Interview Conducted 11/5/2008
University of Rhode Island head coach Jim Baron has spent his entire career developing his players both on the basketball court and in the classroom.
His attention to athletic and academic success dates back to his four years as a student-athlete at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, N.Y.
Baron, who was named co-captain his senior year, helped lead the Bonnies to the 1976-77 NIT title. His 3.9 assists per game were a team high that season.
Before commencement, Baron was selected by the University Committee as the Ideal Bonaventure Student. The school gives this award yearly to a student or students who exemplify the spirit of St. Bonaventure and the ideals of St. Francis through community service and academic excellence.
He later earned his master’s degree at St. Bonaventure in 1988.
Baron served as an assistant coach at Notre Dame from 1981-87. He learned from Head Coach Richard “Digger” Phelps how to create an infrastructure which allows basketball players to maximize their potential as both athletes and students.
BARON: “We graduated every one of our players. We had Academic All-Americans. We had tremendous student athletes. I’ve taken that equation every place I’ve been.”
In 1987, Baron accepted the Head Coaching position at St. Francis (Pa.). The Red Flash were a historically moribund program. Baron recruited the best available talent who fit his student-athlete mantra. By his fourth season, he led the Red Flash to their lone NCAA Tournament bid in school history.
During his five-year tenure at St. Francis, Baron graduated 100 percent of his players. One of those student-athletes was Mike Iuzzolino, whom the United States Basketball Writer’s Association recognized as the 1991 Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year. A 5’10” guard, Iuzzolino later played two seasons with the Dallas Mavericks.
When St. Bonaventure offered Baron their head coaching position in 1992, he was excited to return to his alma mater.
Once a proud program that boasted a Final Four appearance in 1970 and an NIT Championship during Baron’s senior year in 1977, the Bonnies had fallen on hard times. The team had won just 53 games in their last six seasons.
BARON: “Everyone said, ‘Oh the Bonnies, you’re not going to win.’ In three years, we turned it around. We won 18 games in one of the toughest years in the Atlantic-10 [1994-95].”
Baron graduated 95 percent of his athletes during his nine-year tenure, which included an NCAA tournament appearance and two NIT bids.
He left his alma mater in 2001 to accept the head coaching at the University of Rhode Island. In their previous two seasons, the Rams had won a combined total of 12 games.
Two seasons later, Baron led the Rams to a 20-11 record and the second round of the NIT, mostly with players recruited by previous head coach Jerry DeGregorio.
BARON: “The nice part about it was that I was fortunate to take the guys who were there and try to transform them into an exciting group.”
“You’ve got to have a positive attitude and you got to look at what is and what isn’t. I have always been a coach of looking at what is. I value being part of the transition and solution.”
“To me, that is true coaching. I take ‘what is’ and try to transform that in the short term so that I can gain some consistency down the road in the long term.”
When new recruits enter the University of Rhode Island, Baron provides them with a booklet of six rules, 10 goals, and 16 expectations as student-athletes.
BARON: “If you want to graduate and you want to develop into an outstanding basketball player, those are my expectations.”
Every senior for this upcoming season is scheduled to graduate either early or on time.
While Baron has provided the infrastructure for his players to succeed, he credits them for their own personal athletic and academic success.
BARON: “The players do it. My staff and I just try to develop them.”
Jim Baron Links:
Coach Jim Baron’s One-Minute Ad for URI Basketball
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