Marshall coach Donnie Jones, a former Florida Gators assistant, is taking over the UCF men's basketball program.
UCF issued a news release Monday afternoon announcing the school will introduce Jones as its new men's basketball coach during a press conference at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the UCF Arena. The event is open to the public.
At 5:30 p.m., Jones will hold a meet-and-greet with fans inside the Tradition Room at the UCF Baseball Complex. The Knights host Bethune-Cookman at 6:30 p.m., and Jones will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Press conference parking will be available in Garage F, and fans should enter through the UCF Arena front lobby.
UCFSports.com, a Rivals.com Web site, was the first to report late Sunday night Jones is heading to UCF.
Jones initially denied reports he was involved in the UCF search. After the Orlando Sentinel reported March 23 Jones was a candidate for the job, Jones told the Charleston Gazette via text message, "LOL. They still love me in Florida. Have not had any calls from them." He has since been more tight-lipped with media outlets covering Marshall. The Charleston Daily Mail reported late Sunday Jones and Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick have not returned calls from the Daily Mail seeking comment on Jones' flirtation with UCF opening.
FoxSports.com's Jeff Goodman reported, "according to sources, Central Florida athletic director Keith Tribble interviewed 10 Division I head coaches and a half-dozen or so high-level assistants. The job, according to multiple coaches, was attractive due to the school's commitment to the basketball program. Coaches also said that Tribble mentioned that the Knights are interested in trying to move to the Big East."
Other coaches linked with the UCF coaching search included former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie, former USC coach Tim Floyd, Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, Appalachian State coach Buzz Peterson, Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman, Jacksonville coach Cliff Warren and Minnesota Timberwolves assistant coach Reggie Theus.
Jones, a 43-year-old West Virginia native, posted a 55-41 record in three seasons at Marshall. He led struggling Marshall to the best season in 20 years. The Thundering Herd went 24-10 overall and 11-5 in Conference USA during the 2009-10 season. Marshall advanced to the second round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament before falling to Appalachian State. Jones' team relied on a mix of veteran players and freshman star center Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside, a 7 foot center and potential NBA lottery pick, was overlooked by a lot scouting services because he moved a lot in high school and didn't play much on the AAU circuit. He committed to Marshall after his official visit and never wavered when bigger programs began recruiting him.
Jones won a few head-to-head recruiting battles with former UCF coach Kirk Speraw, with five players on the current Marshall roster hailing from the state of Florida.
Jones has a long history of working with Florida Gators coach Billy Donovan, dating back to Donovan's days as the Marshall head coach before he took over the Florida basketball program. Jones began his Division I basketball coaching career as a graduate assistant and assistant coach at Marshall from 1990-96.
He joined Donovan's staff at Florida in 1996 and spent 11 seasons as a Gators assistant coach. Florida was 261-103 during Jones' time with the program, earning the school's first basketball national championships in 2006 and 2007.
Tribble is a former Florida football standout with strong ties to the Gators program. After graduating from the school, he worked in the Florida athletic department from 1981-89. His tenure never overlapped with Jones.
Jones played at Pikesville College in Kentucky and spent two years as an assistant coach before moving up to the Division I level at Marshall.
He would replace Speraw, the winningest coach in school history who went 279-233 during 17 seasons leading the program. UCF posted a 15-17 overall record and went 6-10 in Conference USA during a disappointing 2009-10 season. It marked the first time Speraw posted a losing record in Conference USA play.
The Knights return all scholarship players from last year's squad if no one opts to transfer during the transition to a new coaching staff. Walk-on guard Drew Speraw, the former head coach's son, was the team's sole senior last season. The lineup includes guard Marcus Jordan and forward Keith Clanton, who were named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team following the 2009-10 season. Sophomore point guard A.J. Rompza, who was named to the C-USA All-Freshman team following the 2008-09 season, has been the Knights' emotional leader the past two years.
It is not the first time a Conference USA school lured away another league member's head coach. Todd Graham led the struggling Rice football program to a bowl game in 2006 and signed a contract extension with the Owls, then accepted the head coaching job at fellow C-USA school Tulsa a few days later.
More to come soon.
Read Iliana Limón's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/knightsnotepad and e-mail her at email@example.com.