At 30, Capel maintains family's legacy
His hire at Appalachian State was a surprise to many -- including Jason Capel
They're out there, the critics with their snarky remarks and snide comments.
He's barely 30, the second-youngest coach in Division I basketball.
He has just one year of coaching experience on his résumé.
His last name is Capel, and that's the only reason he got the job at Appalachian State.
Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel has heard them all. What they're saying about his younger brother, Jason, they once said about him. Jeff was only 27, with all of two years of coaching experience under his belt, when Virginia Commonwealth tabbed him to lead their team.
Four winning seasons, one NCAA tournament berth at VCU and a job upgrade later, Jeff is older, wiser and armed with the sage advice his coach and mentor, Mike Krzyzewski, once offered to him.
"I told Jason, the most important thing is never waste time trying to defend or justify why he got the job," Jeff said. "A lot of people are going to be asking, 'Has he paid his dues? Is he worthy?' All he did was accept the job that was offered to him. Everyone in the country would do the same. If you spend your time trying to defend yourself, that takes time away from doing the job, and that means you won't have the job in a few years."
To be certain, when Buzz Peterson bolted for UNC Wilmington after just one season and Appalachian State athletic director Charlie Cobb tabbed Jason Capel, who had only one season as an assistant coach, instead of longtime assistant Matt McMahon, more than a few people were caught off guard.
Count Capel among them.
He had no intention of following in the footsteps first laid by his father, Jeff Jr., and picked up by his brother. He was going to blaze his own path.
A four-year starter at North Carolina, where he led the Tar Heels in scoring and rebounding his senior season (2002), Jason enjoyed a lucrative career after graduation, playing in Serbia, Italy, Japan and even for an NBA D-League team coached by his father. He had no intention of stopping anytime soon.
His back had other plans, however. A serious injury ended his playing career in 2006 at the age of 26.
Capel is still shell-shocked enough by the turn of events that as he watches young players this week preparing for the NBA draft, he wishes he could pull each of them aside for a lecture.
"When you're younger, you feel invincible," he said. "The thing is, you don't know when that light is going to go out. I would tell players now, you work so hard to prove people wrong, to get the next contract, to get with the next team, make sure you take the time to enjoy the journey. Don't take it for granted because when it's over, it's over."
After he retired, Capel spent two years in the broadcast booth, working as an analyst for ESPNU and Raycom Sports. While he enjoyed the work, going to practices made it clear that he missed the game.
When Peterson, who once worked alongside Capel's father as the director of basketball operations for the Charlotte Bobcats, called with a job on his staff at Appalachian State, Capel jumped at the opportunity.
Two years later, he was planning to accompany Peterson to UNC Wilmington when life tossed him another curveball.
Cobb, short on budget and long on a need to end the coaching carousel quickly, called and offered Capel the head-coaching job.
"Coach Capel's wealth of life experiences have led to him developing many of the qualities that we were looking for in a head coach, including maturity, humility and a presence that impresses anyone that comes in contact with him," Cobb said at Capel's news conference.
Forget his age. Few first-year coaches have as extensive a basketball résumé as Capel.
He grew up going to work with his father and shadowing his brother. When he wasn't watching practice with his father at North Carolina A&T and Old Dominion, he was tagging along with Jeff for pickup games, holding his own against kids five years older.
When Jeff went on recruiting visits, Jason went with him. When Jeff played at Duke, Jason watched. When Jeff became the youngest coach in Division I, Jason offered a sounding board.
"This is all I know, all I've ever been around," Jason said. "I saw my dad coaching or running a practice every day since I was born. Then it was my brother. Nothing in this business can surprise me. I've seen it all."
This is all I know, all I've ever been around Nothing in this business can surprise me. I've seen it all.” -- Appalachian State coach Jason Capel
For this specific job, Capel is well-suited. When the Mountaineers kick off the 2010-11 season, they will be breaking in their third coach in as many years.
"I know the college basketball world was shocked when he was hired, but he knows this business, and he knows it's a business," Jeff said.
Indeed, Jason knows coaching turmoil firsthand. A McDonald's All-American, he was recruited by Dean Smith to UNC but instead played two years for Bill Guthridge after Smith retired. Guthridge then stepped down and in came two years of upheaval under Matt Doherty.
"Jason went through all of that stuff at North Carolina," Jeff said. "Nothing can surprise us. We know that we are in the business of educating young men, but we also know we're in the business of winning. He gets it."
Jason gets the critics, the naysayers, the ones who think he got the job because of who he is, not what he is.
And he knows how to make them hush.
"As anyone in any business will tell you, it's very often who you know and who you're connected with," Capel said. "Was I surprised I got this job? Sure. Sure I was surprised. But our father always taught us to work every day and prepare ourselves so if opportunity knocks, we're ready for it. I'm ready for this."
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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