Usually, a school’s all-time winningest men’s basketball coach is a graybeard, someone with a tenure as long as any who came before him.
Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson is 43. He’s winding up his eighth season as the Panthers’ head coach, and he’s a Missouri Valley Conference tournament victory over Southern Illinois Friday night from being UNI’s outright leader in wins with 167.
He shares the mark with O.M. Nordly, who coached at the school from 1937 to 1954, with a two-year interruption for World War II.
Like everything Jacobson seemingly does, getting 166 wins in eight years has happened fairly quietly and very efficiently.
“It’s a team deal,” Jacobson said this week. “For that reason, I’m awfully proud of it.
“My name will be on that as our head coach, but it’s a team deal. ... I'm hoping we can get off the 'tied' on Friday and get our group on top of that."
A nation of basketball fans gravitated to UNI four years ago when the Panthers knocked off No. 1 seed Kansas in the first weekend of the NCAA tourney. But that shining moment came and went. Jacobson stayed in Cedar Falls even when his marketability was soaring four years ago.
Here he is, taking a 166-100 career mark into tonight’s game. His MVC mark is 87-57 with two league-titles. None of his eight teams have posted a losing record in league play. The Panthers are one of just 11 teams to win games in postseason tournaments in each of the last four seasons.
That kind of consistency defines the coach and his program.
This season’s Panthers year’s team lost MVC games by 2, 3 and 4 points in regulation and another in overtime. In December, it lost to Iowa State in overtime. But come February and early March, the Panthers won five of their last six to get to 10-8 and third-place in the conference.
From the Netherlands where he is playing pro basketball, 2010 NCAA tourney hero Ali Farokhmanesh said he was happy to respond to a question about his UNI coach.
“Coach Jake has had a huge impact on my life on and off the court,” Farokhmanesh said. “There is no question that he is one of the best coaches in the country and the wins are there to prove that.
“What really makes coach Jake special is his loyalty to the University of Northern Iowa and to each player that has worn the purple and gold. He always stands by his guys and gives them the confidence they need to succeed.”
Farokhmanesh’s game-icing 3-pointer against Kansas — the most-memorable snapshot of the Panthers under Jacobson — was an action that supported the player’s words.
It’s widely assumed unbeaten Wichita State will march through Arch Madness in St. Louis this weekend the same way it powered through the regular-season.
But wouldn’t it be fun if UNI could win Friday and Saturday and take a shot at shocking the Shockers on CBS Sunday afternoon?
No one in the MVC would put it past the Panthers and their coach.