Neither of them coaches any longer at the University of Toledo, but John Jasinski and Don Kotnik certainly reveled in the first-ever Mid-American Conference championship won this past weekend by the UT men's golf team.
Jasinski, now the golf coach at Notre Dame, is the man most responsible for building the Toledo program into a national power before accepting his new job last fall and leaving the Rockets in the capable hands of interim coach David Graf, the PGA master professional at Inverness Club.
“I don't think David has received the recognition he deserves for keeping together what we put together,” Jasinski said yesterday via phone from South Bend.
And Jasinski has never really received the recognition he deserves for putting it together.
As the young head pro at Stone Oak Country Club, Jasinski became UT's part-time head coach in the fall of 1991 and took over a program that was maybe 50 percent funded by the school and dished out fewer than half of the NCAA's allowed 41/2 grants-in-aid.
So Jasinski went to work “making all the right phone calls” to line up an array of local golfers and businessmen interested in seeing UT achieve national recognition in the sport.
“I hate to name names, because I'll forget some,” he said. “But Mike Miller at Fifth Third Bank was really the backbone of our effort. He really championed the golf team.”
So, always, has Kotnik, a one-time Rocket player who served as UT's coach for 17 years before Jasinski took over. Kotnik is the much-liked head pro at Toledo Country Club. So well-liked, in fact, that a number of the club's golfers support a scholarship in his name that has raised upwards of $200,000 for the UT golf program over the last five years alone.
Kotnik was responsible for creating UT's golf fundraising arm known as The Top 100 Club and was instrumental in founding the Toledo Golf Hall of Fame, which stages an annual tournament in support of the men's and women's golf programs at both UT and Bowling Green.
One of Kotnik's last players at UT was John Connelly, a former tour pro who has already been named the Rockets' next head coach, replacing Graf, who didn't feel he could continue to commit the proper time to the program with the U.S. Senior Open coming to Inverness next summer.
After Jasinski found his team fully funded, both in terms of grants-in-aid and operating budget, all he had to do was recruit the talent. Easier said than done, it turned out.
“It was difficult to compete against top-ranked Division I schools with a lot of name recognition in major conferences,” Jasinski said. “We'd identify the top players and get in races with schools like Wake Forest and Florida and, come the signing date, we'd never win those races.”
So Jasinki went a different route, turning to international talent with an emphasis on connections he had in Ireland.
“It was a deal-maker for us,” said Jasinski, who would soon guide UT to finishes as high as 16th and 18th in the NCAA Tournament.
The Rockets have had a total of five Irish golfers, including current team members Sean McTernan, the runner-up for the MAC individual title last weekend, David Jones and Alan Murray.
Brad Heaven, who was named MAC golfer of the year and who has a fantastic chance to play successfully on the pro level, was recruited to UT from New Zealand. Local product Kevin Kornowa watched the program flourish and became one of the first nationally-ranked juniors to join the Rockets.
And, suddenly, a team that was built to win a conference championship did just that.
At Notre Dame, Jasinski inherited a program similar to the one he took over at UT and said a plan is in place to have Irish golf fully funded within five years. His magic touch has already taken hold, though, as Notre Dame posted a runner-up finish in the recent Big East Conference tournament.
“Coming here was a family and professional decision,” he said. “There were some regrets in leaving such a strong team at UT, but David Graf is one of my best friends and I knew it was being put in more than capable hands. And John Connelly is tremendous choice as the next coach.
“I'm just tickled to death with what everybody involved with the UT program has accomplished. I'm applauding from afar.”
Dave Hackenberg is a Blade sports writer.