Rich Jacob has coached at the college level most of his career but like most lifers in the profession, it started at the high school level.
He's returning to the level where it began years ago as the 58-year-old has been hired as boys basketball coach at Park School, according to athletic director Marcus Hutchins.
Jacob, a native of Niagara Falls and a Bishop Duffy (now Niagara Catholic) graduate, inherits a program that became a powerhouse under recently departed Mike Battaglia, who stepped down as coach in the spring.
Jacob currently is a professor/director of the sports management program at Medaille College, where he served as the school's first men's basketball coach and athletic director. He has a Ph. D and had been the associate men's basketball coach since 2010 at Erie Community College.
"I think this opportunity is tremendous and that high school basketball in Western New York continues to get stronger," Jacob said. "The Park administration with the leadership of Marcus Hutchins have made wonderful progress. I'd like to thank Mike Battaglia and the rest of his staff who put Park in position to be highly competitive. I'm excited for the challenge."
The Pioneers, winners of the 2015 Federation Class B crown as overall champion of New York State, went 17-6 last season, reaching the Manhattan Cup Class A semifinals where they lost to St. Francis by two points. In fact three of their losses came to the Red Raiders – including two in overtime.
Park perhaps played one of the toughest schedules in the area last season with a team featuring underclassmen, and though it did lose six times none of those games were by more than six points. Also, no public school on Park's schedule defeated the Pioneers either.
While Park will have to overcome the loss of 6-foot-10 forward and second team All-Western New York selection Joe Jones, who earlier this month transferred to a prep school in Canada for his senior year, the team still is expected to have most of its talent core returning, led by fourth team All-WNY pick Dan Scott and honorable mention selection Noah Hutchins, a junior with the potential to take over games at the point guard position.
Marcus Hutchins said Jacob was the ideal candidate because of his ties to college education. With Park being a college preparatory school and increasing the minimum average required for its student-athletes to participate in sports from 73 to 80, Hutchins viewed him as "the best fit for what we're trying to accomplish."
"The standards to compete in high school are not really adequate in my opinion for a kid to be able to pick a college of his choice," Hutchins said. "With us being a college prep school, we want to make sure a kid can go to a college of his or her choice. ... We're going to continue raising the bar to make sure every kid qualifies and can go to a school of their choice."
Jacob's other collegiate coaching stops included time as an assistant at University at Buffalo and Niagara. He was head coach at Daemen, Villa Maria and Niagara County Community College.
He also previously served as head coach for two of Buffalo's minor-league basketball teams during attempts to bring professional hoops back to the area – first serving as coach of the Buffalo Rapids in 2005 and then Buffalo Stampede prior to the 2009 season, although he did not coach a game with the Stampede.
It all began at the now defunct LaSalle in Niagara Falls, decades ago where he served as junior varsity coach.
"Coaching basketball has been a blessing and my passion," Jacob said. "I'm just thankful I can continue on doing what I love to do. I'm going to work hard."