Tammie and Robert Jordan were well aware of their son’s aspiration of becoming a college basketball head coach. So when Notre Dame of Maryland announced earlier this year a search for someone to helm its inaugural men’s basketball program, T.J. Jordan heard from his parents.
“My parents were the ones that reached out to me, like, ‘What’s up?’” he said. “So I knew it was something I was going to be interested in.”
Turns out that mother and father know best. On Nov. 14, Jordan was named head coach of a Gators program that will make its debut in the 2023-24 season. Notre Dame of Maryland, which in September announced it will admit male students to its freshman class beginning next fall, will compete in the Colonial States Athletic Conference. Jordan’s first day at the office is Monday.
For Jordan, making the leap from coaching the varsity boys basketball team at McDonogh the past five seasons to leading a fledgling NCAA Division III program in Baltimore is an example of living out one of his parents’ favorite sayings.
“I guess you could say there was some risk, but at the same time, my parents have always instilled in me, ‘Bet on yourself,’” he said. “And this was one of those situations where opportunities present themselves, and you’ve got to take advantage of them, and this was one that I could not pass up. I had the blessings of my wife [Dr. Candice Jordan] and my parents, and they knew all of the hard work and hours and dedication that I put in when I first got into coaching. The opportunity of reaching one of my goals was something I had to take a chance on.”
Jordan has been grooming himself for such a moment. After a celebrated playing career at Bel Air High and St. Mary’s that included lifting the Seahawks to a Capital Athletic Conference championship and a berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament’s Sweet 16, he spent the 2008-09 season coaching the Bobcats boys team and then the 2009-10 campaign serving as an assistant coach at Susquehanna.
From 2010 to 2013, Jordan was the director of basketball operations at Lehigh before joining McDonogh as its JV boys basketball coach before taking over the varsity team in 2016.
At each stop and especially with the Eagles, Jordan said he grew as a coach.
“The first thing is, you can’t be stubborn as a head coach,” he said. “As a younger coach, whatever I had my mind made up on, that’s how I was going to go. But at the same time, I teach my guys about pivoting. So I really started to understand what that means — having to make adjustments. Going into a season, you can’t necessarily have your mind made up on how you’re playing and what you’re doing because you have to constantly assess what team you’re being presented with.”
Notre Dame of Maryland athletic director Ashley Hodges said Jordan was one of three finalists for the position and emerged as an appealing candidate because of his experience playing Division III basketball at St. Mary’s, his background as a local coach, his connections to the local basketball scene and his passion for the sport.
“Our staff has been really committed to training great athletes and helping them become their best persons. We really felt like T.J. demonstrated that throughout this interview process,” she said. “He came out with a recruiting plan, and we really felt like he was going to be the best person to help us shepherd through the transition and into this new era. His energy and his charisma and everything that he was bringing to the table really fit in with our department and university values.”
During the interview process, Jordan sought counsel from trusted confidants such as Chris Harney, who coached Jordan at Bel Air and St. Mary’s, and Dan Engelstad, who was Jordan’s roommate at St. Mary’s.
“The one thing that T.J. does well is, he doesn’t have an ego where he just tries to do it all himself,” said Harney, now in his 18th year with the Seahawks and an assistant athletic director for staff development. “He’s already been reaching out to a lot of people to get advice and feedback. He’s taking his time and being very methodical in his approach to this. I think that’s an early indication of how he’s going about this. So I think they’re going to have a lot of success.”
In agreeing to take over the Gators, Jordan inherits a program that must start from the bottom. But rather than be concerned, he said he is excited about the possibilities.
“There’s no senior veteran that has been there the year before or things of that nature,” he said. “But the biggest things I talk about are communication and accountability. So we’re going to talk through it and work through it together, and we’re going to grow day by day. I tell my guys when you’re part of a team, we’re going to have our ups, and we’re going to have our downs, and we’re going to do it together, and we’re going to be successful doing it.”
One of the more significant challenges awaiting Jordan is finding players to fill out the roster. But Engelstad, the coach at Mount St. Mary’s, said his former roommate will have little difficulty recruiting players because of his “dynamic personality.”
“Players will want to play for him, parents will trust him, and students will come out and support him,” Engelstad wrote via text. “T.J. will bring the energy.”
Without predicting the number of wins in his first season, Jordan said he would like for the Gators to be competitive in their debut. Hodges, the Notre Dame athletic director, said she and the university are prepared to help him and the team reach that goal.
“This is new for the university and new for athletics. So on that aspect, I think it’s a key hire,” she said. “But I also think we have all the support in place that are going to make T.J. successful at this. So I personally think that although this is a momentous hiring, he’s going to do great.”