Jason Shay coaching as an assistant for the Buccaneers. Submitted photo.
By Tim Chambers
“I’m blessed,” Shay said. “You work your entire career to be a head coach. I’ve been involved with a lot of suggestions in the past. I’ve had my fingerprints on this program. Steve and Coach (Bruce) Pearl — I’ve worked with some great head coaches. They’ve leaned on me. Now, I just get the opportunity to make those decisions and not necessarily give suggestions anymore.”
Shay, who was Forbes’ right-hand man for the past five years, said he might have to tone down the intensity that made him a successful assistant now that he’s running the show.
“I coach a little bit with my emotions on my sleeves,” he said. “That’ll be a little bit different.”
BO OR NO BO?
One of the first bits of news that came out of the program after Shay was hired was star guard Bo Hodges entering the NCAA transfer portal.
Shay has spent the past few days talking to the current and incoming players. Hodges, who will be a senior next year, has been part of those conversations.
“He’s still part of our team, and the conversations have been good,” Shay said. “I’m not going to speak for him. He put his name in the portal, and I think he wants to see where it may go. The possibility of him coming back, there’s a good possibility.”
Shay said he had hired two staff members — assistant coach Turner Battle and director of basketball operations Chad Donley. The battle is a former Mid-American Conference player of the year for Buffalo. He was an assistant at Chattanooga under Will Wade and has spent the past six years as associate head coach at UAB.
“He’s been in the league,” Shay said. “He’s a great mentor, develops great relationships. He’s a great recruiter, a great person, and he’ll be great in our community.”
Donley spent some time at ETSU as a graduate assistant. He also played for Shay and Forbes at Northwest Florida.
“He knows my strengths, weaknesses, my warts,” Shay said. “He’s somebody I can lean on.”
Shay said he’s in discussion with a few more potential staff members.
“I want to find the right fit,” he said. “I want staff members that are committed to the direction we are headed, that I can trust and have been hugely successful.”
“I know what it looks like,” Shay said about recruiting. “I know what the players have that we had in the past. We’re going to recruit offense and teach defense.”
Shay has been recruiting his own players first, trying to assure them the transition will be a smooth one.
“My conversations have been good with all of our players and their
families,” he said. “Change is hard. I’m just trying to work through that. We’ve got a really good team where we’re at right now. I want all of them to be back.”
Shay had been involved in a lot of the game planning that went on under Forbes.
“I’m like a chef,” Shay said. “The dish will look the same, but the spices will be different. I’ll add my own little wrinkles to it.
“We’re going to play the right way. We’re going to attack offensively, play with great tempo, move the ball with great spacing and balance and take great shots. We’ll play tough, aggressive defense because that’s the only way I know how to play. We’re going to be disruptive on the ball. Just as we say daily in practice, we’re going to say ‘strip and rip.’ We’re going to have that ‘first-to-the-floor’ mentality on loose balls. ”
Shay thanked his family, including wife Jana, for supporting him during his long quest to become a head coach.
“She’s been my rock,” Shay said. “It’s not easy to be a coach’s wife. We’ve moved eight times. I’m not home a lot, and as most of our fans know, I’m pretty moody.”
Shay also thanked Forbes, who endorsed his assistant for the job when he left for Winston-Salem.
“He’s my best friend,” Shay said. “I’ve learned a lot from him about trusting and empowering your people, being organized, and being a great communicator. He’s equipped me for this challenge.”