Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Small-school underdog tops giants to win Herald’s best-coach honor

Said Nova golf coach Ryan Jamison about winning the Miami Herald’s best-coach poll: “I’ve gotten a lot of support from the university. Apparently I also have a lot of family down here.”
Said Nova golf coach Ryan Jamison about winning the Miami Herald’s best-coach poll: “I’ve gotten a lot of support from the university. Apparently I also have a lot of family down here.” MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The Biblical parable turned triumph-of-the-underdog cliché about David and Goliath clearly could use an update.

First, let’s lose the slingshot.

Our modern-day David wields a 9-iron.

I walk into Ryan Jamison’s Spartan little office in the main athletics building at Nova Southeastern University in Davie and the reason I’m there has put a little smile on both of our faces. The reason is serious, but also a little bit silly, right?

The men’s golf coach of an NCAA Division II team has just been voted South Florida’s Best Coach in a Miami Herald online readers poll.

Not best golf coach. Not best college coach. Best coach in any sport at all levels, defeating all comers including but not limited to much-more famous Goliaths such as two-time NBA champion Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

“I’ve gotten a lot of support from the university. They obviously blasted it out there,” Jamison, 33, explained his unlikely poll victory. “Apparently I also have a lot of family down here.”

Jamison, as if from Central Casting in a golf shirt and cap both bearing the Nike swoosh the day we met, cannot deny that a coach who is mostly anonymous even traipsing across his own campus would have zero shot at winning this kind of poll without an organized effort.

In this case that effort was begun by the school’s opportunistic sports information department, which wielded social media as adroitly as David did that Biblical slingshot.

There were 27 local coaches on the Herald’s ballot, 17 at the college level, five pro and five high school. The ballot was longer than the Dolphins’ Super Bowl drought.

There were 3,246 votes cast, and Jamison won 19.99 percent of them to comfortably beat runner-up Jim Larrañaga, the Miami Hurricanes men’s basketball coach, who had 13.49 percent. Spoelstra, whom I’d have called a heavy favorite going in even coming off a non-playoff Heat season, finished third with 11.21 percent.

“It’s very humbling to even be mentioned with some of these coaches,” Jamison said. “To have my name mentioned with a multiple champion like Mr. Spoelstra … it’s a tremendous honor.”

Jamison’s win amounted to Democracy in action. Is not the most successful politician the one whose campaign best inspires the electorate to the polls?

The timing of our decidedly unscientific poll also made it ripe for an underdog to sneak up the ladder, when you consider who South Florida’s highest-profile coaches are other than Spoelstra.

The Dolphins’ Joe Philbin and UM football’s Al Golden are widely unpopular and fighting for their jobs. Dan Jennings is an interim manager steering the hugely disappointing Marlins. And few outside of hockey fans have even heard of the Panthers’ Gerard Gallant. (Those four collected 3 percent of the vote — COMBINED).

Jamison’s competition also included Jill Ellis of Palmetto Bay. All she did was coach the U.S. to the Women’s World Cup title last month.

But as easy and understandable as it is to poke gentle fun at Jamison winning this thing, here’s something even funnier:

He might just have deserved to win.

Nobody has yet invented a metric that allows a fair comparison, beyond wins and losses, of the job done by coaches at different levels in different sports. With that caveat, our winner is hardly an undeserving best-coach contender.

Jamison, a former player and golf coach at DePaul, has been head coach three seasons at Nova Southeastern, and his teams finished third in the nation in 2012, second in 2013 and won the 2014 Division II national championship, led by top players Santiago Gomez and Richard Mansell. (The new college golf season begins Sept. 19).

Winning a national title is doubly impressive because just being the best D2 golf team in South Florida is tough. Miami-Dade’s Barry University and Palm Beach’s Lynn are among rivals with excellent programs.

Fierce recruiting competition, players sometimes turning pro in the middle of a season and a mere 3.6 scholarships to give all are perils of Division II golf coaching. Also, most top players have their own private teachers or swing coaches, which can be a delicate situation for colleges coaches.

Our area, though, is the magnet for top players you’d expect it to be. As Jamison puts it, “Green grass and warm weather is a great resource to attract golfers.”

There certainly are lots of bigger-name coaches in South Florida, ones more famous, higher paid and with longer résumés.

Somehow, though, David and his 9-iron beat them all.

“Crazy, right?” said the Best Coach.

Yes. Sort of great, too.


Who is the best coach in South Florida right now?

Coach (team)

Pct. (total votes)

Ryan Jamison (Nova men’s golf)

19.99% (649)

Jim Larrañaga (UM men’s basketball)

13.49% (438)

Erik Spoelstra (Heat)

11.21% (364)

LeAnn Freeland (Nova women’s basketball)

10.91% (354)

Danny Price (Miami-Dade College baseball)

5.51% (179)

Mike Kypriss (Dr. Krop tennis)

4.53% (147)

Randy Horner (FIU swim)

4.34% (141)

Jill Ellis (US Women’s World Cup)

4.31% (140)

Jimmy Stobs (Barry golf)

3.82% (124)

Someone else

3.67% (119)

Paige Yaroshuk-Tews (UM tennis)

2.74% (89)

Jim Morris (UM baseball)

2.13% (69)

George Samuel (Barry men’s tennis)

1.73% (56)

Lawton Williams III (Norland boys basketball)

1.57% (51)

Al Golden (UM Football)

1.36% (44)

Tim “Ice’’ Harris (UM assistant football coach)

1.23% (40)

Randy Ableman (UM, Olympic diving)

1.2% (39)

Avi Kigel (Barry women’s tennis)

1.05% (34)

Amanda Brown (Nova women’s golf)

0.83% (27)

Gerard Gallant (Panthers)

0.77% (25)

Katie Meier (UM women’s basketball)

0.71% (23)

Mike Rumph (American Heritage football)

0.46% (15)

Amy Deem (UM, Olympic track)

0.43% (14)

Dan Jennings (Marlins)

0.43% (14)

Joe Philbin (Dolphins)

0.43% (14)

Marcia Pinder (Dillard girls basketball)

0.43% (14)

Melvin Randall (Blanche Ely boys basketball)

0.4% (13)

Ron Turner (FIU football)

0.31% (10)

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