The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team took one more huge step towards the 2014-15 season, as head coach Steven Payne announced the hiring of Ron Jirsa as assistant coach to the Golden Eagle coaching staff.
"We are very excited about the addition of Coach Jirsa to our staff," Payne said. "Anytime you can add a man with the reputation, integrity and character, as well as the success in coaching, that Coach Jirsa has had, it's obviously a plus for any program, especially here at Tennessee Tech. We're really excited to add a man with the kind of background and character that he has."
"I know Coach Payne from having worked with [former Tech head coach] Mike Sutton, who's a close friend of mine," Jirsa explained. "It was easy for me to call Coach Payne because I know about his ability as a coach, his integrity and the type of person he is. I was excited that there was an opening here at Tennessee Tech that I could apply for."
A veteran of the coaching profession for over 30 years, Jirsa's responsibilities with the Tech squad will consist primarily in two areas of his expertise: coaching the Golden Eagle big men and recruiting.
"I think he'll do very well working with our post players," Payne said. "He's got some strong ties from his head coaching days at Georgia and Marshall and his recruiting contacts are tremendous from all the places he's been. I think he'll help us a lot in recruiting and I think he'll do a great job with our bigs.
"We're looking forward to having a lot of success with Coach Jirsa here," Payne added.
"I got to see the Tennessee Tech facilities on a visit and I also got to see our players and see their talent level," Jirsa said. "I met some of the guys after they worked out and I was really impressed with how easy it was to get to know them and with their work ethic. Seeing them out there working and sweating and putting in the extra effort was very impressive.
"I loved the Eblen Center," Jirsa added. "It is a very impressive building when you first walk inside and so are the basketball offices to go with it. I just loved the feel of the campus and everybody I met was extremely friendly. We got a chance to go around town and see what a nice place it would be to live. I'm excited to move my family here and get them started."
With experience as both a head coach and assistant at several different institutions, Jirsa, 54, joins the Tech staff after spending last season as a recruiting coordinator at Bethel University in Arden Hills, Minn.
Prior to his work with the Royals, Jirsa spent six years as the associate head coach at Minnesota, serving under head coach Tubby Smith for the fourth time in his coaching career. Smith and Jirsa first began their working relationship at Virginia Commonwealth, where both served under coach J.D. Barnett during the 1984-85 season. The Rams finished 26-6 that season, winning the Sun Belt Conference title and playing in the NCAA Tournament. They reunited when Smith hired Jirsa as an assistant at Tulsa before the 1991-92 season. Three years later, Jirsa was named associate head coach of the Golden Hurricane.
"I've had a number of tremendous mentors," Jirsa said. "Tubby Smith has been my mentor for so long, along with Oliver Purnell and J.D. Barnett. Coach Smith has always told me that the key thing in this business, or any business for that matter, is to last. If you work with effort and integrity, you will last."
"Over the course of my career, I've been able to learn under some really great people and try to take those things to heart and do those things," Jirsa added. "That's how I have lasted to this point and that's what I see in Coach Payne. He's a guy who has the same goals and ideals as the coaches I've worked with and so I'm happy to be a part of a program that creates that kind of continuity for my career."
Jirsa accompanied Smith to Georgia when he took over the Bulldogs program in 1995. For two years, he served as associate head coach for Smith at Georgia before serving as head coach from 1997-99. His Bulldog squads posted a combined 35-30 record. During his time in Athens, the Bulldogs put together back-to-back recruiting classes that were rated among the top-five in the nation by several recruiting analysts.
His teams also made two NIT appearances. In his first season, UGA posted a 20-15 record, only the seventh 20-win season in program history, en route to a third-place finish in the NIT. Jirsa's Bulldogs put together a 4-1 mark in the postseason with wins over Iowa, North Carolina State, Vanderbilt and Fresno State in March 1998.
In his six combined seasons as an assistant at Tulsa and Georgia, Jirsa helped four consecutive teams win at least 21 games and reach the NCAA Tournament each year. The first three seasons - two at Tulsa and one at Georgia – he reached the Sweet Sixteen. He also coached Jumaine Jones, who was a first round NBA Draft pick of the Atlanta Hawks in 1999.
Before his coaching stint at Minnesota, Jirsa spent four seasons as head coach at Marshall University. The Thundering Herd went 13-19 in 2006-07, losing to Memphis in the Conference USA Tournament Quarterfinals.
Preceding his position at Marshall, Jirsa was the senior assistant coach at Dayton under then-head coach Oliver Purnell for four seasons. During his stint at UD, the Flyers posted an 88-39 overall record, made two NCAA Tournaments and two NIT appearances. In the 2002-03 campaign, Dayton posted a 24-6 record, won the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship, advanced to the NCAA Tournament as a four seed and finished the season ranked among the top 25 teams in the nation in the final Associated Press and USA Today polls.
Jirsa has coached in 30 postseason games overall, 18 of those in the NCAA Tournament, and has appeared in postseason play 15 years. He owns a career record of 78-104 in six years as a head coach at Marshall and Georgia.
His coaching career began at Connecticut College as an assistant coach following his graduation from Gettysburg College in 1981. Two years later, he moved on to the University of Delaware and spent one season with the Blue Hens, before taking a graduate assistant position with a VCU program that finished ranked 11th in the nation in 1984-85.
He then took an assistant position at Tulsa for three seasons (1985-88) before making one-year stops at Belmont Abbey (1988-89), and Gardner-Webb (1990-91). At Tulsa, Jirsa coached with former Golden Gopher Flip Saunders. In 1991, he returned to Tulsa as an assistant under Smith before being promoted to associate head coach in 1994.
Jirsa earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in biology from Gettysburg College in 1981 and a Master of Arts in Athletic Administration from the University of Tulsa in 1987. He was a three-sport letterwinner at Ledyard High School in Ledyard, Connecticut. He and his wife, Laura, have one daughter, Hannah.
"I'm excited for our program for this year," Jirsa said. "It's just one game at a time and being prepared and ready for that first game. I'm excited to be in the Eblen Center as well. I've got a lot of friends and family that are excited about Tennessee Tech basketball and will now be following our program."