Providence JournalBill Reynolds: When it comes to victories, this might be URI's biggest
SOUTH KINGSTOWN -- In the end, after all the wooing by Virginia Tech, after all the promises of Monopoly money, after the few days that figured to change his life, it all came down to people for Jim Baron.
The fans that flocked to the Ryan Center.
The community that's come to embrace both him and his team.
Even a couple of students who called him and asked him to stay.
The people who seemed to come out of nowhere in the past few days to tell him he was important to them, that they wanted him to continue to be the basketball coach at the University of Rhode Island.
"It's something that really touched me," Baron said. "That never happened to me before."
Sometimes everybody wins.
Because that's what happened yesterday at URI, a day on which the Rams posted one of their biggest basketball victories in a long time.
Certainly Baron won.
He got a $100,000,000 raise, which is big in anyone's league, and he also got everything he wanted, from the promise of a new weight room for his players, to more academic support services, to office renovations. All symbolic things designed to keep this program on an upswing, more building blocks for the future.
And he got what amounts to a 10-year contract, which is almost unheard of in college basketball, the kind of commitment that means Baron is going to be here for a long time. And for someone like Baron, who has toiled in places like St. Francis in Loretto, Pa., places like St. Bonaventure in the snowy woods of Olean, N.Y., places where the glamor is always somewhere else, there's no overstating what a 10-year contract means.
For Baron knows how fragile coaching is, how careers can hang by threads, how reputations can blow in the wind. He's been a coach all his life and he knows how precarious it is, today's stars like comets that streak across the sky only to dissolve into tomorrow's smoke. He knows how important job security is in a business that usually doesn't recognize the term.
So it must have been enticing to be courted by Virginia Tech. The Big East. The big money. The big stage. Everything such a long, long way from St. Francis and St. Bonaventure. The big payoff to a man who had paid a lot of coaching dues.
"It's very emotional," he said. "It's not easy."
No, it's not. Nor should anyone think it was a necessarily easy decision. Not too many coaches turn down the Big East, even if it was in Blacksburg, Va. Baron said he was flattered by the offer, and who wouldn't have been?
But, in the end, Baron simply could not walk away from what he had built here in just two short years. Could not walk away from the people that have helped him to do it, the people that have come to believe in him and his vision of the future. Not to mention URI officials who made a committment to him that most coaches can only dream about.
"That's the thing that really pulled at my heart," he said.
And, for that, URI wins.
The last thing this program needed was another coach leaving, another coaching search, another new era beginning. The last thing this program needed was more instability, more change. Not now. There have been too many coaches since Al Skinner left for Boston College six years ago, too much turmoil. Programs need stability, the chance to keep building, pressing upward.
There's also the threat of NCAA sanctions that hang over this program, courtesy of the allegations of misconduct during the Jim Harrick era, allegations the university is now investigating. Baron admitted last night that that was a concern to him, one of the things that made Virginia Tech even more attractive.
Regardless of how this plays out, Baron will be there to navigate this program through it. This is no small thing. He's already been more than anyone could have hoped. He installed discipline and structure in a program that needed it. He taught his players how to win. All that, and he's filled up the Ryan Center, too. In short, he's been the right coach for the right time, and who was totally sure of that two years ago?
You could see some of that last night, too, the sense that Baron is genuinely touched by how people have reacted to both him and his team this year, as if he knows how special this past year was. As if he knows that he and URI are a good fit, that when it came time to make his decision on whether to stay with what he had or go off in search of something else, he decided to stay with what has come to be so important to him.
"When I came in here, I don't think everyone knew what I was trying to do," he said.
If they didn't then, they know now.
Yesterday's bestowing of a 10-year contract tells us that.
Sometimes everyone wins.