Ron Jacobs strolled into a Long Beach restaurant--tan, fit and looking a decade younger than his 47 years.
When last seen in the South Bay 10 years ago, Jacobs had been dismissed as Loyola Marymount's basketball coach after leading the team to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 19 years. He was suing the school.
The two sides settled out of court in September, 1980. The basketball program continued under Ed Goorjian, Jacobs' top assistant, while a haggard-looking and admittedly bitter Jacobs retreated into the background to become--in his words--"a basketball recluse."
Jacobs bounced halfway around the world, and a few years later discovered he was sitting on top of it again.
Now Jacobs says the string of events that started with his firing at Loyola "was the best thing that ever happened to me."
Jacobs coached the Philippine National Team to unprecedented success and became a favorite of the man who hired him, Eduardo Cojuangco. When the Ferdinand Marcos regime fell in 1986--effectively ending Jacobs' coaching career there--he remained a confidant to Cojuangco, a Marcos protege who is considered by some political observers as the favorite to become the country's next president when elections are held in 1992.
"The job I ended up with in the Philippines was the greatest job in the world," Jacobs said. "We had the enthusiasm of college with the financial backing of an NBA team. (Cojuangco) took me from nothing to where my self-esteem was back." Six months after leaving Loyola in the summer of 1980, Jacobs got a call from the Basketball Assn. of the Philippines.
The organization had been scouting Pepperdine standout Ricardo Brown, whose mother and grandmother had Philippine roots. While looking at game films of Brown playing against Loyola, the Filipinos became interested in the Loyola style of play.
"They asked Ricardo and (then Pepperdine Coach Jim) Harrick about me," Jacobs said. "Harrick says, 'This is your guy to coach the team. He doesn't have a job right now.' Ricardo also said some good things about me and that's how they got my number.
"(The Philippine representative) asked if I would be interested in coaching the national team of the Philippines. I said I didn't think so but I would be happy to meet with them and listen to them."
The representative explained that basketball is the national sport in the Philippines, and the organization hoped to improve the national team's world standing by signing American players with Philippine heritage--inspired by the 1976 Puerto Rican Olympic team's performance featuring Marquette standout Butch Lee.
Jacobs at first indicated that he was not interested. "I thought, 'Why do I want to go halfway around the world? They've got some problems there.' I said I wasn't interested in coaching, but I would help them. It gave me
something to do with basketball." Jacobs helped the organization scout players and made coaching suggestions, including former Harbor College Coach Jim White and University of San Francisco Coach Dan Belluomini, who turned down the Filipinos. Jacobs continued to resist the organization's coaching offer.
"Now it's about Christmas," Jacobs said. "(The salary offer) is getting up there. I said, 'It's getting interesting.' I tell them I'll go to the Philippines to meet, figuring it's just for a visit."
Upon his arrival in Manila, Jacobs said he remembered thinking, "I'm going to enjoy this trip like a vacation, but there's no way I'm coming back to this place."
The next day he met with Cojuangco, one of the wealthiest men in the Philippines, who was in charge of developing a world-class basketball team.
Cojuangco told Jacobs: "This is what I want done. I want to go to the Olympics. I want the best possible team. I want American players who are eligible. . . . Can it be done? How much money is it going to cost?"
Jacobs said: "So I'm thinking about Loyola, our budget was about $20,000 or $30,000. He asked me, 'Would a million dollars do it?' and I said, 'Uh, I believe so.' "
Jacobs, who had always coached within a 20-mile radius of his Seal Beach home, was suddenly back in basketball, half a world away.
He built the team initially with six Americans--including two Loyola players, Jeff Moore and Robert Worthy--and 12 Filipinos, while Cojuangco built the training facilities that Jacobs requested.
Jacobs' new team defeated the country's two top professional teams, but outraged the public because his team's top players were Americans. "We demolished them," Jacobs said. "It's like a national scandal."
The public and media might have been incensed, but Cojuangco was pleased. He had Jacobs sign six more American players. Jacobs took the team to the Jones Cup in Taiwan and won the title, beating the U.S. in the finals.
"We're good," Jacobs said. "We're too good."
Two weeks before the Asian Games, it was decided by Basketball Assn. of the Philippines to drop the American players and put together an all-Filipino team. It still managed to place fourth, and followed that performance by winning the Southeast Asian Games in Manila.
"It's 1981," Jacobs said. "I came home. I think this thing is over."
Instead, he was asked to develop some young Filipino players for the Youth Championships.
"All we did was take some college kids and worked with them for nine straight months," he said. "We trained them like we train here. We did everything first class."
The underdog team beat rival Korea and defeated China for the championship. "From then, I'm a national hero," Jacobs said.
Cojuangco told Jacobs: "You're no longer an employee. You're family."
Jacobs was allowed to add two Americans under international rules, and he selected Moore and 6-foot-9 Loyola recruit Dennis Still.
"We kept the nucleus of that team, add Still and Moore. And soon these Filipinos were pretty good. With Jeff and Dennis, we're better than anybody (in Asia)."
Jacobs kept the core of that team for four years. The climax came in 1985 at the World Club championship in Barcelona, where the Philippines defeated Italy by 19 points and lost by five to an American team led by current NBA stars David Robinson and Chuck Person.
It followed that performance by flying 23 hours to Asia to compete in the Jones Cup. With barely a breather, the team played in Taiwan the next day.
"We're tired," Jacobs said. "We're jet-lagged. It's so hot we can hardly breathe. We destroy England."
It also beat Korea, West Germany and Uruguay to go undefeated in its bracket. The team played the U.S., also undefeated, for the title. Using proficient three-point shooting, Jacobs' team upset the U.S. in overtime.
"I knew we were in good shape when the U.S. hit their first six shots in overtime--and we were still ahead," Jacobs said.
The game was televised in Manila, and Jacobs and the team returned home as the toast of the Philippines. They were honored by Marcos. Parades were proposed. The team won a few more games against Philippine pro teams and won the Southeast Asian games again.
In January, 1986, with elections forthcoming, Corazon Aquino was mounting a popular challenge to Marcos. Jacobs' Manila home was close enough for him to touch demonstrators. Aquino's followers ousted Marcos after the February elections, and Jacobs' mentor, Cojuangco, left the country with Marcos. Jacobs' coaching career was abruptly ended, but he stayed in Manila to watch the fascinating developments.
"I lived in the middle of where the revolution was going on," he said. "I tell people in one month I got a master's (degree) in political science."
Jacobs said he turned down a number of jobs to return to the U.S. and help Cojuangco, who just recently returned to Manila.
For the past four years Jacobs said he has "basically rolled the dice with this guy . . . (living) more a political environment than a basketball environment."
Currently Jacobs is living in Seal Beach and is living off investments.
After winning a CIF title at Morningside High and five successful seasons as coach at El Camino College, the ambitious Jacobs saw a golden opportunity on the four-year college level at Loyola Marymount.
The university, encouraged to re-emphasize athletics and basketball by an alumni survey in 1979, relieved Coach Dave Benaderet of his duties after a 5-21 season. A university committee narrowed the list of candidates for the coaching job to four finalists. In March, 1979, it selected Bill Mulligan, the successful veteran coach at Saddleback Community College.
Three days later, with second thoughts about uprooting his family from Orange County, Mulligan announced he was staying at Saddleback. Mulligan eventually became coach at UC Irvine.
Jacobs, who had finished second among the finalists, was contacted in early April and accepted the job.
"He was young, ambitious and enthusiastic and had been successful," said Dick Baker, who was then the school's athletic director. "He had that aura of success about him. . . he was the kind of guy that would spend the hours and energy necessary to get it done. At that time at Loyola, you had to be a hard worker."
Taking over the program late in the recruiting season, Jacobs built the nucleus of the team from the players he had coached at El Camino. The talented Moore was joined by El Camino teammates Michael Antoine and Danny Davis. That threesome, blended with shooter Jim McCloskey--who had transferred from USC a year earlier--provided the Lions a quick-fix lineup.
Jacobs led Loyola to second place in the West Coast Athletic Conference with a 10-6 league record. It finished 14-13 overall. With conference champion San Francisco on probation, making it ineligible for postseason play, the Lions were given the conference's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. They were the 48th and final-seeded team.
The Lions lost to West Regional host Arizona State, 99-71, but none of the new-found euphoria was lost by the happy university administration and alumni. With most of his players scheduled to return, the future looked bright for Jacobs and the Lions.
But trouble began brewing in mid-March when Baker resigned as athletic director. Jacobs, the new Loyola hero, began flexing his muscle and pushing the university administration for a new contract and consideration for the athletic directorship.
Jacobs soon was at odds with Dr. Henry Durand, vice president of student affairs, who oversaw athletics. Durand, who preferred a different candidate for the athletic director's job, discovered a discrepancy in a player's transcript. Durand reported it to the conference and held Jacobs responsible.
In the meantime, the university hired Robert Arias, a USC administrator, as athletic director.
Jacobs denied any involvement with the transcript problem--which involved the eligibility of a reserve who didn't figure in Jacobs' plans--but he was asked to resign by the school president, Father Donald Merrifield. Jacobs refused and a few weeks later, Merrifield delivered a letter to Jacobs informing him that he was fired.
Baker said Jacobs "may have pushed too hard. If I had stayed there, things would have been fine. He pushed for a little more and a little more. Then he decided he wanted to be athletic director as well, and I don't think they wanted that. Ron pushed too hard. I think he's more mature now. He would know when to stop now. He didn't then."
But Jacobs didn't want a cheating stigma on his reputation and sued the school.
"We went to war," he said.
Although the parties settled out of court later that summer, Jacobs remained bitter for years. He remained close to Baker, White and former assistant Paul Howard and quietly attended a few Loyola games the next season.
Arias was athletic director until 1985 and Durand remained in his position until 1986.
Jacobs' feelings have softened in recent years. "I was bitter till the day Durand left," he said. "The guys who got me were gone."
When Jacobs left, several of his key players left as well. For years, his successor, Ed Goorjian, felt Jacobs undermined the program. Jacobs said he advised the players to stay in school.
White said: "I was privy to a couple of those conversations. I know for a fact they were told by Ron to stay. I also know they weren't very good students and they hooked up to his star ship. It goes both ways--when you're fiercely loyal to your players, they're fiercely loyal to you."
Looking back, Jacobs said he doesn't regret taking the Loyola job.
"I would never change my mind, Loyola was a great experience," he said.
Is there a coaching job in Jacobs' future?
From the time he left Loyola, Jacobs felt his college coaching career was over, and that there was a smear he would never be able to remove.
"I don't think it's feasible," Jacobs said. "I've been out of the States 10 years. With that stigma I have, someone would have to be willing to go to bat for me."
The irony, Jacobs said, is "I'm a hundred times better coach and I can handle different situations so much better."
White, who helped Jacobs scout tournaments abroad, agreed. "He's a very detail-conscious guy," he said. "He has a tremendous ability to relate to his players on and off the floor. And he wins."
Baker thinks Jacobs should be given a second chance.
"If a program took a serious look at him, they'd see this guy has some qualities and could help," Baker said. "That's perhaps a long shot. But it could conceivably happen. His best chance, though, would be to go with someone else's program as an assistant. But he probably wouldn't want to do that at this stage because it would be difficult for him."