Stiebing resurrects career as coach of Qatar

Updated: August 24, 2006, 1:35 PM ET
Associated Press

HAMAMATSU, Japan -- Joey Stiebing had just been named Sun Belt Conference coach of the year when the University of New Orleans' new athletic director told him he was no longer the right man for the job.

That 2001 firing pushed Stiebing, now 45, into a major career change.

For a year, he sold insurance for a financial services company in New Orleans.

"For me, being a coach my whole life, it was a great experience," said Stiebing, an assistant at New Orleans for seven years before becoming head coach. "I didn't know anything about money. But it helped me gain some insights."

Then, in October 2002, a sports agent he knew called, saying a Middle Eastern country was looking for a basketball coach.

A few weeks later, he was hired as head coach for Qatar. Nearly four years later, he has taken the national team to the world basketball championships after finishing third at the Asian titles in 2005.

"It worked out for the best," Stiebing said Wednesday after Qatar lost its fourth game and was officially knocked out of second-round contention at the tournament. The team lost its fifth in a row Thursday to Australia 93-46 to finish the tournament winless.

"I've got a great boss [the Qatar Olympic Committee]," Steibing said. "I went to Doha with the intention of staying one year. I've been there for nearly four."

In Qatar, Stiebing has a five-bedroom home provided by the country's Olympic committee in a modern complex. His four U.S.-based daughters frequently visit.

Not that he's been around very much lately.

This weekend, he'll take the Qatar team to Saitama to watch the 16 second-round world championship teams play "just to experience the atmosphere of that."

He and the team will return to Doha for two days before heading to Italy for a two-week training camp. Then it's home again for the Persian Gulf regional championships, featuring Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar.

The team will get a break during monthlong Ramadan before playing in the Doha-hosted Asian Games in late November and early December.

His defense-oriented team's play in Japan has him optimistic about what the team could accomplish at that tournament.

Qatar had its best game against Turkey on Wednesday, losing 76-69 but outplaying their opponents in the second half.

"We held them to 27 points in the second," Stiebing said. "That carries over to the offensive side. We are a young team, and we'll have one good half, one bad half."

Stiebing's Qatar experience, however, has been all good.

He acknowledges he was apprehensive about moving there, but acquaintances who had worked in Qatar told him he would love it.

They were right.

"I have learned a lot about the Muslim community, the culture, the Arab world," Stiebing said. "Qatar to me is safer than the U.S. There is very little crime. You can leave your car doors and houses unlocked."

And, he says, Americans are well-liked. There is a big military presence in the country -- the U.S. Central Command Air Forces is based there.

Stiebing has taken Arabic language lessons, with mixed success.

"It's very hard," he said. "I tried to take a three-month course, but I had to drop it after a month because I was away so much.

"In Arabic, they write from right to left. I had to learn the alphabet. I know some words. It was interesting, and I wish I would have stuck with it."

Stiebing's biggest worry since leaving the States was when Hurricane Katrina hit his hometown nearly a year ago.

"We were in Serbia-Montenegro at a training camp, and I talked to my daughter on a Friday night," said Stiebing. "She said they said it was heading toward Florida.

"The next morning, we got to breakfast, and we watched it all happening on CNN, BBC, Sky News."

When he headed back to New Orleans two weeks later, he discovered his house had only minor damage.

"I was really scared, I had never experienced anything like that enormity," Stiebing said.

And he's got plenty of Louisiana connections -- even in Qatar -- to keep him comfortable. Two assistant coaches and a strength and conditioning specialist for the national team hail from New Orleans.

"I have really enjoyed it," Stiebing said. "We have come a long way to rise up in Asia. We are at the bottom of the rest of the world, but this experience will be really good for the national team and the country."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press