Ever since making the move from Division II to Division I back in 2001, the IPFW Mastodons have been making steady progress as a program. Now, with Jon Coffman at the helm, the Mastodons are hoping they can break through and get to the first NCAA Tournament in program history.
IPFW is coming off its most successful season as a Division I program, going 25-11 and reaching the second round of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. The Mastodons also finished tied for second in The Summit League during the regular season and nearly made it to the Big Dance, losing to North Dakota State in the conference championship game.
Last season was the culmination of what had been a steady run of improvement for IPFW, which kicked into a higher gear with the hiring of Dane Fife in 2005. Fife, who was just 25 when he was named head coach, took over a program that had gone a dismal 21-88 (.193) in its first four seasons at the Division I level.
While Doug Noll faced the difficult task of coaching the team as it made transition to Division I and certainly played a significant role in helping move the program forward, it didn’t always translate to on-court success.
Fife immediately boosted the Mastodons’ fortunes, with the team improving its winning percentage in each of his six seasons at the helm. IPFW even posted back-to-back winning records at the end of his tenure, going 34-27 in his final two years.
After Fife left the program to become an assistant coach under Tom Izzo at Michigan State at the conclusion of the 2010-11 season, assistant Tony Jasick was promoted to be his successor. Despite taking a step back in his first year, Jasick ultimately carried forward the positive momentum build under Fife. After going just 11-19 in Jasick’s first season, the Mastodons’ record improved in each of the two subsequent years.
Following the highly successful 2013-14 campaign, Jasick elected to accept an offer to become the new head coach of the Jacksonville Dolphins, replacing Cliff Warren. IPFW wasted no time in filling the vacancy, promoting Coffman to take the reigns of the program just one day after Jasick announced his departure.
Though still youthful by college basketball head coaching standards, the 40-year-old Coffman isn’t nearly as young as Fife (25) and Jasick (33) were at the time of their hirings. But that isn’t a bad thing for the Mastodons, as Coffman does bring a fair amount of experience to the table.
Prior to coming to IPFW in 2011, Coffman served as an assistant at Emory & Henry College (1997-2000), the College of Charleston (2000-01), Stetson (2001-09) and Colgate (2009-11).
During that time, he worked under three coaches that own the record for most career wins at their respective schools (Bob Johnson, Emory & Henry; John Kresse, College of Charleston; Emmett Davis, Colgate), two of whom are Hall of Famers and had courts named in their honor after they retired (Johnson and Kresse). Coffman also played high school basketball under Hall of Fame coach Ron Bell, who won 636 games and three state championships during his tenure at the Marist School in Atlanta, Georgia.
“I’ve been blessed to have tremendous mentors,” Coffman said. “I’ve kind of taken little bits and pieces from everybody.”
Coffman has been an integral part in the Mastodons’ recent success, spending the past three seasons as Jasick’s top assistant and primary recruiter. While he certainly wants to leave his mark on the program, he has no plans of making any drastic changes.
“I’ll maybe make some small tweaks that are going to put my personality on the program,” Coffman said. “But at the same time, I’ll recognize, let’s not recreate the wheel here.”
“I was part of something, my fingerprints are all over the program. We have things going in the right direction; we have a tremendous culture with our program right now.”
During the 2013-’14 season, IPFW had one of the more efficient offenses in the country, ranking eighth in Division I in field-goal percentage, 16th in 3-point percentage, 20th in total 3-pointers, and 27th in total assists.
The Mastodons lost four seniors from the previous year’s squad, including Luis Jacobo, who paced the team in scoring with 15.3 points per game, and point guard Pierre Bland, who was the team leader in both assists (154) and steals (61).
That said, Coffman’s team still will be returning five of the eight core players that got a bulk of the playing time last season. That list includes senior guards Joe Edwards and Isaiah McCray, senior forward Steve Forbes, junior forward Joe Reed and sophomore guard Mo Evans.
With many of the key contributors from last year’s 25-win team back for the 2014-15 season, IPFW looks poised to be a serious contender in the Summit League and make another postseason appearance. That could even potentially be the team that gets into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
That being said, Coffman doesn’t necessarily think the team has to win 20-plus games and make a postseason appearance for his first season as a head coach to be a success. While winning certainly is a priority for Coffman and the program, to him, it’s more about developing his players into leaders and model citizens.
“I don’t necessarily measure (success) by wins and losses,” Coffman said. “I do this job because I want to help guys do things they couldn’t do on their own.”
“That’s my passion. I want to improve guys and send them out into the world to be successful people.”