When he reached out to Boston College basketball coach Jim Christian in June about a vacancy on Christian’s coaching staff, Stan Heath says he never expected to have the assistant coach position offered to him.
“I actually called him, recommending somebody else, and so he texted back and said ‘OK,’ ” Heath said with a chuckle. It led to Heath joining Christian’s coaching staff and taking up residence in a small, windowless office in the BC men’s basketball suite on the second floor of Conte Forum.
“The next thing I know,’’ Heath said, “he’s calling and says, ‘Stan, I was just wondering if you would be interested?’ ’’
A veteran head coach with stints at three schools, including Kent State and Arkansas, Heath, 50, was a little more than a year removed from his dismissal at South Florida, where he went 97-129 in seven seasons and guided the Bulls to postseason appearances in the NIT in 2010 and the NCAA Tournament in 2012.
Although his work as an ESPN analyst kept him occupied last season, it did little to fill the coaching void.
“I still had the itch,’’ Heath said. “I mean, I loved TV and working with ESPN. But when April came and there was nothing to do, I just went bananas. There was no recruiting, no nothing. The things you complain about as a coach, when you don’t have it, you kind of appreciate it.’’
So when Christian presented him with an opportunity to join Scott Spinelli and Billy Wuczynski as assistants, Heath paused and wondered to himself, “Why not?’’
“When you take a year off, you think about a lot of stuff,’’ Heath said. “I had said that there were a few guys that, if I was going to be an assistant again, I would feel comfortable working with,’’ Heath said, who worked for Jim Larranaga at Bowling Green from 1994-96 and for Tom Izzo at Michigan State from 1996-2001.
“And he was definitely at the top of the list,’’ Heath said of Christian, who succeeded Heath at Kent State in 2002.
Now they will be reunited at BC, only with the roles reversed.
“It is neat,’’ Heath said. “I mean, how do you explain your first year as a head coach, the first staff that you ever had, and you go on to win 30 games? You have to imagine that you’re going to have a special relationship with the guys on that staff, just because of the fun and the enjoyment and the success that you had.
“We just hit it off right from the beginning,’’ Heath added. “And I didn’t know Jimmy that well before we worked together. I knew who he was when we recruited against each other. When we were on the road, we were nice to each other, but he was kind of like me, he was out of coaching for a year, so when I got the [Kent State] job, I wanted an experienced, veteran guy and it just worked out perfectly.
“And here he is, returning the favor.’’
In his latest incarnation as an assistant coach, Heath will bring a considerable amount of head coaching experience after serving at Kent State (2001-02), Arkansas (2002-07), where he went 82-71 and led the Razorbacks to back-to-back NCAA Tournament apperances in 2005-06 and 2006-07, and at South Florida, where he took a program with little resources, outdated facilities, and a shoestring budget and compiled 20-win seasons in two of his six seasons in Tampa.
“The one thing about Stan is that he’s had a lot of success at very difficult jobs,’’ Christian said when Heath was hired in June. “He followed Nolan Richardson at Arkansas, which was not easy to do. If you look at South Florida, and the tough times they had, I think he understands the process of trying to rebuild a program and the kind of kids you need.
“That’s where he’s going to be a great fit on our staff.’’
“I don’t mind a challenge, and I think Jim’s the same way,’’ Heath said. “I think this program has a really good tradition and has had success over the years, but, obviously, it’s our job to bring it back and Jim, no question, is the right guy to do that.’’
Heath said he never experienced awkwardness about going to work for Christian.
“When we kind of circled back, I just thought, ‘You know what? I’ve still got the itch, I’d love to help this guy and I like him.’ ’’ Heath said. “But, more than anything, I think he had to feel comfortable about, ‘OK, this guy is a former head coach, can he make the adjustment to being an assistant?’
“Once he was comfortable with that aspect, I think it was a no-brainer.’’
Heath lauded Christian as “a great offensive mind’’ when they worked together at Kent State. But Heath, who hoped “to help with the defensive side of things,’’ was clear about what his role would be on Christian’s staff.
“I’m just here to help,’’ he said. “I learned a long time ago, working for guys like Tom Izzo and Jim Larranaga, that if you’re an assistant coach it’s your job to assist the head coach.
“So whatever I can do to alleviate what’s on his plate, that’s what I need to do so that he can really focus on the important things to help us be successful.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.