In March, I wrote a story about the astonishing decline of former Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl. I talked about how in one year’s time, Pearl had taken Tennessee the furthest they had ever gone, reaching the Elite Eight in 2010, to being mired in scandal. Pearl was eventually fired, along with his three assistant coaches. Pearl was the face of Tennessee Basketball for the six years he coached in Knoxville, and with his charisma and outgoing personality making him a hit in the college basketball community, most thought it wouldn’t be long before he was coaching in a position of prominence yet again. And that appears to be happening, with the D-League’s Texas Legends pursuing him hard to be their next head coach.
However, Pearl’s assistants at UT – Tony Jones, Steve Forbes and Jason Shay – were not in the spotlight like Pearl, and their quest to stay at the top was not nearly as easy. Jones has since been named the head coach of Knoxville-area Alcoa High School’s varsity men’s basketball team in July, while Forbes and Shay are now at Northwest Florida State, a junior college located in Niceville, Fla. Forbes was the first of the two to take the leap of faith from the highest level of college basketball in the SEC to the junior college level. When the job at Northwest Florida opened up less than a month after UT’s season ended, Forbes thought the opportunity to be a head coach again, and the structure already in place to win, made the job too good to pass up.
“What attracted me to the job was that Coach Bruce Stewart had built up a nationally prominent program here, and a lot of things were already in place to win,” says Forbes. “The facilities are outstanding and the commitment from our athletic director is unrivaled. He gives me the resources I need to win. The community is behind the program, we have really nice fan support. Also, our school is where people come to vacation. It’s a great location in Florida, its basketball and the beach is what I tell people. It’s a great place to live.
“Also, the Panhandle League is very tough and competitive. We play every team three times, and as a competitive guy you want to be in a situation like this one. I think most importantly I wanted to be a head coach again, and this gave me the opportunity to do that at a great institution.”
Many people might look at Forbes and say, “Is he crazy?” and wonder why he would be willing to move down to the junior college level after working so hard for 23 years to reach the position of high-major assistant coach. Despite the opportunity to be a head coach, most people probably think this move is a step backwards in his career, and puts him back at the bottom of the coaching totem pole. How could a man who was named one of Division I’s top 10 recruiters by Yahoo! Sports be so willing to leave everything at that level behind? For Forbes, the thing that made the decision so easy, aside from the chance to win and be a head coach, was his previous experience working at the junior college level – a time during which he formed some of the most lasting relationships with his players.
“Actually, the closest relationships I’ve had in my coaching career are with the guys I coached in junior college because they are very appreciative of the opportunities they received after they left our program,” he says. “Those are lifelong relationships. The winning is great, the titles are great, and it is fun playing on TV. I’ve been on College Game Day four straight years I believe, but that’s all superficial, quite frankly. The reality of it is, we are in this business to help young guys become men, and I think I have a great opportunity to do that here. It’s probably an even better opportunity to impact these young men that at the Division I level.”