Most if not all college assistant coaches aspire to become head coaches someday. Many are good at self-promotion. They develop relationships with those in positions of authority, hire agents to serve their interests, and otherwise place their name in the public domain to encourage head coaching opportunities.
Illinois assistant Jay Price is atypical in this regard. He tries to deflect credit for his abilities and successes, so he is not well known. But he has everything a college could want in terms of background and preparation for a head coaching job.
Who wouldn't want a coach who has worked for and studied under Larry Brown, Roy Williams, Billy Tubbs, Gene Keady and Bruce Weber? His background has prepared him well.
"I've wanted to ba a coach since 10th grade," Price acknowledges. "It was pretty obvious I wasn't a high Division 1 basketball player. I could have played at a small school, but my dad said one day, 'Why don't you become a manager?' I looked at three different schools. The reason I picked Kansas was because they were the only school that promised me I could do it.
"I liked playing, but I knew it wasn't my future. I was in journalism because I figured if I didn't coach I wanted to write about them. I wanted to stay in the sports industry somehow, sports broadcasting or journalism. Plus, Kansas had an outstanding journalism school, one of the best in the country. So I enjoyed doing that."
Being a manager at a prestigious school working under coaching legends Larry Brown and Roy Williams taught him about all the details a coach must consider.
"It was great because I got to be more involved in aspects than just as a player. I got to learn everything from ordering equipment to what to do on recruiting visits to being on the floor to mailouts. Both Coach Brown and Coach Williams keep you involved. To this day, I'm close to the Carolina staff. I know all those guys. It was a good decision."
It didn't take Price long to enjoy extreme success at the college level.
"I was a manager at Kansas for four years. My first year with Larry Brown, we won a National Championship. My last year with Roy Williams, we finished second. Then I went to Oklahoma and coached with Billy Tubbs for a year and a half. I was at Purdue for ten years, and I've been here now going on 7 years."
His time at Purdue produced Big 10 Championships, and that continued at Illinois, along with another second place finish in the NCAA Tournament. Price endured numerous hardships along the way, much like his boss Weber as a young assistant coach. But his path was fortuitous as well.
"I knew what I wanted to do, and I had a lot of people along the way who helped me. I'll always appreciate Coach Tubbs because he was the first guy who hired me. At that point, I was a volunteer making zero dollars. I was living in a place that leaked, and there was a crime scene right out in front of my apartment at one point. But it was part of the growing experience. Everyone pays their dues.
"That's just the way you do it now. You don't start out making a lot of money. I didn't have to carry a light from room to room like he (Weber) did. There were times the electric lights didn't work."
He was hoping to have secured a head job by now, but he is patient with the process.
"I wouldn't say it's frustrating. It's part of the business. Obviously, I want to be a head basketball coach. I wouldn't do this if I didn't want that, and I don't think Coach Weber or Coach (Ron) Guenther would want people around here who didn't have those aspirations.
"But then again, we have a great AD (Guenther). I work for a great boss in Coach Weber. I'd like to take the right opportunity if it comes along. The best way to do that is to keep recruiting and keep winning."
Part of the problem is that he doesn't promote himself, and part is that he receives minimal credit for his expertise and ability.
For instance, assistant coach Jerrance Howard is charismatic and has injected Illinois basketball recruiting with energy and enthusiasm. So he is considered one of the top assistant coaches in the country.
Price has been the lead recruiter for several top Illini players, and yet his efforts remain unnoticed. He was heavily involved with the recruitment of Brandon Paul, Joseph Bertrand and Tyler Griffey from this year's freshman class. And he led the way with 2010 commit Meyers Leonard.
In addition, he has worked diligently to keep Illinois high on 2011 St. Louis superstar Brad Beal's list despite competition from top schools like Florida, Kansas, Duke, Ohio State, Missouri and numerous others. And he is the lead recruiter on most of the outstanding young Indiana prospects in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 classes.
Typically, Price shares credit for his recruiting successes.
"That's neither here nor there with me. When it comes to recruiting, Coach Weber is the final say on everything. We all do it together. I think the best thing is that all of us really work together well. Nobody really cares about who does what because in the long run, Illinois gets them. When Illinois gets them, we get them. And when we win, it will help us in the future.
"It's nice because Coach Howard is young and has that energy. I'm an early to bed kind of guy, and he's a late night guy. Coach (Wayne) McClain knows so many people in this state. So we all have our strengths, and that's what makes for successful recruiting. The main thing is to get all the kids here."
Price is also the point man on arranging schedules for each season. That is an extremely important but thankless job that requires countless man-hours. He does a great deal of scouting, and he organizes recruiting visits. He is the type of coach who goes unnoticed until he is no longer there. Replacing him would be a major headache for Weber.
Patience is a virtue, and Price awaits the day his name will be called to serve as head coach. He knows that Illinois' success can lead to his own success.
"Everything's going real well right now, knock on wood. We'll just continue to push forward. The 2011 class is a huge class for us. We're out there trying to get the best guys we can get and work our tails off."
Part 2 will discuss specifics of the art of scheduling, and part 3 will talk about the players on the current team.