for his players is what attracted him to Columbia.
“I came here for him,” Barbour said. “He brought me in and he always cared for me and looked out for me, with whatever I needed … both on and off the court.”
In addition to his ability to recruit talent, Jones also had a strong passion for the game and an impressive work ethic that he was able to instill in his players.
“I thought he was a tremendous coach,” freshman forward John Daniels said. “He’s very passionate about the game, and I think that made it easier for me to give it my all every time out.”
“Coach Jones is probably one of the more hardworking, dedicated coaches that I’ve ever been around,” Foley said. “The guy basically lives in his office. …His wife probably gets mad at him quite a bit because he’s here breaking down film.”
Though Jones did a lot for the program in his seven-year tenure, the focus is on the future. The Columbia athletic department has already begun its search for the next head coach of the men’s basketball program.
“The program’s only going to go forward from here, because being the great, quality guy he was, that’s the kind of players he brought in,” Barbour said. “Those players are still in the system and I know Jones is going to want us to have a good quality coach, too, and same with Diane Murphy, and they’re going to get us that … The players we have on the team aren’t going to allow it to go in any other direction. I mean we have too good of guys on and off the court for it to regress at all.”
Jones definitely built a solid foundation for a successful program, finishing at .500 in the Ancient Eight in three of the past four seasons, but Columbia is still searching for its first winning conference season since the 1992-1993 season.
“I mean obviously there’s still room for improvement,” Foley said. “Hopefully it can only go up from here, but I think the legacy he’s left behind in terms of … building that culture and that family, I think he’s got the support form the right kind of people here in terms of athletic directors, administrators, alumni, and all that. If the next coach can come in and kind of continue to bring in the kind of people coach [Jones] has brought in in the past, I think the only place to go is up.”
The athletic department will most likely look to bring in a coach with a similar philosophy to Jones’.
“We just want a guy who’s there for us, who has our backs, and we have his,” Barbour said. “I think they’re going to do a good job in the search, and we’re going to find someone, I have no doubt in my mind. I’m hoping—or not hoping—I know it will be a good guy who looks after us and actually respects us.”
“I don’t know if you can find another personality like coach Jones because he’s pretty unique, but if you can just find someone who has the passion for the game that he has I think they’ll be tremendously successful,” Foley said.
While the team waits for a new head coach, assistant coach Damien Strahorn has taken over the organization of workouts, trying to ease the transition between the Jones era and the future.
“The guy in charge now, Damien, who was our assistant before is doing a great job,” Agho said. “He has organized us and continued workouts as usual. Obviously, there’s a transition, but we still honor and respect the assistants that are still around so we handle business as usual, and I’m sure that’s what Coach Jones would want us to do.”