LOUDONVILLE — For a variety of reasons, Siena athletic director John D’Argenio knew it was a longshot that the Saints could bring back Jim Jabir to the school to lead the women’s basketball program he’d once led for three winning seasons decades ago.
Such as . . . “who would leave Boca [Raton] and come back to Albany?” D’Argenio, in jest, asked Friday following Jabir’s introductory press conference at UHY Center as the program’s new head coach.
Throughout Friday’s event, Jabir demonstrated why he’s that person. The 58-year-old with more than 30 years of head-coaching experience and a trip to an Elite Eight on his resume pitched his return to Siena as a natural next step in his coaching career after spending the last four seasons at Florida Atlantic.
“It would have been really difficult [to leave Boca Raton for] any other place, but this really is home,” said Jabir, who was hired Wednesday as the successor to the dismissed Ali Jaques. “This is a big part of my life. Even though I was here three years, it really shaped who I am.”
Later, Jabir added: “So you can keep the beach. I’m where I belong.”
Jabir returns to Siena a much different coach than the one who left it in 1990 to coach at Marquette. After three winning seasons at Siena, his coaching experience at four different schools has included a wide range of experiences and level of success. Eight of his teams made it to the NCAA tournament, including his 2014-15 Dayton squad that lost to UConn at Albany’s Times Union Center with a spot in the Final Four on the line. Overall, Jabir’s career record as a Division I head coach is 500-435, but his last team to produce a winning campaign was that memorable Dayton squad six years ago.
After that season, Jabir only spent one more season at Dayton. He’d reached the Elite Eight, and became convinced a trip to the Final Four was next, and said he worked himself too hard in chasing that.
“I drove myself to a point where I wasn’t healthy,” Jabir said.
Jabir took a year off from college coaching, then spent the last four seasons at Florida Atlantic. His teams were 42-68 in those years, and he’s coming off an 11-11 campaign for the Conference USA program.
At Siena, Jabir expects to win — and that’s what’s expected of him, too.
“Our goal,” Siena president Chris Gibson said Friday, “is to win MAAC championships and advance in the tournament.”
Siena, as D’Argenio put it, has only had “pockets of success” during its women’s basketball history. Jaques’ tenure ended with three losing seasons and only included two winning campaigns in her nine seasons. Overall, Siena has only produced two winning records in its last 17 seasons.
Jaques was among the people connected to Siena that Jabir made sure to recognize during his formal remarks, crediting her for leaving the program with “such a great group of people to work with,” in terms of the team’s current players, several of whom were at Friday’s event.
“I know she worked really, really hard, and I’m going to try to work as hard as she did for you all, and we’re going to get to where she wanted to go,” Jabir said. “I promise you that.”
Figuring out a coaching staff, devising workouts for players and recruiting are the steps Jabir needs to take in the immediate future.
“I can’t wait to get started,” Jabir said.