Jim Jabir took the Dayton Flyers women’s basketball program to new heights, and the pressures and expectations that followed played a part in his decision Wednesday to step down after 13 seasons.
However, the biggest reason Jabir, 54, resigned is he’s worried about his health, specifically his heart. He wants to get his health in order and plans to return to coaching someday.
“I’ve had heart problems in the past,” Jabir said. “I have had a pacemaker and defibrillator for 11 or 12 years. My cardiologist says I’m fine. I’ve just had some scares. It’s just time to regroup and re-energize.”
In Jabir’s second season, 2004-05, his heart raced out of control, Jabir told the Dayton Daily News six years ago. He was diagnosed with arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia. He went on leave Oct. 28, 2004, and had a pacemaker and defibrillator installed. He spent 35 days away from the team. He also almost died after suffering an allergic reaction to medicine he was taking.
Jabir recovered to turn Dayton into a perennial power in the Atlantic 10. The Flyers won 20 or more games eight straight seasons. He is Dayton’s all-time winningest women’s basketball coach with a record of 252-155. The Flyers played in the NCAA Tournament in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.
In 2015, Jabir guided the Flyers to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the first time. The Flyers led eventual national champion Connecticut 44-43 at halftime but lost 90-71.
Last season, injuries to stars Kelley Austria and Amber Deane derailed Dayton. The Flyers finished 14-15. It was Jabir’s first losing record since 2006-07 (12-19).
“It’s funny. The Elite Eight run was awesome,” Jabir said. “But it also created expectations and pressure. It’s been ongoing for a couple of years. I haven’t been myself. My kids have been worried about me. I’ve been thinking about it and fighting it and struggling to overcome the feelings. I just wasn’t myself anymore and not happy.”
Former UD football coach Mike Kelly, who is now associate vice president for athletics and current program administrator, will oversee the program while UD conducts an expedited search for a new coach.
“On behalf of the University of Dayton, I want to extend our deepest gratitude and sincere thanks to Coach Jabir for his years of service to the University,” said Vice President and Director of Athletics Neil Sullivan in a press release. “He elevated the women’s program to national prominence and achieved historic levels of success. He has made a lasting impact on our program and the student-athletes he has served.”
Jabir informed his assistant coaches at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday of his decision. At 3 p.m., he met with the players. Jabir said there wasn’t a dry eye in the room when he told his players.
“I just explained to them how tired I am and how much they deserve,” Jabir said, “and I didn’t feel I could give them what they deserve. I’ve just been emotionally drained and physically I’ve been a little concerned about my heart. I needed time to figure out what’s best for me and my family. It was a really, really tough decision. It was the best job I’ve ever had and the best people I’ve ever been around.”
Jabir called the timing of his decision unfortunate. The Flyers open practice for the 2016-17 season in several weeks and play an exhibition game in two months: Nov. 6 vs. Grand Valley State at UD Arena. Their season opener against Quinnipiac at UD Arena follows on Nov. 13.
“I feel badly I put Neil in a bad situation,” Jabir said. “Our coaches will do a really good job with the season. I tried to fight it for a long time. It’s probably something I should have done earlier.”
The Flyers brought in a highly-regarded freshman class and return four of their five leading scorers. Jabir isn’t sure how the coaching will be handled with him gone. His assistants were Simon Harris, Kayla Ard and Jeff House. Arnika Edwards is the director of basketball operations.
As for the players, Jabir said, “I think they’re really resilient. They’re really good kids. I think they’ll have each other’s back. They’re the closest group we ever had. I think they’ll be OK.”
Jabir has three adult children. His youngest son, Jackson, is a sophomore at UD. He joked that his wife, Angie Russell Jabir, who he married last October, didn’t see him going out this way.
“She had a ticker-tape parade in mind or something,” Jabir said. “But she and my kids are happy I’m taking care of myself. I’ll be able to spend more time with them.”