Two months ago Ben Jacobson announced he would remain as the University of Northern Iowa’s head men’s basketball coach after rumors swirled that he was a candidate for the University of Missouri head coaching vacancy.
“I like the group of guys we’ve got coming back, and the guys we have coming in,” Jacobson said in April, looking ahead to next year’s Panther basketball team.
“We’ve had success,” Jacobson added at the time. “That’s the reason why some people have become interested in me or in our program.”
Three weeks ago, on May 15, Jacobson was in a similar situation, only this time he turned down Texas A&M University and an opportunity to coach what he called a “top-20 basketball team in the country.”
Jacobson became a coveted coaching candidate after leading UNI to back-to-back Missouri Valley Conference championships in 2010 and 2011, as well as a trip to the Sweet 16 in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. Jacobson has compiled a 109-56 record in his five years at the helm of Panther men’s basketball.
Texas A&M introduced Murray State’s Billy Kennedy as its head coach on May 16. The 47-year-old Kennedy briefly served as an Aggies assistant in the early 1990s and went 107-53 as the head coach at Murray State. Kennedy is expected to make at least $1 million annually in College Station, roughly twice Jacobson’s current salary in Cedar Falls.
Although Jacobson withdrew his name from consideration for the Aggies head coaching position, it wasn’t until after he met with Texas A&M officials in his home state of North Dakota on the night of May 14 that he did so.
Jacobson and UNI athletic director Troy Dannen were unavailable for contact; however, Jacobson did sit down for a one-on-one radio interview with UNI’s play-by-play announcer Gary Rima on May 17 to answer some questions pertaining to Jacobson and the Texas A&M coaching search.
“I did what I felt was best in this situation for (my wife) Dawn and the boys and our family going forward,” said Jacobson. “Texas A&M contacted us and asked if we’d be interested in the job that they had open. That was on Wednesday (May 11) or Thursday (May 12) and we said, Let us know how the next couple days go.’
“Friday afternoon (May 13) and Saturday morning (May 14) they said they would like to sit down and talk with me about their job opening and I told them I would be willing to listen. We met on Saturday night and on Sunday they were going to make a decision.
“I don’t know what (Texas A&M’s) plans were, if they were going to offer me the job or not or if they had already offered it to Billy Kennedy … I don’t know that part of it, but I felt great when I called them and said, I appreciate it but I’m staying at Northern Iowa.”
The meeting with Texas A&M gave Jacobson an “opportunity to think about a lot of things” but by the next morning he knew he wanted to stay at UNI.
“It’s been a great place for Dawn and I and the boys, and we know it’s going to continue to be that way because of the great support that we’ve got as well as the guys we’ve got on our team and the guys we’ve got coming in.”
Jacobson was also asked about how this may impact future recruiting.
“We’ve had a number of (Bowl Championship Series schools) that have reached out to us (over the past two and a-half years) … and I’m still here and I plan on staying here.
“I think that would tell recruits and their families that hey, this guy has had a number of opportunities and a number of BCS schools contact him and he told every one of them he doesn’t even want to talk with them, he’s met with one of them and at the end of the day he told them he wanted to stay at Northern Iowa.”
“This is a terrific job (at UNI),” said Jacobson. “In addition to that, it’s a great fit because we’re able to recruit young guys with a lot of character who come from great families. The people on campus and the people in the community really appreciate how hard the guys work.
“Like I said, this is a terrific job … we’re going to work hard to keep this at the highest level we can and we’re going to do it together.”