Jarvis trusts in God in the midst of ‘worst’
Jarvis trusts in God in the midst of ‘worst’
Coach trusts in God in the midst of ‘worst’ season
By JOSHUA COOLEY
Photo courtesy J.C. Ridley/FAU
Among the biblical books that college basketball coaches read for inspiration, Numbers and Deuteronomy likely rank fairly low on the list. But that is precisely where Florida Atlantic University’s Mike Jarvis has been camping out lately.
Jarvis, the owner of a 369-228 career NCAA record who recently finished “the worst [coaching] year I’ve ever had anywhere in my life,” has turned to the Pentateuch for encouragement.
The former ESPN analyst said he hopes to glean truth from Moses’ struggles while leading the fledgling Hebrew nation.
Florida Atlantic, playing the role of the wandering Israelites, ended a 6-26 season with a first-round loss in its conference tournament early this month.
“How long before I resurrect this body from death to life?” Jarvis said in a metaphorical crossover dribble to the New Testament. “I found out it’s going to be longer than three days. But not as long as 40 years. Not as long as it took Moses to get through the wilderness.”
The analogy might be dangerous.
Moses, it was pointed out to Jarvis, never reached the Promised Land.
“Well, I might not either,” he quipped in a recent interview with Florida Baptist Witness.
That would be a first.
Jarvis, 63, has made a career out of leading vagabonds to the NCAA’s land of milk and honey. He did it at Boston University, George Washington and St. John’s.
Now, he’s hoping to work his mojo again in Boca Raton, where the Owls have made only one NCAA tournament appearance (2002) in their 15-year Division I history.
“If I wasn’t at the stage I’m at and coaching for a hundred years, I’d probably be ready to jump off a building,” Jarvis said. “But it has been an incredible learning experience. In the long run, it’s going to serve us all well.”
These days, visualizing the big picture is easier for Jarvis, thanks to a radical spiritual transformation.
For decades, religion rode the bench in his life. He grew up Catholic in New England and even after he married a believing wife, Connie, he attended church only out of a sense of obligation.
“I went to church because my wife went,” Jarvis said. “When she didn’t go, I didn’t go.”
Jarvis said he didn’t feel the need. Basketball was the most important thing in his life.
His college head coaching career started in 1985 at Boston University, where in five years he matched the Terriers’ total number of prior NCAA tournaments appearances (two). Then it was on to George Washington (D.C.) University, which he led to four NCAAs (including the Sweet 16 in 1993) in eight years. Next up: St. John’s, the once-mighty Big East program in Queens, N.Y. His first team (1998-99) reached the Elite Eight, and the following year’s squad won the Big East tournament.
But success came with a steep price. Between 2002 and 2003, two of his players at St. John’s were arrested for various charges. When the 2003-04 stumbled to a 2-4 start, Jarvis was fired.
The hits kept coming, even after he left. In April 2004, the school’s director of basketball operations admitted to making illegal tuition payments to a West African player from 1999 to 2004. While Jarvis denied any involvement and was ultimately acquitted by the NCAA infractions committee, the investigation spanned two years and hindered his return to coaching. It was Jarvis’ basketball nadir.
“Anything bad that might have happened, or people thought happened, was attributed to me,” he said.
Desperately needing a change of scenery, Mike and Connie left New York for Boca Raton, where they bought a home at ritzy Woodfield Country Club. She wanted a warm climate. He wanted to live close to an airport for his new gig as a basketball analyst. What they got was a life-changing experience.
They started attending Spanish River Church, where the pastor, David Nicholas, recognized Jarvis immediately. Nicholas invited Jarvis to a men’s Bible study at his house and began dismantling the coach’s religious misconceptions. On April 29, 2005, while reflecting on Scripture and enjoying the third-hole view from his home, Jarvis placed his faith in Christ.
“God came down to me when he brought us to Florida,” Jarvis said.
Now, he is a living example of
ERROR: A link was posted here (url) but it appears to be a broken link.2 Cor. 5:17. The pride, anger and crass language that once marked him are quickly fading away. In their place is a maturing ambassador of Christ.
Troy DeVries, a European pro who played for the 2006 Athletes in Action (AIA) team that Jarvis coached in Taiwan, said Jarvis’ conversion is unmistakable.
“What was most enjoyable for me was not his name,” DeVries said, “but that he is a life that has been transformed and seeing someone that you could just tell was totally changed.”
The Jarvises now host a Bible study on Tuesday nights, and Mike is also finalizing an evangelistic tract called “Meet My Head Coach.” He is attacking his personal pitfalls with diligence.
“I’m learning that the journey is an ongoing journey,” he said. “It never ceases. I’m being tested every day, one way or another, whether it’s my patience or faith. It’s a constant battle with my competitive nature to control it and not let it control me.”
His journey back to college coaching led him to basketball analyst jobs at ESPN and Yahoo.com and interviews with Harvard, James Madison and Stanford. Finally, on May 27, 2008, he took the job at Florida Atlantic, a seven-minute ride from his house.
The Owls seem to be a perfect fit for Jarvis. With only seven winning seasons since the team’s inception in 1988 and a 5,000-seat arena that rarely reaches half-capacity in attendance, Florida Atlantic is a veritable from-the-ground-up project.
“Frankly, I’ve been amazed at how positive he’s been,” Nicholas said. “It’s a testimony to his strength of character.”
This is where Jarvis thrives. Put the man’s back against a wall and watch his gifts kick in. Twenty-six losses in 32 games? That’s all the motivation he needs.
“It just tells me why I’m back in coaching,” he said excitedly. “This is where I’m supposed to be—trying to perform miracles.”
Source: Florida Baptist Witness