University of Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson personifies class and dignity on and off the floor as the leader of the Panther men's basketball team.
Jacobson is the UNI men's basketball program's all-time wins leader with 220 victories through 10 seasons. He has guided the Panthers to four NCAA Tournament appearances and four NCAA victories.
In 2015-16, Jacobson led the Panthers to a 23-13 overall record and the program's eighth NCAA Tournament appearance. UNI earned a spot in the 2016 NCAA Tournament by capturing the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title with wins over three 20-plus win teams in Southern Illinois, Wichita State and Evansville in St. Louis.
UNI then scored a 75-72 victory over Texas in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament on a half-court buzzer-beater by senior Paul Jesperson.
The 2015-16 season included so many ups and downs. It featured wins over No. 1 North Carolina, No. 5 Iowa State and No. 25 Wichita State. It also saw the Panthers limping at 10-11 overall and 2-6 in Missouri Valley Conference play on Jan. 23. But behind the leadership of seniors Matt Bohannon, Paul Jesperson and Wes Washpun, the Panthers and Jacobson turned their season around by winning 13 of their next 14 games - including the MVC Tournament title.
Even though the season came to an end in the second round of the NCAA Tournament after a 92-88 double-overtime loss to Texas A&M - UNI is among 13 schools in the nation to have reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years with at least 54 combined wins as well.
In 10 seasons at UNI, Jacobson has posted an overall record of 220-118 (.650 winning percentage). Jacobson has averaged 22 wins per season at UNI.
Jacobson guided UNI to a 31-4 record in the 2014-15 season, which included a school-record 16-game winning streak, an MVC Tournament title and the school’s first-ever top-10 national ranking. UNI finished the season ranked No. 14 in the final Coaches Top 25 poll. He led UNI to its fourth all-time NCAA Tournament victory with a 71-54 triumph over Wyoming in the second round. The 2014-15 season also saw UNI’s Seth Tuttle earned consensus second-team All-America honors.
For the third time in nine seasons, Jacobson was awarded the Missouri Valley Conference's Coach of the Year Award. Jacobson led the Panthers to a school-best 16 MVC wins in league play.
The Panthers posted their fourth consecutive top-three finish in the 2015 Missouri Valley Conference standings with a 16-2 league mark. UNI has finished in the top three of the MVC standings in five of the last six seasons under coach Jacobson.
UNI has also placed in the upper half of the MVC standings in 13 straight seasons. Prior to the current streak starting in 2003-04 (when UNI tied for second and won the MVC Tournament), the Panthers had only finished in the top half of the league standings twice since joining the conference in 1991.
Jacobson has guided the Panthers to postseason play in seven of his 10 seasons as head coach, including four trips to the NCAA Tournament (2009, 2010, 2015 and 2016). UNI reached the Sweet 16 in 2010 following wins over UNLV and No. 1-ranked Kansas. UNI competed in the 2012 National Invitational Tournament and scored a first-round road victory over Saint Joseph's. UNI also took part in the 2011 and 2013 CollegeInsider.com tournaments. UNI advanced to the semifinals of the 2013 CIT. The Panthers scored a 71-54 win over Wyoming in the 2015 NCAA Tournament to secure the fourth all-time tournament victory for the program. UNI produced its fifth NCAA Tournament win with a 75-72 triumph over Texas in the 2016 tourney.
Jacobson has had 20 players earn All-MVC first team, second team or honorable mention honors in his tenure at UNI. His tenure has also seen UNI honored with a pair of Larry Bird MVC Player of the Year honorees in Adam Koch (2010) and Seth Tuttle (2015).
Jacobson has also seen 20players earn Academic All-Conference honors for the Panthers in his time at UNI. Adam Koch (2010) and Nate Buss (2015) each earned MVC Scholar-Athlete of the Year honors for the Panthers. UNI is the only men's basketball school in the MVC to have earned the APR Top-10 percent honor in each of the previous three seasons.
The Panthers have had players make immediate impact during Jacobson's tenure with seven players earning a spot on either the MVC All-Newcomer or MVC All-Freshmen teams since the 2006-07 season. Seth Tuttle earned MVC Freshman of the Year honors in 2012.
Jacobson is the only Panther head coach to have posted wins at Iowa and at Iowa State. Jacobson's 2006-07 UNI squad notched the program's first-ever win in Iowa City with a 57-55 win over the University of Iowa. He has posted three victories over Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum. Jacobson led the Panthers to wins in Ames on Nov. 27, 2007 (61-48), Dec. 2, 2009 (63-60) and Nov. 30, 2011 (69-62). Prior to Jacobson's three-game win streak in Ames, UNI had won only two times in Ames - in 1997 (54-48) under Eldon Miller and in 1963 when Norm Stewart led the Panthers to a 59-54 win.
Jacobson became the fastest coach in Panther history to tally 100 career wins. It took him only 149 games as the Panther head coach to accomplish the feat. The previous mark was set by Art Dickinson at 164 games.
What a season it was in 2009-2010 for the UNI Panthers under fourth-year head coach Ben Jacobson. The Panthers posted a 30-5 mark to eclipse the school record for wins by seven games and earned the program's first-ever Sweet 16 appearance by knocking off the No. 1-ranked Kansas Jayhawks in the NCAA Tournament's second round in Oklahoma City, Okla.
The Panthers finished the 2009-2010 season ranked No. 13 in the final ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll - marking the highest ranking in school history. UNI ranked No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense in 2009-10 giving up only 55.1 points per game. UNI also ranked No. 10 in the nation in fewest turnovers per game (10.7).
Jacobson-coached squads have made defense a priority and none more prevalent than the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, which saw the Panthers named the Missouri Valley Conference's Army National Guard Defensive Team of the Year in back-to-back years.
The Panthers made their mark in 2008-09 on the road as the squad put up an impressive 11-1 mark on the road against league foes. Included in that impressive road mark was a streak of eight straight victories away from the McLeod Center, which was the eighth-longest road winning streak in the history of the Missouri Valley Conference.
The 2007-08 UNI team, which posted an 18-14 overall mark and advanced to the semifinals of the MVC Tournament, ranked 14th in the nation in fewest turnovers per game, averaging just 11.8. The Panthers turned it over more than 13 times in a game just 11 times, with a low of five against both Loyola (Dec. 1) and Illinois State (Jan. 30).
Jacobson's 2007-08 Panthers were also stalwarts on the defensive end of the floor. They led the Missouri Valley Conference in field goal percentage defense (.395), and were third in scoring defense (60.3 ppg) - ranking 17th and 14th nationally in those categories. UNI allowed only six opponents to score more than 68 points in any game in the 2007-08 season, holding its foes to 50 points or less six times, and holding 13 opponents to less than 38 percent shooting.
Jacobson also coached UNI as it became the first college program ever to represent the United States of America at an international basketball competition. In August 2007, UNI was chosen to be Team USA at the World University Games in Bangkok, Thailand. Donning the Red, White and Blue, UNI went 5-1 in the tournament, losing only to eventual gold medalist Lithuania, while posting wins over Angola, Turkey, China, Finland and Israel.
Jacobson finished his first campaign at the helm of UNI with an 18-13 record. The 18 wins were the most for a first-year Panther head coach since the team joined the Division I ranks in 1980. In addition, UNI posted wins over Iowa State and Iowa - sweeping the Cyclones and Hawkeyes in the same season for just the second time ever - including posting a win in Iowa City for the first time in program history.
Academics also are of the highest priority under Jacobson. UNI enters the 2015-16 season with a 3.00 cumulative team GPA. A total of 25 Panther basketball players have earned first-team, second-team or honorable mention Academic All-Conference honors since 2003.
Jacobson, 45, was hired as head men's basketball coach on March 22, 2006, becoming the 21st head coach in UNI history.
Before taking over as head coach, Jacobson was the Panthers' top assistant coach starting in 2001, and was a key cog in bringing the Panthers from the basement of the Missouri Valley Conference to the penthouse. With Jacobson on staff, the development of UNI basketball has been remarkable.
While this is Jacobson's first head coaching job, he had 12 years of prior assistant coaching experience. Before joining former UNI head coach Greg McDermott in Cedar Falls beginning with the 2001-02 campaign, he served one season as an assistant coach under McDermott at Division II North Dakota State. His responsibilities there included serving as recruiting and academic coordinator.
Jacobson has a long history in the North Central Conference, having played at the University of North Dakota from 1989-93. He was a four-year letterman for the Sioux, a two-year starter, and he ended his career as the school's all-time assist leader. UND made two Elite Eight appearances and four regional appearances, along with winning two conference championships, during his career. He was team captain in 1991-92 and 1992-93, was named to the NCC's All-Academic Team in 1993, and was a player representative to UND's letterwinner's association from 1991-93.
In September of 2008, his 1989-90 team from the University of North Dakota - when he was a freshman guard for the Fighting Sioux - was inducted into the UND Athletics Hall of Fame. That squad finished 28-7 overall, including a perfect 16-0 at home, and finished third in the nation.
He was a student assistant coach at North Dakota from 1993-94. From 1994-96, he was a graduate assistant at UND and became a full-time assistant coach for the Sioux from 1996-2000. He served as an assistant coach at North Dakota State University in the 2000-01 season.
A native of Mayville, N.D., Jacobson graduated from Mayville-Portland High School in 1989 as valedictorian. He received his bachelor's degree in physical education from the University of North Dakota in 1994.
Jacobson and his wife, Dawn, have two children, Hunter (13) and Tanner (11).