Standing at the podium in the media room inside The Convo, Jeff Boals was cool and collected.
His family was in the front row of seats; players, media members, boosters and athletic department personnel sat behind the Boals family for the first time. Boals seemed to always know what to say. He crushed the introductory news conference, making references to his playing days at Ohio, his college basketball coach, his experiences and his goals.
Three years ago, he had a similar press conference. Boals took the job at Stony Brook in 2016 after serving on Thad Matta’s bench at Ohio State for seven seasons. He crushed that news conference, too.
But this one? This news conference was different. It had a certain undertone. It oozed passion and preparedness. It commanded a room. It hit a little closer to home for the 46-year-old Boals.
Because this is home.
“I'm extremely honored and gratefully humbled to be back home,” Boals said Monday. “I think when I walked into the Convocation Center and looked up and saw the rafters, saw the banners, saw seats, and it brought back a flood of memories. A lot of them positive, a couple negative, but seeing the banners and the Convocation Center floor — there's no better place.”
The excitement in that room Monday was palpable. Athletic director Jim Schaus sported a smile for the duration of the news conference. University President Duane Nellis gave a rousing little speech in which he repeated “It’s a great day to be a Bobcat,” a phrase with which Schaus led off the news conference. Nellis appeared ecstatic. After the press conference, he was shaking hands and being, well, presidential. It was a good day for the president.
As Boals was presented with a white Ohio jersey featuring his old No. 45 — which he wore from 1991 to 1995 when he played at Ohio — the Bobcats’ power trio of Nellis, Schaus and Boals posed for a picture and smiled.
“I think Jeff’s personality, it’s really infectious when you get a chance to meet him,” Schaus said. “You just sense right off this energy, his enthusiasm, his vision for everything he does, especially for Ohio University.”
Schaus delivered a good starting point for Boals to take the podium. The show began from there.
Of course, Boals thanked the Ohio administration for bringing him home. But he also thanked Stony Brook’s administration, too. After all, that group gave Boals his first head coaching job.
Before Stony Brook, his seven years with Matta at Ohio State were nearly as successful as an assistant could imagine. Matta and Boals went 193-62 on the bench together in Columbus, and they went to the Final Four in 2012. He also thanked Matta and that staff.
“(Matta) was instrumental in me accepting this job,” Boals said. “He always said to not leave for a bad job or a bad situation. Always make sure it's a top-three job in the league. I think it’s the best job in the league with resources, funding, facilities, campus, everything. I’m excited about that. I call him all the time, and I’ll continue to call Thad."
But his thanks for Matta paled in comparison to his thanks for his former coach, the late Larry Hunter, who coached Boals at Ohio. Boals was a two-time captain in the ‘90s, and he helped the Bobcats reach the 1994 NCAA Tournament. Hunter was Boals’ mentor, and the first time Boals mentioned Hunter, he nearly broke down.
And he repeated the sentiment of what Hunter meant to him throughout the news conference. He used phrasing the late coach used to use. He continued to bring him up. That’s the influence Hunter had on him.
“Larry was such a competitor,” Boals said. “He competed at everything. Racquetball, cards, you name it. Larry was just competing. I think that was who I was as a player. I wasn't the most athletic player, but I'd be on the floor taking charges and diving. Picking a teammate up and cheering them along on the bench.”
The thanks didn’t stop there, though. Boals proved just how grateful he is to take the Ohio job.
After compiling a 55-41 record in his three seasons at Stony Brook, Boals was set to return nearly his entire roster and compete for an America East Conference championship with the Seawolves on Long Island. They went 24-8 this past season, and they’re on the rise.
It took a special job and opportunity to leave Stony Brook. That situation was set up for Boals to succeed. He set it up to succeed before he left.
But the Ohio job was special enough to leave Stony Brook. Ohio is his dream job. It was easy to make the move back to Athens, and Boals signed a five-year deal in which he’ll make $580,100 annually to move back.
“The initial conversation was just excitement,” Boals said.
The initial conversation was one that Schaus had with a couple candidates, but Boals was the clear favorite to land the job.
His head coaching experience stood out to Schaus. His personality stood out to Schaus. His alma mater stood out to Schaus.
“Of what we were looking for, he aligned immediately,” Schaus said.
As the room cleared and questions ceased, the handshakes from Nellis stopped. The smiles from Schaus didn’t as he walked back to his office. Boals stayed behind and was one of the last to leave that room inside The Convo.
After all the thank-yous — he didn’t leave anyone out — Boals had time to just stand there as the head coach of his university.
Boals thanked enough people for giving him his dream job and allowing him to come home. He especially thanked the two men who held up the jersey with him: Nellis and Schaus.
If the hire is as big of a home run as those two think it could wind up being, Schaus and Nellis might have plenty of thank-yous for Boals.