posttrib
CALM 
Weather Updates

HUTTON: Jefferson crosses the line from East Chicago to Gary to take Roosevelt job

HuttMichael 2004  Post-Tribune sportswriter Michael Hutton

Hutton, Michael 2004 Post-Tribune sportswriter Michael Hutton

storyidforme: 54324188
tmspicid: 13657908
fileheaderid: 6291116

Updated: October 1, 2013 6:53AM



In the book of rules for hiring basketball coaches in East Chicago and at Gary Roosevelt — a book that exists only in the proud, stubborn hearts of the men who graduated from schools in those cities and who grew up pounding a basketball on the cracked concrete that surrounded those school buildings — the most important rule was that you hire one of your guys.

Always. No excuses.

The invisible line was real.

There was no sacred creed that spelled out the code, hidden in some vault in the dark recesses of the schools.

It was talked about in hushed tones in dark rooms with the various power brokers — the guys who made the call — and always followed religiously.

In the proud history of Roosevelt, they have had six coaches: Bo Mallard, Jim Dowdell, Ron Broome, Larry McKissack, Renaldo Thomas and Marcus Jefferson.

Only Broome and now Jefferson, who was hired last month, didn’t have Gary roots.

Broome might as well have been granted an honorary Roosevelt degree.

He was Heflin’s assistant for 21 years, helping him win the state championship in 1991. He was definitely an adopted son.

At East Chicago Central, the only coaches that have walked the sidelines since East Chicago Washington and East Chicago Roosevelt consolidated were EC guys.

John Todd, Bobby Miles, Pete Trgovich and Abe Brown.

This is how things were done, until last month.

A.J. Rodriguez, before he left Roosevelt, where he was apparently the athletic director ( I say apparently because in the last conversation I had with him, after he fired Thomas, there was some ambiguity about who the AD was), he hired Jefferson, an East Chicago guy, to coach there. Rodriguez has EC blood, having coached the football team there.

It was a move that has irritated some of the hard core Roosevelt alumni — an EC guy hiring an EC guy — and then leaving for a job at Morton, where Rodriguez is now working. This, after a Roosevelt guy, Thomas, was fired. In their view, it’s just a bad way to do business, particularly when you factor in the intensity of the rivalry on the court between the two schools and the fact that EC would never seriously consider a Gary guy if the head job were to open up.

This is just how it goes.

There are several conflicting thoughts swirling through my mind about Jefferson and the new gig.

The kids don’t care who the coach was last year or 50 years ago. They just want to play and be coached.

It doesn’t matter where he played — he is the kind of coach and educator who will represent the school well.

It’s no longer Gary Roosevelt High School — it’s Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy and it’s run by a for profit corporation, not the Gary Community School Corp. The people that run the place aren’t burdened by the constraints of the past.

No matter what anyone says, it’s still uncomfortable and Rodriguez should’ve stuck around for a season to help usher Jefferson in.

Jefferson actually graduated from a prep school out east, leaving EC after his junior year. He played college basketball at Providence and Iowa State before returning to Northwest Indiana. He is a capable, engaging young coach with a bright future.

He worked for four seasons as an assistant at Lake Central under Dave Milausnic.

He was hired at Roosevelt not just to coach but to run a program to combat the high rates of truancy that the school has to deal with.

Jefferson knows the climate of the place and he has an answer for any open-minded person.

“They have had three coaches in the past five years,” he said. “I worked with Glenn Robinson III. It comes down to who is most credible for the job. It doesn’t matter where I reside. As far as I’m concerned, everyone that is a Roosevelt alum is welcome back to be part of the tradition. My door is always open. Just because I’m from East Chicago, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to make this into an East Chicago program.”

Those are the right words for the situation. Ultimately, though, talk is cheap. People won’t care where Jefferson is from if the program is successful and if he sticks around. This is still a school that won two state championships. The Panthers aren’t used to hiring assistants from other school districts, let alone from East Chicago.

And while Roosevelt might have taken its share of lumps the last few years, the old guard still views the Panthers as its team and Roosevelt, not Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy, as its school.

Nothing, in all candor, is more important to the old guard than how that basketball team performs and who runs it.

With that in mind, it’s time to welcome Jefferson and wish him good luck.

He’ll definitely need it.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.