When Ivin Jasper played football for the University of Hawaii, he mentioned to his position coach, Paul Johnson, that he wanted to coach someday.
Jasper did not wait long.
After Johnson was hired as Navy’s offensive coordinator, he thought of Jasper. The aspiring coach graduated the previous year and returned home to Los Angeles. Then the phone rang.
“I’ve got a position for you,’’ Jasper recalled Johnson saying.
Jasper, 50, started his coaching career at Navy straight out of college in 1995 and 1996 before leaving for the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, Rhode Island, for one season. It’s what he has accomplished in his second stint at the academy, though, that is noteworthy. Jasper entered his 19th consecutive season at Navy, and is known as a loyal coach in a profession that usually regards that quality as if it belongs in a bygone era, like leather helmets.
Only two active Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) head coaches have held their jobs longer than Jasper’s current stint shaping Navy’s option offense. Kirk Ferentz is entering his 22nd season at Iowa, and Gary Patterson has coached Texas Christian every year since 2001.
“It’s been a combination of things — just a blessing. The system’s been in place; I love coaching here, the love for this place,’’ Jasper said of his longevity.
Connections help, too.
Johnson has hired Jasper three times. After Jasper coached at Indiana State in 1998, he rejoined his mentor at Georgia Southern, where Johnson was the head coach. The Eagles celebrated two Division I-AA national championships during their time there, spurring Navy to offer Johnson the chance to become its head coach in 2002. Jasper returned as well.
Johnson got a position at Georgia Tech in 2008 and tried to persuade Jasper to join him.
“I would have totally understood if [Jasper] had decided to go,’’ said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, who replaced Johnson.
Another disciple of Johnson’s coaching philosophy, Niumatalolo described trying to retain Jasper as a Jedi knight recruiting against Yoda.
Score one for the Jedi knight.
“I just wanted to stay here, and really it wasn’t because I became a coordinator,’’ said Jasper, who became Navy’s offensive coordinator in 2008 and a father of three.
“That had nothing to do with it. I just liked staying in Annapolis. My family loved it. My wife loved it here. And really, I just loved coaching these kids.’’
As for those players, they have thrived in Jasper’s offense. He has coached the two most prolific players in school history in terms of total offense: all-time leader Keenan Reynolds and Malcolm Perry. Both were NFL draft picks, including Perry in the seventh round by the Miami Dolphins in April of 2020.
Since 2002, Jasper has coached in 15 of the 24 bowl games in which the Midshipmen have played since the football program began in 1891. Jasper was on the staff when Navy beat California in the 1996 Aloha Bowl.
Navy went 11-2 in 2019, defeated Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl and led the nation in rushing offense. The Midshipmen currently have a record of 3-7, and most recently lost to archrivals, Army, on Dec. 12 with a score of 0-15.
“We always have to master those mundane details,’’ Navy slotback Myles Fells. “Be gritty. Be tough. He likes those types of players.’’
Army coach Jeff Monken has known Jasper since he was a graduate assistant at Hawaii in the early 1990s. Navy won the service academies’ annual matchup 31-7 in 2019.
“So much of what we do and they do [on offense] — we’re looking in the mirror, which is probably why our games, with the exception of last year, have been really close games and hard-fought battles,’’ Monken said.
Those competitive moments invigorate Jasper.
At this point, he couldn’t imagine experiencing them anywhere else. He motivates his players, but inspiration flows both ways.
“I’ve learned to block everything out and come out every single day with the same energy, the same attitude, because these kids do it,’’ Jasper said. “If they can, why can’t I?’’