Jeff Boals during the Bobcats' game against Miami Feb. 3, 2024.

Jeff Boals during the Bobcats' game against Miami Feb. 3, 2024.

Published February 22, 2024

The Importance of Home

Jeff Boals feels lucky to call The Convo home

By Robert Keegan III | Sports Editor

Every day, Ohio Coach Jeff Boals takes state Route 682 and gets off at the Richland Avenue exit for work. For most, a drive to work doesn’t have much significance. For Boals, a 1995 Ohio University graduate, the daily drive to work is a never-ending happy memory.

When Boals turns down the highway, he sees OU’s campus; he sees the rich nature of Appalachia; he sees Peden Stadium; but most importantly, he sees The Convo, a place that Boals has called his office for the last five years but also a place that has been home to him for a lot longer.

For people just passing through the area or the casual one-time campus visitor for a college tour, The Convo is just a large, rickety, old circular building that defines the skyline of bricks in Athens. For Boals, that big, rickety building is home to some of his fondest memories as a college basketball player.

Hanging from the circular roof of the building are championship banners from the 14 times Ohio has won the Mid-American Conference, but one, in particular, sticks out to Boals. A long banner with the year “1994” etched in white against fading green fabric.

The banner symbolizes the lifetime friendships Boals established with his teammates when he led the Bobcats to a MAC Championship as team captain.

“I bring up my team that I played with all the time to our guys,” Boals said. “Not really what we did on the court, the bond we had off the court. We still have a text chain to this day. When you play a team sport, you have a bond, but when you’re a championship team, you are bonded for life … There’s no better feeling than when you’re a part of something bigger than yourself …

Especially guys who didn't grow up in Ohio; they don't know the dynamics and the importance and what this place is about. It’s up to me to relive what I’ve done.”

When Boals sits down at his desk in the Vernon L. Alden Basketball Suite at The Convo, he reminisces on that MAC Championship and can’t believe that he found his way to the desk where Larry Hunter, legendary Ohio coach and Boals’ former mentor, once sat

It wasn’t Boals’ original goal to become a coach, but when an assistant job opened up during his final season playing — the season that Boals suffered a season-ending knee injury — he didn’t hesitate to stay in the Ohio family for just a little longer.

There were some unusual moments for Boals, going straight from playing on the team one year to being an assistant the next. He recalled facilitating study tables in Bentley Hall with players he used to call teammates. Nevertheless, Boals always saw himself as a coach on the floor during his playing days, so it didn’t take long for him to settle in.

At the time, Boals made only $6,000 to help out with the team, but it was never about the money. It was always for the love of the game and for his love of OU.

“My goal was always to be the head coach at Ohio University,” Boals said. “I’ve had calls since I’ve been here. I’m going to get (more) calls … But the grass isn't always greener.”

Though he’s worked for many different programs in his nearly 30-year coaching career and had opportunities to work at other schools, something always draws Boals back to Athens.

Maybe it's the scenic view driving down Richland Ave. or maybe it's all those fond memories he has as a player nearly 30 years ago at The Convo, but no matter what it is, Boals knows that he’s right where he wants to be.

Whether it's on a Tuesday night in primetime or a Saturday afternoon, Boals lights up The Convo with a fiery passion that goes way beyond his love for basketball. His emotion cascades over The Convo crowd on any given day because that is why he’s on the sidelines in the first place.

Boals is there because of the Athens locals, those who temporarily called OU home and the forever Bobcats.

Every time the final buzzer echoes through those circular walls, signifying an Ohio victory, Boals is the first to erupt from the bench with fists pumping as he rushes straight to the other end of the court to celebrate with the fans in the arena. If fans ever get discouraged, a simple gesture from Boals is enough to inject life right back into the crowd because that’s what he does. Boals rules The Convo with his heart, creating the rich culture of Ohio basketball.

When Boals first returned as head coach, many former Ohio staff from when he played welcomed him back with open arms. These are the people who Boals is eternally grateful for.

“When you go through college, you have so many experiences and you meet so many people, not only classmates, but professors,” Boals said. “When I came back, my academic adviser would come to my press conferences, which was really cool. My trainer retired, but he lived here; he was still around … When you look at campus, you look at people, you look at the job, it is the opportunity here; I just have an affinity for Ohio University. I loved it.”

Coaching in Athens has always been the dream for Boals, a dream that he lives out every day on the court of The Convo.

“(Playing at The Convo) never gets old; there are people in the stands that watched me play,” Boals said. “It’s a cool deal, there’s not a lot of people who can say they coached at their alma mater.”

AUTHOR: Robert Keegan III

EDITOR: Bobby Gorbett

COPY EDITOR: Addie Hedges