FORT WAYNE – In the end, James Whitford came back east to find his true north.
Forty-one years old, the right-hand man to Sean Miller at Arizona for two years and an assistant under him for eight, Whitford was named Saturday the new head basketball coach at Ball State. It completes a circle for Whitford that began with 11 seasons as an assistant to Charlie Coles at Miami (Ohio) – and if that and everything else about the Ball State job doesnt make it a perfect fit for him, its a dead ringer as far as Whitfords concerned.
I looked at it across the board, A to Z, and in every category Ball State ranked really strong, Whitford said in a phone interview Saturday. We havent had as much success in the last few years as we want, but the fundamentals are there to build a successful program. And its my job to build it.
Just as surely as Whitford feels hed found the right place, Ball State athletic director Bill Scholl feels hed found the right man.
James is a tireless worker and a relentless recruiter who has helped Miami, Xavier and Arizona all experience tremendous success within their respective conferences and the NCAA tournament, Scholl said in a statement. He prides himself in developing young men on and off the basketball court and has an infectious positive energy that will be great for our program In a very talented pool of candidates, James separated himself from the pack.
As Millers associate head coach the past two years, Whitford served as recruiting coordinator for a program that has averaged 27 wins the past three seasons, including a 30-win season in 2010-11 in which Arizona won the Pac-10 and reached the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats went 27-8 and advanced to the Sweet 16 this season.
The thing that Coach Miller does and is excellent at is running a program is more than just about running your team and what plays you run, although thats a big part of it, Whitford said. Being a successful head coach in this day and age is like being a successful CEO. You have to be able to run your program A through Z. Thats probably the main lesson Ive learned from him.
And now he gets to apply that, plus the familiarity he gained from his decade-plus in the MAC, to his first head-coaching gig.
Ive been fortunate to have had a lot of different experiences, Whitford said. Not only have I coached at many different levels, so to speak, but Ive had every job within that, graduate assistant to associate head coach. And Ive done it in a lot of different ways.
So with all of those experiences has come, I think, a great knowledge base to be successful. And the fact that Ive done it in that league (the MAC) and coached and recruited in that region, I think those are all things that made the job appealing to me, because I think I can be successful there.