Orr, Jackson going strong


BOWLING GREEN - The so-called basketball legends of the Cincinnati streetball scene would get so frustrated after losing to the young boy that they resorted to physical aggression.

The target, Louis Orr, wanted no trouble. He was too scrawny to fend off the bullying from the older players. But security was never far away. Orr's older friend, George Jackson, was always looking out for his buddy. It soon became known that anyone messing with Orr would soon be hearing from Jackson.

Almost 40 years later, Orr and Jackson are still a team. Orr, of course, is the first year Bowling Green State University men's basketball coach. Jackson, once Orr's guardian, is now his assistant. Two years - and little else - separate Orr and Jackson.

"As we went through middle school and high school, we had a lot in common, and we hit it off," Orr said. "There was a group of us, probably five or six guys, and it was mainly through basketball. We kept our friendship and relationship close over the years."

But they never envisioned it being a working relationship. At least Orr didn't.

Orr moved back to Cincinnati following a respectable eight-year career in the NBA and began working for an insurance company. At the time, Jackson was coaching basketball at their alma mater, Withrow High, and wanted Orr's help. Orr was reluctant at first.

"I played on his head a little bit, started playing with his emotions," Jackson said. "I said 'Louis, you're being selfish if you don't coach.' He said, 'all right, but I ain't signing a contract because I can't be there every day.' He was my biggest recruit."

A year later, Orr was assisting at nearby Xavier. Four years later, he left for Providence, and then to his alma mater, Syracuse. Meanwhile, Jackson was continuing a very successful program at Withrow.

Orr got his first head coaching position in 2000 at Siena College in New York. He spent one year there and led the Saints to a share of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season championship. Orr's success and reputation were rewarded when Seton Hall hired him to replace Tommy Amaker. This time it was Orr who convinced Jackson to join his staff.

"God worked it out where we have a chance to work at the college level together," Orr said. "You never know what God has in store, but it's something that he brought together. It's been a good thing not just to work with a knowledgeable coach, which he is, but with a friend."

The Pirates finished 12-18 in Orr's first season before making it to the NIT in 2002-03. In year three, Orr was named Big East Coach of the Year, and Seton Hall advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Pirates rebounded from a disappointing 12-16 season in 2004-05 with another trip to the NCAA tournament a year later. But it wasn't enough for Orr to keep his job.

Jackson believes politics played a part. The athletic director who hired Orr was no longer around, and many boosters weren't enamored with Orr's hiring in the first place. As Jackson said, "We weren't Jersey guys."

"We beat Arizona in the tournament and didn't get an extension or a raise or a bonus," Jackson said. "That's an unwritten rule in college basketball: if you make it to the tournament, everybody gets a bonus, and for every game you win you get another bonus. That showed me how they felt about us."

Orr was criticized for not recruiting well enough in New York and northern New Jersey. He certainly didn't gain any job security when Seton Hall was drubbed 86-66 by Wichita State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, following a first-round loss in the Big East tournament.

"One of the [reporters] that followed us told me off the record, 'George, I don't know what's in the air around Seton Hall, but if you guys had done at Rutgers what you did at Seton Hall, you'd be the kings of New Jersey."

A week passed following the loss to Wichita State before Orr was fired by new athletic director Joe Quinlan. Many coaching vacancies had been filled by that time, and Orr and Jackson were unable to land work entering the 2006-07 season. Orr, however, promised Jackson a position on his staff when he found a job.

Living about a mile apart in New Jersey, Orr and Jackson spent last year watching games on TV, and conversing on the phone about what they saw. They spoke about once a day and attended church services and bible study classes together.

Dan Dakich resigned as BG's coach in March, and Orr was hired in early April. During his opening press conference, he called the job "a perfect situation."

"I think our foundation is a Midwest conservative-type style," Jackson said. "That's the way it is here. I think the people here appreciate what coach brings to the table, what our staff brings to the table."