Beyond X’s and O’s: The life of a head coach

This former Husky played high-school ball with NBA star Patrick Ewing, learned from the legendary coach Mike Jarvis, and helped coach the 1999 UConn team to a National Championship. But now Karl Hobbs could be facing his biggest challenge yet – rebuilding GW basketball and bringing it back to the national spotlight. What does he think after his first year as a head coach? The Hatchet sat down with Hobbs in his office this summer to find out.

Hatchet: What was it like playing with Patrick Ewing under coach Mike Jarvis in high school?

Karl Hobbs: Those were good days back then. Playing with Patrick, even though he was a great player, I couldn’t envision him at that time being a hall-of-famer. Playing with coach Jarvis was great because he was a terrific coach and he made the games fun, which was kind of the feeling back then. We were having a great time and winning a lot of games.

H: After playing at UConn, you took an assistant coaching job under Jarvis at Boston University. What made you go into to coaching at that point?

KH: Well I think it was the fact that it was Mike Jarvis who approached me about coming to coach. I think if it was anyone else at that time, I’m not so sure I would have done it. But because it was Mike Jarvis that was asking me to be a part of his staff, it was very easy to say yes to that.

H: You’ve been widely touted as a great recruiter. What is it about you that has made you successful in developing relationships with recruits and players, and what makes you different from other coaches in that regard?

KH: I just try to treat everyone the same way, and when I recruit I treat guys with honesty and sincerity, so kids and parents trust what I tell them. To me, the basis of recruiting is building up trust and confidence and that’s what I try to do. I think what separates me from other coaches, and I’m not sure if there’s really any one thing, but I try to pick players that I think fit the situation. I don’t think all schools are right for kids and I don’t think all coaches are right for kids, because there’s some kids I wouldn’t want to coach, so that maybe is what sets me apart from some of the other recruiters.

H: Who do you think is the best player you ever coached?

KH: Phew, wow. I can tell you three or four guys I think that were special. I know you asked me for one, but when you look at it they were just all so different. Donyell Marshall (UConn ’91-’94) was just phenomenal his senior year, and then of course Ray Allen (UConn ’93-’96) was a special player in his own right, and Richard Hamilton (UConn ’96-’00) was such a gifted offensive player. Khalid El Amin (UConn ’98-’01) was probably the most unique player I’ve had the opportunity to coach because he had all the things you wanted in a point guard. He had the personality, he knew how to bring his personality onto the court, he understood his teammates very well, he could shoot from the perimeter as well as penetrate and, more important than anything else, he just knew how to win. I can’t tell you he’s the best player but he’s by far the best winner I’ve ever coached.

H: What did winning a national championship teach you about coaching and what it takes to get a team to win?

KH: Obviously, it teaches the winning part. But more importantly, it teaches you that if you continue to work hard at something, if you have a game plan, if you’re committed to that game plan and if you execute that game plan, then it can happen. It really can happen.

H: When did other schools start to show interest in hiring you as a head coach?

KH: I think the year we won the Final Four (1999) was my first job interview. I interviewed for the Washington State job.

H: When you took the job here last year, what other schools were you considering?

KH: Well, I wasn’t considering any other jobs at that time. The job I had been offered was at the University of Hartford at the time, and that was a job obviously that I turned down. So I feel very fortunate to be here. When you talk about these jobs, so much of it is timing. With this job, because of the location and the name, there are just so many great things about this school that I feel fortunate to have gotten the job, because it’s not often that your first job gets to be a job of this magnitude.

H: Coming into a program that had just been through all the off-court problems last year, what did you think was the problem here and what did you want to come in and change?

KH: Well when you take over a job like this and you’re trying to build a program, you need to have certain things in place. First and foremost, there needs to be a collective responsibility within your program such that players understand what they are responsible for. Then you want to establish some basic rules on how the program is going to be run as it pertains to what is expected of players and how they behave.

Now, does that mean that guys aren’t going to make mistakes? Of course they’re going to make mistakes. But there’s a price for those mistakes, and if you make too many of them you won’t be here. It’s as clear as that, because at that point, this might not be the right program for someone that doesn’t have a sense of self-discipline.

You must have guys that want to come here and be special, because that’s the kind of guys I want. And that means they are going to have to be special as students, and just as importantly they are going to have to be special as basketball players.

My hope is that four years from now when a parent asks me what some of my players are doing after college, I’ll be able to say, ‘Well we’ve got one player who is vice president of a bank, we got another player who is a doctor, we got another player who is in the NBA.’ That to me is building a program. In the mix of all that, we’re trying to win games as well. We’re trying to be a program that would mirror a Stanford, and that’s what I envision.

H: Most people only see you when you’re coaching, and on the sidelines you’re a pretty intense guy. Is there another side of you that maybe a lot of people don’t get to see?

KH: Yeah, and I think they get a chance to see it because I’m very visible around campus. You can catch me down at the Smith Center or at the Marvin Center walking around. Most times you can catch me down at the Jamba Juice there. I gotta get two or three of those.

And I like to walk around the campus because when I go out to sell GW, I like to know the pulse of the school. You can’t do that by sitting in the office and not, as we say in the old neighborhood, shootin’ the jive with the students.

When I go into a home, the one thing I tell all kids is that when they come and visit GW, they might not say they’re going to GW but they will say, ‘Boy, I like that school. I could see myself being successful there.’ And I tell every parent and kid I recruit, ‘You may not come here, because Stanford or Duke or whoever is recruiting you, but you’re going to like it here and you’re going to feel the pulse of this place.’ It’s a pretty good balance, and that’s the feel I get. I mean there’s nothing better than to walk through the plaza there on a good sunny day and go get a juice.

H: I have to tell you, on the sidelines, you’re pretty funny to watch sometimes. You’re intense but you’re also animated, whether it be getting on the refs or a player. Do you think you’ll calm down as you grow more experienced in coaching or is that just who you are?

KH: I think it’s a little bit of both. I think you’ll see me calmer to some degree, and I think I was a lot like our team to some degree in the sense that it was a first-time experience of being the head guy. As a coach, you look to improve in everything you do, so I have to evaluate myself just as I evaluate my players and possibly say, ‘Does my behavior or the way I am on the sidelines make us a better basketball team or help us get better calls?’ So there are some things that are good, and there are some things that are probably going to need some adjustment. And part of it is just going to be me maturing as a coach too. I always feel the more players you have, the more relaxed you are on the sidelines. So maybe I’ll change to some degree, but I think you’ll always see a little bit of excitement or overexuberance from me on the sidelines.

H: Do you think you can make GW into a great place for basketball the way Connecticut men’s head coach Jim Calhoun and women’s head coach Geno Auriemma did over the last decade at UConn?

KH: It’s very difficult to compare anything to Connecticut. They don’t have the Wizards, they don’t have the hockey, and they sure don’t have Georgetown up the street. But I think what we can do and what we’re aiming to do is to be a team that will be competing for a national championship every year. Will it be difficult? Of course, and it should be. If it were easy, everyone would do it. It’s going to take time to get there, but we’re headed in the right direction and, more importantly, the commitment from the administration is there.

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