Mike Strange: Steve Forbes finds 'quality of life' at Florida juco

Mike Strange

The arena is smaller. He rides a scooter to campus instead of a courtesy car. There's no ESPN.

Unlike Jim Boeheim or Roy Williams, he has to double check that the uniforms get laundered and the ankles taped.

But when the official tosses the jump ball in the air, it's a familiar stage.

"Playing Kentucky or playing Chipola, it's the same deal," Steve Forbes said. "I coach five on five. It's just as important to the fans and the players."

For five years, Forbes called Knoxville and Thompson-Boling Arena home. He was an assistant coach on the Bruce Pearl teams that won an SEC title and went to two Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight.

Then the sweat hit the fan.

UT men's basketball as we had come to know it blew up. In the wake of NCAA misconduct charges, Pearl's staff scattered.

Pearl still is in Knoxville, out of coaching for now due to the three-year show-cause penalty issued by the NCAA. His assistants were tagged with one-year show-cause sanctions. The whole crew had to find work outside the NCAA realm.

Tony Jones took over Alcoa High School. Forbes, a former junior college player and coach, went back to his roots.

Last April he was chosen among 70 applicants for the head coaching job at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, just across the bay from Destin in the Panhandle.

He hired two friends, Jason Shay from Pearl's staff and Brooks Savage, a former UT manager and grad assistant.

"I'm a juco coach with a Division I staff," said Forbes, who was in town to visit his daughter, a senior at UT.

He has Division I talent, too. The Raiders finished the regular season this week at 26-1 and ranked No. 2 nationally.

If they reach the national juco tournament in Kansas next month, they might run into another former Pearl assistant. Scott Edgar's Eastern Oklahoma is ranked No. 8.

Forbes' star is freshman point guard Chris Jones, a one-time UT signee from Memphis. Jones is one reason 84 different scouts have watched the Raiders practice this year.

"He'll have his pick," Forbes said.

Thursday, Jones and Forbes were named conference player and coach of the year, respectively.

Despite the contentious ending to his tenure at UT, Forbes' gym door is open to all comers, including the Vols.

"It's not my job to tell anybody who to recruit," he said.

Forbes helped recruit most of the current Vols. He catches them on TV as often as he can.

"I'm proud of 'em," he said. "Early on, they were still trying to find themselves. They've become a reflection of their coach."

Forbes thought he would miss the bright lights and big arenas. He claims he hasn't.

His pay is less than a third what it was at UT. Shay took an even more drastic cut. Both of their wives returned to teaching to help pay the bills.

"I wanted my quality of life back that I hadn't had in a long time," Forbes said. "I got it back."

He sleeps in his own bed virtually every night. He gets to watch his son's games at Niceville High. Since he returned his courtesy car to UT, he putters around Niceville on his scooter, a present from Pearl several years ago.

"You downsize," Forbes said. "But I bet I haven't spent 120 dollars on gas since last April.

"It really sucks," he added, "to be 70 degrees all the time and 10 minutes from the beach."

Yeah, I'm sure it does, Steve.

While a Niceville juco was a nice place to recover from the traumatic ending at UT, Forbes faces a decision. He is in demand by any number of Division I coaches looking for a proven assistant with solid recruiting ties.

His show-cause sentence served, the bright lights and big paychecks beckon. Like his star, Jones, he could have his pick.

"I've been asked that a lot," Forbes said. "I'm happy doing what I'm doing. But you never say never."

First, the postseason will start. There will be uniforms to wash and bus rides to endure.

And when the official tosses the ball in the air, there will be five guys to coach and an opponent to beat. Chipola or Kentucky, for those 40 minutes it's the same deal.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 17

FWBVol writes:

Mike, I know you aren't familiar with JUCO teams in Florida, but there are no Panthers in the Panhandle Conference. Northwest Florida State's mascot is the Raiders, named for Jimmy Doolittle's Raiders from World War II.

The school was previously known as Okaloosa-Walton Junior College, Okaloosa-Walton Community College and Okaloosa-Walton College before changing the name a few years back.

The Raiders have sent several baseball players to UT among them Jordan Czarniecki and Matt Sternberg.

MrBamSeydu writes:

Pretty sure this exact same article, or something very close, was done last year. 90% of the same material. It revolved around Forbes being upset with Pearl. This is old news.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

When I first read the headline I thought "YEAH RIGHT". Happier with coaching JUCO than what he had here. But to hear him speak...I can relate. Making the money he made here can't buy back time lost with family. I've been in a similar situation job wise, as I'm sure others on here have too. I'd take a decent/respectable income to be able to watch or coach my son in sports and be with my wife. Compared to making great money and not being there for anything. Been there done that. Wealth comes in so many ways in life, easy to get caught up in the financial form of it. A good read IMO. And Chris Jones...don't forget your roots son. You're a Memphis TENNESSEE boy and should represent your state. Get the grades up and come on back to Big Orange country son. I myself, will gladly welcome you with open arms.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

On the other hand, perhaps this can give some folks a different view of how severe Bruce's actions were. It was much bigger than basketball or a BBQ. Yeah it might have been a BBQ, but it was a stunt he pulled at Mil. Wisc. and was dinged for prior to coming here. He knew what he was doing when he had the BBQ and he knew what he was doing when he lied about it. Make no mistake about it. Bruce got a nice buyout, while these other guys really got jack squat. His actions impacted the lives of so many other people, it goes far beyond basketball.

MidTennVol writes:

I'm happy for the Forbes and Shay families, as well as the Tony Jones family.

I'd let any of these guys coach my boys.

bearbull95#206250 writes:

Let us not forget that it was Pearl who hired these men as his assistants. Therefore, we shouldn't ignore that he has an excellent eye for quality as exemplified by Forbes, Shay and Jones. It's just a damned shame that he himself didn't model those same qualities himself.

sly_stone99#434111 writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

On the other hand, perhaps this can give some folks a different view of how severe Bruce's actions were. It was much bigger than basketball or a BBQ. Yeah it might have been a BBQ, but it was a stunt he pulled at Mil. Wisc. and was dinged for prior to coming here. He knew what he was doing when he had the BBQ and he knew what he was doing when he lied about it. Make no mistake about it. Bruce got a nice buyout, while these other guys really got jack squat. His actions impacted the lives of so many other people, it goes far beyond basketball.

So true Rich and every time I hear Bruce on XM I'm reminded of how he came out smelling like a rose and others went back to the real world.

born2ride writes:

Steve Forbes will be coaching in college again very soon. Probably wherever Chris Jones goes.

budd#207344 writes:

in response to sly_stone99#434111:

So true Rich and every time I hear Bruce on XM I'm reminded of how he came out smelling like a rose and others went back to the real world.

These are grown men who made their own decisions. And were paid three times a policeman or fireman's salary to coach kids. Please.

FanNotSheep writes:

Pearl was possibly on the verge of becoming a Final Four coach and one of the biggest names/personalities in all of college sports. I wouldn't say he came out smelling like a rose.

They all get paid to coach a kid's game and if they decide to, the assistants can be right back in the major college game next year. Just look at the success each is having right out of the gate.

I doubt Pearl ever coaches another major college team.

FWBVol writes:

in response to born2ride:

Steve Forbes will be coaching in college again very soon. Probably wherever Chris Jones goes.

Steve Forbes is coaching at the college level right now. The facilities at Northwest Florida State are state of the art and as good as any you will find at the senior college level only on a smaller scale than a major conference.

The Division II Gulf South Conference is holding its conference basketball tournament at Northwest Florida State this year.

The pay not be that of a Division I assistant in the SEC, but a head coach at a Florida junior college can make a pretty good salary ranging in the $50,000-$60,0000 year range.

Dalton writes:

Depending on his financial situation he might hold his flying pattern for another season or two and flesh out his head coaching resume...unless that great opportunity surfaces immediately...I don't read the justified bitterness from last year's article...sounds like a coach we'll be hearing from on the national level real soon.

clvolfan writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

On the other hand, perhaps this can give some folks a different view of how severe Bruce's actions were. It was much bigger than basketball or a BBQ. Yeah it might have been a BBQ, but it was a stunt he pulled at Mil. Wisc. and was dinged for prior to coming here. He knew what he was doing when he had the BBQ and he knew what he was doing when he lied about it. Make no mistake about it. Bruce got a nice buyout, while these other guys really got jack squat. His actions impacted the lives of so many other people, it goes far beyond basketball.

You are exactly right Rich.Too many times those making the big bucks could care less about what the consequences will be for those making a lot less,but who are saddled with a major part of the responsibilities. Is simular to my former heart surgeon in Johnson City,who ruined his practice,and with his addiction,took 4 surgical assistants down with him,and who are now out of a job.I wish Steve the best,and sure he will come out for the better,and sends Chris Jones UT's way.

FWBVol writes:

in response to Dalton:

Depending on his financial situation he might hold his flying pattern for another season or two and flesh out his head coaching resume...unless that great opportunity surfaces immediately...I don't read the justified bitterness from last year's article...sounds like a coach we'll be hearing from on the national level real soon.

The coach Forbes replaced, Bruce Stewart, passed away last year from brain cancer. I'm not sure, but it might have been the same type of cancer that killed Baseball Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter earlier this month.

Stewart was a longtime coach at several levels of college and professional ball. He coach at MTSU for several years, but ran afoul of the NCAA.

Stewart built on what was already at great program at the college when he arrived and coached for 13 years and won more than 300 games before being forced to step down because of the cancer.

Niceville, Florida is the kind of town that grows on you quickly. Several coaches at the college, including Stewart, have had opportunities to move on, but choose to stay. The schools in Okaloosa County are some of the best in the state and Niceville has a great academic and athletic program for his son that is still in high school.

The college's athletic department only has for sports; men's basketball, women's basketball, baseball and softball, and men's basketball is the king pin program.

Other than the salary, there aren't too many things that a Division I program in a big city offers that Northwest Florids State can't match.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to FWBVol:

The coach Forbes replaced, Bruce Stewart, passed away last year from brain cancer. I'm not sure, but it might have been the same type of cancer that killed Baseball Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter earlier this month.

Stewart was a longtime coach at several levels of college and professional ball. He coach at MTSU for several years, but ran afoul of the NCAA.

Stewart built on what was already at great program at the college when he arrived and coached for 13 years and won more than 300 games before being forced to step down because of the cancer.

Niceville, Florida is the kind of town that grows on you quickly. Several coaches at the college, including Stewart, have had opportunities to move on, but choose to stay. The schools in Okaloosa County are some of the best in the state and Niceville has a great academic and athletic program for his son that is still in high school.

The college's athletic department only has for sports; men's basketball, women's basketball, baseball and softball, and men's basketball is the king pin program.

Other than the salary, there aren't too many things that a Division I program in a big city offers that Northwest Florids State can't match.

Lots of people who love basketball would consider this a dream job--I know I would! Living in a nice part of the country, not a whole lot in the way of media responsibilities, no cross-country recruiting trips, being known in the community without drawing crowds every time you go out...all that sounds pretty darned good to me. I'm sure Steve doesn't intend to stay at that level his whole life, but it seems to me a man could surely do worse.

RememberWhen writes:

a few facts that might help some of the speculative, uninformed opinions on here...

1. Chris Jones will never don TN orange.
2. Steve Forbes is a class act, was one of the top five assistants in the country by several surveys while at TN, will return to the high D-1 level whenever he decides he has the right situation, and doesn't need Chris Jones to do it.

3. What policemen, firemen, teachers and everybody else gets paid is totally irrelevant to what a basketball or any other coach gets paid. Everybody knows the pay scale of the industry they choose to work in up front and makes their decisions accordingly. If firemen could run an athletic program, I gotta believe most would. To hold a market based income against coaches is nothing but envy.

4. Anybody that thinks JUCO is easier than even mid-major D1 is simply not knowledgeable. You forget the fact that Forbes and his 2 assistants do EVERYTHING....actual coaching is the easy part...they're also the academic advisors, the tutors, the marketing dept., the travel coordinators, the strength coaches, the video guys, the scouts, the recruiters, the financial aid people, the counselors when guys have issues, etc etc....and recruiting consists of repeated 6-15 hour drives while you're sleeping....to get players who they know all have issues of one sort or another....so....

Destin, FL may be nice and the media spotlight may not be as bright but the thought that life just got easy for these guys is...shall we say...an idiot.

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