Unfiltered: Jay Jacobs Carves Unique Spot As WVU Color Man
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The other day Jay Jacobs, the venerable color commentator of West Virginia basketball, decided to take a drive in the woods to shake off the cobwebs of quarantine from the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s something he’s been doing daily in recent days as he goes about what has been successful rehab from a hip injury that is putting a new bounce in his step, which everyone past the age of 80 would like to have.
Jacobs lives over in Maryland and he wandered down a country road he didn’t know.
Suddenly, he finds himself surrounded by very official looking guys.
“I’m in the middle of going into Camp David,” Jacobs says. “Oh, it was a mess. I’m telling you, I had to give everything I had, my address, everything. I don’t know what they thought I was going to do.”
Welcome to the world of Jay Jacobs.
Jacobs, of course, is the wonderfully wacky and often astute color radio broadcaster on West Virginia basketball games, the man who is Frack to play-by-play man Tony Caridi’s Frick. He mixes humor with basketball insight, far more insight than you might expect from him, as free a spirit as he is.
“I don’t know what it is in me. I’ve had people, especially my wife, tell me that ‘Jay, your wit is so quick.’ That’s probably why I made a living at it,” he says.
And he’s done it for a long time, going back into the 1970s.
He makes the broadcasts into basketball commentary with a giggle, leaving Caridi wondering what will come out of his mouth.
“He was doing a TV game years ago against the University of Massachusetts and a kid from there came to the foul line and they zoomed in on him when he was shooting,” Caridi said, beginning to laugh even before he got to telling the story. “The kid’s face was loaded with acne and Jay says, ‘Well, there he is, our Clearasil player of the game.’
“That led to some letters of apology. A lot of letters of apology.”
“Then there was a Coliseum game once and a ball goes out of bounds in the corner and it goes back where they had stored the practice baskets. A state trooper went back there to get the ball and what’s Jay say?
“‘Special thanks to Barney Fife for helping us out there.’ He probably didn’t need to say that.”
But that’s Jay Jacobs, always has been.
“Working with him is like wearing a customized glove,” Caridi says. “He and I have been together for a long time. Our first game working together was 1988, so it’s probably so smooth and comfortable that you don’t even know you have it on.”
If you do the math that’s 32 years and he still comes up with things Caridi doesn’t fully believe.
“There’s no question, even though we have worked together for so long, that he will give you a line where you have to do a head turn or a double take. That has happened often during the years,” Caridi admits.
“You don’t know what he is going to say. His funniest stuff comes when something has happened during the game and he hasn’t had a whole time to think about it. He’s always been a character … always.”
“Some of the stuff he used to do he can’t get by anymore,” Caridi went on. “For example, 9/11 put an end to sitting inside one of those plastic cases they have on the baggage carousels they have at the airports and riding around like he was on a merry-go-round.
“And he no longer can, because he’s a little bit older, stand on the toilet seat in the men’s room, a foot on each side of it and look down at the people in the other stalls and shout out: ‘Look at me, I’m Shawn Bradley.’”
Bradley was a 7-foot, 6-inch basketball player who played at BYU in the early ’90s before going on to a NBA career.
But it is during Bob Huggins’ weekly radio show where Jacobs can really cut loose, unrestrained by having to worry about such matters as a basketball game going on.
He is there with his real foil, the veteran coach, and Caridi and a live audience … and let’s just say that it has always been a no-holds-barred couple of hours a week during the basketball season.
“The Huggins show?” Jacobs says, repeating the question. “That thing is just crazy. It’s like ‘Seinfeld’, two hours of nothing and people just love it. The give and take Huggs and I have, I think maybe it’s my age. At my age, what are they going to do, fire me?”
Caridi, being there with Huggins and Jacobs, feels something like Alice In Wonderland, sitting there with the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit.
“It’s bizarre, unlike any other talk show in the country,” said Caridi, who has done decades of talk shows for MetroNews. “I’ve often said it’s so bad that it’s good. There, you really don’t know what’s coming. I do know that Jay is going to come with something off the wall, but I have no idea what’s coming until he says it.”
The conversation can range across topics, with basketball being the least likely.
“It’s kind of hard to pull off two hours on just basketball for 16 shows a year, talking about slipping a screen,” Caridi said. “I think if Huggs had his way it would be two percent basketball and 98 percent fooling around, and that fits right into Jay.”
Huggins and Jacobs have that kind of chemistry that you can’t fake. They genuinely like each other and enjoy the relationship, a relationship where Huggins is always the instigator and Jacobs plays along.
“He and I are really good friends,” Jacobs said. “Huggs has a heart as big as the Coliseum floor. People don’t realize that side of him. He’s helped so many people. I guess he likes me because he’s on me constantly.”
Jacobs did not set out to be a broadcaster.
He is from Morgantown, went to Morgantown High and actually despite his unimposing physical presence was one of the school’s greatest basketball players.
He was first team all-state and held the school scoring record for years. Upon graduating, he was given a scholarship to play at WVU. It wasn’t until Nathan Adrian came along a few years back that another Morgantown High player would get a scholarship to play basketball at the home town school.
Jacobs — quote/unquote — played at WVU during the Golden Era of Jerry West.
“It was more unquote,” Jacobs said.
In two varsity seasons he played 11 games and 22 minutes, scoring 11 points and making five field goals.
In fact, he is far more famous for a game he didn’t play in.
WVU was playing and winning by a lot when coach Fred Schaus walked down to the end of the bench to where Jacobs was sitting. Jacobs has always explained he was there to block the wind from blowing through the old Fieldhouse, keeping West and the other star players from getting sick.
“Get in there,” Schaus said to his seldom-used reserve.
“I can’t,” Jacobs replied.
“You can’t?” said a stunned Schaus.
“No, I don’t have my uniform on under these sweats,” said Jacobs.
So it was with Jay Jacobs, even then.
“I don’t know what it was, I started doing all that crazy stuff,” he said. “It’s funny, I never had the small guy syndrome. I never wore the elevated shoes. I just enjoy people and people have always seemed to respond to me.”
Jacobs actually became friendly with West, the greatest player ever at WVU and one of the NBA’s all-time greats, before they arrived together in Morgantown.
“In 1956, if you got hold of a Charleston Gazette at that time, you were lucky. Every once in a while I’d come across one and I’d look at the Kanawha Valley box scores and I started to follow Jerry West,” he said. “I knew Jerry a little because when we were at Boys State together with Willie Akers.”
They wound up playing against each other in the state championship game that year.
“We played them his senior year in the State Championship game in the Fieldhouse in 1956. I think he fouled out in the third quarter and had 36 points. If he’d have played the whole game I think he would have had 55,” Jacobs said.
Then they went to an All-Star game and played together and a friendship began that exits to this day.
They played on one of the greatest freshmen teams ever assembled at WVU.
“To me, Jerry was very introverted. When we came on campus as freshmen, we’d go down to the old Fieldhouse and work out and we always hung out together. I started to get to know Jerry,” Jacobs said.
It was proof positive that opposites attract.
“He was never the life of the party … because he was never at the party,” Jacobs said. “Jerry was very, very smart, smarter than his time. He got better and better, but his mind and mental aspect of the game got stronger and stronger.”
Their best team was in their sophomore year when they went 26-2, losing only to Duke in the regular season, only to be eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Manhattan.
“Don Vincent got hurt in the Southern Conference championship game on Saturday,” he said. “The NCAA Tournament started right on Monday and we had to play without him and Manhattan beat us.”
The next year they somehow managed to lose five games but went all the way to the NCAA final, losing by a point to California, the only WVU basketball team to reach an NCAA final.
“I believe if we had 20 more seconds against California in Lousville we’d have won the championship because Jerry got hot at the end,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs went into education upon graduating, moved to Maryland and was teaching and coaching basketball. Broadcasting was not on his radar.
But circumstances thrust him in that direction.
An assistant principal’s job came open and it paid more than the teaching job, but the school board would not let Jacobs coach basketball. He weighed it over and decided his connection with basketball was through.
However, a local TV company that was far ahead of its time approached him with the idea of him doing some high school games, which would be taped and played back the next day.
Jacobs bit and, as it would happen, one of those tapes found its way to Morgantown.
“Paul Miller, who was assistant athletic director at West Virginia under Dick Martin, saw a game and looked me up. He was starting TV here at West Virginia and said they were doing about eight games.” He asked if Jacobs would do them.
“I’ll take a shot at it,” Jacobs said. “And that’s how I started doing the games.”
That was TV-only. In 1996 assistant athletic director Mike Parsons approached and said they were going to put someone on radio with the legendary Jack Fleming.
Jacobs was leery of working with someone as famous as Fleming.
“I’m not doing anything unless he approves it,” Jacobs said.
“He already has approved it,” Parsons said.
And so it began.
Jacobs takes his broadcasting more seriously than you may imagine. He does his homework.
“The thing that is most impressive to me is that he has not missed a beat when it comes to preparation,” Caridi said. “Every single game he comes to, whether it’s a non-conference game in November, a conference game or NCAA Tournament game, with him it’s about preparation.
“He sits down with his stuff in front of him. He has notes on every single player we are going to play against and updates his WVU stuff constantly,” Caridi continued. “A lot of these guys as they get older they feel they can get away from that but I think he actually does understand that as you get older you have to work harder so you stay in the moment as to what’s happening.”
This goes back to his first year with Fleming.
“What taught me was in my first year with Jack and Woody O’Hara. We talked about switching from radio at halftime. Jack would come to TV in the second half. He wanted everything to be perfect,” Jacobs began.
They were playing at Virginia Tech in Cassell Coliseum and there the radio broadcast booth was way up high and TV was on the floor. So he, Woody and Jacobs took a ride over to the arena the night before with the idea of timing how long the switchover would take.
“We did it and he got down to the floor with about 30 seconds left before we would be going back on the air,” Jacobs recalls.
He recalled one other thing.
“We forgot one thing … the 11,000 people that were in there,” Jacobs said.
So now the game comes and Jacobs is ready for the stand-up with Fleming before the second half.
Only thing is, Fleming isn’t there.
Nick Smith is directing in the truck and he says to Jacobs, “What do you got?”
“I haven’t got a damn thing,”
“Well, I don’t know,” says Smith, “but 5-4-3-2-1, you’re on.”
And here’s Jacobs, alone in front of the camera with nothing to say.
“The dancing girls from Virginia Tech were out on the floor behind me, I just started describing stuff about these girls and I darn near got fired,” Jacobs said. “That was not good, but that’s what taught me to be prepared. I never want to get caught like that again.”
This wasn’t the only incident that came about in the switching of the guard from radio and TV for Fleming in those days.
There was the night in Penn State when halftime came when Fleming was working his way down to the floor, hit something and, as Jacobs so quaintly puts it, “split his face open”.
“He didn’t realize he had blood all over him and comes up there and is ready to put his headset on,” Jacobs explained. “I said to Nick in the truck, ‘He can’t go on like this.’”
And this was what Nick Smith had to say … again.
“I don’t know, Jay, but 5-4-3-2-1 … “
“He put me on the air and they had to grab Jack away and clean him up before he could get back on the air,” Jacobs said.
The Caridi-Jacobs broadcasting team came together quite accidentally in 1988.
“The first time we worked together, I did a Morgantown High game on Friday night and I get home and the phone rings and Mike Parsons says Jack Fleming has a little medical situation and can’t travel to New York,” Caridi recalled. “Can you get to New York?”
West Virginia was to play a strong Rhode Island team in Madison Square Garden.
“I said I can get there, but I’d never done radio or TV for WVU at that point. I was still doing high school games and the talk show,” Caridi said. “I asked what I would do, radio or TV and Parsons said he didn’t know but that we would figure it out when I got there.”
So he gets to the Garden for the night game and joins Jacobs.
“We’re on the floor at the Garden, we’re getting ready to do the stand up, there’s like three or four minutes to air and I say to Jay, I think I’m going to ask you about this, this and this,” Caridi recalled. “And Jay says, ‘Don’t worry about it. Whatever you say, I’ll handle it.’ From that moment on, it was like, got it!”
And here we are, 32 years later and they’ve created their own place in WVU broadcast history.