Photograph by Michael Polito
Welcome to The New Adventures of Old Jeff. In April 2013, Jeff Bower was named head coach of the men’s basketball team at Marist College. But it’s not the first time that Bower has worn the Red Fox jersey. He was the team’s assistant coach from 1986 to 1990, and then associate head coach for the following five years, all under the tutelage of Dave Magarity (now the Army women’s basketball coach).
In between his Poughkeepsie gigs? Oh, just a little 15-year stint in the National Basketball Association with the Charlotte-turned-New Orleans Hornets. Here, Bower wore virtually every hat imaginable — except, perhaps, that of a stadium usher. He started out as an advance scout, and eventually served as general manager, head coach, director of player personnel, assistant general manager, assistant coach, and director of scouting. During one season he even worked as the general manager and head coach at the same time.
During the 2007-08 season, when Bower was general manager, the team won its only division title, set a franchise record with 56 wins, and advanced to the Western Conference semifinals before losing to the San Antonio Spurs in seven games.
His current challenge: to turn around a team that, during Chuck Martin’s five years as head coach, went 41-117.
» Read our Q&A with Mr. Martin
Initially, Bower was used as something of a consultant by his old buddy and coaching colleague, Marist Director of Athletics Tim Murray. Murray was seeking advice on the school’s next head coach. As the conversations between the two grew longer, Murray flat-out asked Bower if he wanted to be considered for the job. When Bower flew up from New Orleans to interview, he brought with him practice logs he’d kept from his days as the team’s assistant coach.
The rest is history — basketball history, that is. There’s another side to the man. Hudson Valley recently caught up with Bower at the McCann Center for a little rapid-fire fun.
Family: Wife Lisa and daughter Lindsey, 10. “We’ve been married for 15 years going on 16. We actually met here at Marist. She was an athletic trainer. Our daughter was born in New Orleans, prior to Hurricane Katrina.”
How do they feel about the move? “Well, Lindsey is a southern girl. She’ll have to get used to the winters. For me and Lisa, it’s fun to be back. We can’t wait for winter to really kick in.”
So is Lindsey into sports, too? “She plays soccer and CYO basketball.”
Did you play basketball growing up in Hollidaysburg, PA? “Yep, I was your typical average player with no talent. But I loved it, loved playing, even loved practice. My whole intention of going to college was to become a history teacher and a high school basketball coach.”
On coming back: “We found the area to be different after all that time away. But what we needed is different now, too. Obviously our first point of reference was schools.”
I guess you didn’t have to worry about that as a bachelor when you were an assistant here? “True. I was more concerned with where the nearest McDonald’s was than with the school systems.”
So, Poughkeepsie to… New Orleans? “It was unique. New Orleans puts you in a different mentality. It’s a place built on people, relationships, and festivals. There’s a spirit there that’s real.”
Did you experience Hurricane Katrina? “We were actually at our property in upstate New York (near Oneonta). My wife saw the news and started to see how strong it was. We came back from the pool and she said, ‘We better get your mother out of there.’ So we did. She was on one of the last flights out. We stayed [upstate] for 16 days during Katrina. But you know what? Everybody came back. The people weren’t going to let anything stop them from rebuilding. They live life to the fullest down there. It’s something I’ll always remember.”
What are the biggest changes you see at Marist after 18 years: “When I was here last time, the school band was Art (Himmelberger, band director) and like six kids. We didn’t even have a fight song. Now it’s Art and, what, 30-40 kids? And we have a fight song! He’s a cult hero.”
Are you revisiting any old haunts? “Yeah, well, at the risk of singling anybody out or leaving anybody out… but Sonny is the best. [Sonny’s Ristorante in Hopewell Junction] was one of our favorite places. We used to go there to watch Yankees games back in the glory days when Jeter was first coming up. A lot of great meals, great food, and great times. We’ve been back there a bunch. Lot of places to remember — and the fun part is finding new ones as well.”
Away from the court? “I’m actually a pretty big baseball fan. Yankees in the American League and a Pirates fan in the National League. Back at our place in Louisiana we had a great outdoor spread. We’d have the Pirates on one TV and the Yankees on the other.”
Uh, what’s Lisa say about all this? “She understands. She has a good grasp of what’s really required of my job and how consuming it all is. She’s extremely supportive. Her history of having been here gives her an investment.”
Does she put you in your place? “Is that a question or a statement? (laughs) It’s two against one in our house. I’m outnumbered.”
On family time: “Obviously, we hope to be able to take advantage of our upstate property even more now that we are so close. But we love to travel. We’ve done some great trips. I had some flexibility last year prior to taking this position, and we took advantage of it. My daughter wanted to go skiing so we figured we’d give it a try and go to Park City, Utah. This is when we were still living in New Orleans. Not a lot of hills in the bayou.”
Golf? “Nope. I used to. But I’ve played a total of 18 holes in the 18 years since I left here. It was something that got away from me.”
Mentors? Heroes? “I really study people. There are certain guys that capture my attention. Alan Mulally with Ford, Nick Saban at Alabama, Steve Jobs… I always try to figure out why people are successful and what they’ve done to get there.”
» More stories about Marist College