When Tom Baker resigned from his role as Ithaca College men’s basketball head coach in 1997, he had totaled 307 wins. His assistant coach, Jim Mullins, was named the interim head coach for the 1997–98 season.
On January 12, 2018, Mullins secured the 308th win of his career, making him the winningest coach in program history. He said the record is a reflection of time and his ability to surround himself with good people.
“It means I’ve been around for a while,” Mullins said “I’ve had a lot of good players and a lot of great assistant coaches to help me, you know, who played a big role, and I guess, more than anything else, it’s indicative of longevity, really.”
Senior guard Marc Chasin said the record is a testament to Mullins’ lasting impact on the program.
“It makes me appreciate having a coach with so much experience,” Chasin said. “Having so many wins, it just gives me a reason to trust him even further. I’m really proud of him and I’m happy for his accomplishment.”
Mullins took the helm of the men’s basketball team in 1997 after five years as assistant coach. During Mullins’ time assisting Baker, the Bombers went 86–46 and had back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time in program history from 1992–94.
Mullins said his familiarity with the team made taking over as head coach easy.
“It was a very smooth transition,” Mullins said. “I had recruited a bunch of the guys who were already on the team and I was running our offensive schemes at that point so I didn’t have many changes to make.”
University of Massachusetts Athletic Director Ryan Bamford ’00, who was a sophomore when Mullins took over as head coach, said the whole team was excited when Mullins was promoted.
“When he was our assistant, he was the guy that a lot of our guys went to because he is a great relationship guy,” Bamford said. “When they made him full-time, it was like, ‘This is great, let’s go build a winning program, let’s do it together.’ I’ve felt that way for the last 20-plus years with him as a mentor.”
Mullins’ best season was 2008-09, when the Bombers went 24–3 and lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament. In the 2012-13 season, he led the Blue and Gold to a 17–8 record. They went on to win an Empire 8 Conference Championship, which gave the Bombers a berth to the NCAA Tournament, where they went to the round of 16.
Sean Rossi ’13, graduate assistant coach at Misericordia University, who set the career-assist record for Division III under Mullins, said Mullins’ achievement is a rare accomplishment.
“One of the most difficult challenges in college basketball is to achieve sustainable success,” Rossi said. “To be a part of those 308 wins makes me appreciate how lucky I am to be part of Coach Mullins’ legacy.”
A large part of Mullins’ legacy on South Hill is the coaching tree below him. Rossi is one of many former players or assistant coaches under Mullins who have become coaches elsewhere.
“The four years of experience playing for him is all the advice I need,” Rossi said. “He made me realize that coaching isn’t about the X’s and O’s — it is about passion, values and love for your team. The culture that he built during my time at Ithaca, especially my senior year, is something that I strive to achieve myself, as a coach. We were truly a family.”
Sean Burton ’09, Mullins’ current assistant coach, said his relationship with Mullins changed drastically from when he played to when he started coaching.
“As a player, I didn’t have the day-to-day interactions with him ,” Burton said. “Every once in a while … I’d stop in his office and just hang out and chat. Now, working together and being together all day every day during the course of the season and the off-season, showed me he’s an amazing man. He makes these kids better players and people at the same time, and I think that’s what all great coaches have done.”
Another coach who came from Coach Mullins’ staff is Nevada Smith. Smith was an assistant coach under Mullins from 2005–11 and is now the head coach of the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA G League. Smith said Mullins has always served as a guiding voice throughout his career.
“He teaches you about basketball and about life,” Smith said. “He’s a fun guy just to hang out with and talk about many different things, he knows a little bit about everything, he’s always there for you, so you can always call. He’s been important in my life. In my growth over the years, I continue to reach out to him for advice and help along the way.”
Mullins said breaking the wins record is nice, but it does not affect the goals he sets for his team every season.
“Every year, our expectation is to win our league and go deep into the postseason,” Mullins said. “That doesn’t change whether you’re in the first year of your career or the last year. I don’t think anybody sets out to accomplish milestones — I never looked at Coach Baker’s record looking to break it. The thing about any milestone is that it involves lots of people; it’s not an individual accomplishment.”
Senior guard Carroll Rich said the record is representative of the impact Mullins has had at the college.
“I think it’s a great testament to Coach Mullins,” Rich said. “He deserves every one he’s got. In my four years here, he’s been one hell of a coach for me, and I’m sure my teammates can attest to that.”