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Jarvis Makes Most of a Good Situation


PHOENIX, Ariz. — Mike Jarvis, to his best recollection, has made only two trips to Seattle. The first was in 1984 when a kid he coached in high school, Patrick Ewing, led Georgetown to an NCAA championship. The other was in 1989 when Rumeal Robinson, another youngster he coached at Rindge & Latin in Cambridge, Mass., led Michigan to an NCAA championship. "I don't know what Seattle holds for me," he said this week.

There are men, plenty of them, who could have come into this same situation, with the backing of a new university president, with a previously unthinkable financial commitment, with a 7-foot-1 player of limitless potential, and still blown it. Impatience, inflexibility, shortsightedness and inability could have kept George Washington basketball in the bush leagues for years to come.

But 24 years of paying dues prepared Jarvis not only for rebuilding GW's dreary little program, but for taking the next step, elbowing the Michigans and Georgetowns and Marylands in the chops and saying, "I want in." It's up to the head coach, no one else, to take a program to that next level, and everything we've seen, particularly over the last week, suggests the Colonials can get there with Jarvis.

Steve Bilsky, GW's director of athletics, felt it was necessary to find a proven teacher, a builder, somebody who was old enough and secure enough in himself to survive and thrive in a town where John Thompson and Gary Williams cast long shadows. He wanted a man who had success as a college head coach, but not necessarily a star.

"When you don't have a major financial commitment," Bilsky said, "you tend to try to find a diamond in the rough, a guy on the way up. That was the history of GW, too, to hire a 29-year-old guy and have him compete with the (Temple Coach John) Cheneys and (West Virginia Coach Dale) Catletts. We were making this commitment, a long-term one, so we didn't want a guy who was in a hurry. You guys can't wait. Mature guys will take their time. Guys who spend a lot of time at the high-school level, then have success at the college level seem to fit the profile. I've got a prejudice toward those types of men. Mike was the perfect candidate on paper. Then when we talked, we just knew."

So Jarvis left Boston University for GW in the summer of 1990. Five years earlier, he'd nearly abandoned his dream of coaching at the college level.

"When I first went to college and realized that I wasn't a very good player, I decided I wanted to go back to my old high school ... coach and basically help send kids to college and doing those kinds of things," Jarvis said. "When I came out of college that job wasn't open."

After a year assisting at Newton High School, he went to Northeastern, his alma mater, where he coached the freshman team for two years (1969-71), then to Harvard for six seasons, the last four under Celtics great Satch Sanders.

"I'll never forget, after I saw my first NCAA game -- UCLA was playing -- I came home and told my wife, 'I want to coach in college.' I coached for nine years as an assistant, and thought a couple of times I should have been (hired as head coach). In fact, I should have been hired as head coach at Harvard in 1977. I didn't get the job and at that point and time I said, 'You know what? I'm not going to get a college job.' So, it was a year after that I got the job at Rindge & Latin, and then the Good Lord sent me Patrick Ewing, and then sent me Rumeal Robinson. We had a great, great experience."

His first team, in 1979, went undefeated, 27-0. His second team lost one game, the third was undefeated.

It was at the end of one of those experiences, a 1985 trip with the team to England and Wales, that Jarvis returned home and found his wife Connie glued to the TV. John Kuester had just resigned from Boston University to take a promising job at George Washington. Connie asked her husband, "What do you think?"

Jarvis recalls saying: " 'What do you mean, what do I think?' And she said, "Wouldn't you like to be the coach at BU?' And I looked at her and said, Naaaaah.' An hour later Satch Sanders ... called me and said, 'What do you think?' I said, 'What do you mean, what do I think?' ... And he said, 'Did you hear the BU job is open?' I said, 'I don't know what to think. You're the second person to ask me that.' "

There would be a third. Two days later Rick Taylor, then the athletic director at BU, called and asked, "What do you think?" At BU, Jarvis's teams won 20 games or more three times in five seasons and twice went to the NCAA tournament. He left with the best record of any coach in school history.

When Jarvis got to Washington, he walked into a job where the program had no identity. Georgetown, George Mason, James Madison, who knew? He recalls walking down Constitution Avenue with Connie, wearing a George Washington T-shirt. He passed vendor after vendor. Everybody had Georgetown shirts, many had Maryland shirts, nobody had anything from GW. A vendor asked what in the world he was wearing.

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