FORT WAYNE – Steve Forbes doesn’t remember exactly when his path and Jon Coffman’s first crossed. Ninth grade? Younger?
“I was just a nice little kid, just started playing basketball,” IPFW’s 6-foot-9 center recalls.
“He was like, ‘You’re going to be a star some day,’ ” he goes on. “And I took it and ran with it.”
Fast forward to Thursday afternoon, and look how far both men have run. Forbes emerged this past season as the low-blocks linchpin of a Mastodons squad that shattered precedent, winning a school-record 25 games and coming within one possession of reaching the NCAA tournament.
Coffman, who got to know Forbes as an assistant at Stetson in Florida and recruited both him and two other Floridians – Pierre Bland and Luis Jacobo – to IPFW, finally caught a dream he’s been chasing for 16 years.
Thursday he was named IPFW’s men’s basketball coach, replacing Tony Jasick, who accepted the same position this week at Jacksonville.
Coffman, 40, signed a five-year deal whose terms were undisclosed. It’s his first head coaching job after serving as an assistant at Emory & Henry, College of Charleston, Stetson, Colgate and IPFW, where he was Jasick’s top assistant and recruiting coordinator the last three years.
“I’ve had some tough decisions to make in the last year,” IPFW athletic director Kelley Hartley Hutton said. “This was not one of them. Certainly, Coach Coffman has paid his dues to get here. Sixteen years as an assistant, 16 years in the trenches. … During that time he’s truly been the behind-the-scenes guy. That stops today.”
He brings to the job a wealth of experience playing and learning from coaches that collectively have won more than 1,200 games.
Two of them are Hall of Fame coaches (John Kresse at College of Charleston and Bob Johnson at Emory & Henry) and three (Kresse, Johnson and Emmett Davis of Colgate) hold their respective schools’ all-time win marks.
That doesn’t even include Coffman’s high school coach, Ron Bell, who was the 1995 National High School Coach of the Year at The Marist School in Atlanta, Ga., and whom Coffman says is “probably the biggest reason I’m here today.”
“Every coach is a product of their collective experiences, and I’ve had an incredible group of mentors going through the process of evolving as a coach,” Coffman said.
“(Jasick) empowered me to recruit and gave me the opportunity and access to put my fingerprints all over this program. I’m so appreciative of the opportunity he gave me. He’s been an incredible mentor and friend.”
And Coffman has been something more than just and X’s-and-O’s guy, something Forbes discovered when Coffman was recruiting him.
“He was the type of guy that wants to be invited to your wedding,” Forbes said. “He wants to get to know your family. He’s not all about basketball, he wants to know you as a person, and that was really big on my part.”
It will continue to be big, too, for Coffman.
“I promise you this,” he said. “We will expect to win games, we will strive to compete for Summit League championships and we’ll graduate our players. However, the primary goal is we’re going to build men and build leaders of men.
“We will work really hard to make sure we’re putting a product on the court that the IPFW community and the city of Fort Wayne will be proud of.”