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Where are they now: Matt Furjanic

Friday, January 04, 2002

By Rich Emert, Tri-State Sports & News Service

A weekly check on personalities who played a part in shaping the history of sports in Western Pennsylvania.

Matt Furjanic was having a telephone conversation with a friend when the talk turned to the temperature.

"Yeah, it has been cold here the last couple of days," Furjanic said. "It was down into the 60s yesterday."

If that friend could have reached through the phone, he would have tried to choke Furjanic.

"I forgot it was a little colder than that in Pittsburgh," said Furjanic, head basketball coach at Polk Community College in Winter Haven, Fla. "Here, it gets into the 60s and everybody talks about how cold it is. People panic when it snows in Georgia. Me? I wore shorts until Dec. 26."

A native of Rankin, Furjanic enjoys coaching basketball at Polk Community College even more than he likes the warm climate. He is best know for the five seasons he spent coaching the Robert Morris College men's team and the fact he put the Colonials on the NCAA basketball map.

Furjanic guided the Colonials from 1979 through 1984 and twice had them in the NCAA tournament.

In 1982, Robert Morris won the ECAC Metro Tournament and then lost to Indiana, 94-62, in an NCAA first-round game. In 1983, the Colonials again won the ECAC Metro title and then defeated Georgia Southern, 64-54, in a first-round NCAA game before losing to Purdue, 55-53.

This is Furjanic's second season at Polk Community College. He coached at Pitt-Greensburg for five years and at Woodland Hills High School for four seasons before heading south. He also spent two seasons as the head coach at Marist after leaving Robert Morris.

"I was self-employed, working in sales when I was coaching at Pitt-Greensburg," he said. "It was a case where I was spending more time looking at game film than I was doing my full-time job."

Furjanic knew Don Smith, the athletic director and basketball coach at Brevard Community College in Cocoa, Fla. Smith was giving up the basketball job and thought it would be a good fit for Furjanic, then school officials decided to make the coaching position at Brevard a part-time job.

"But he called me up and said he heard the Polk job was open, so I called here and got a couple of friends to call for me," said Furjanic, 51. "I went down for an interview and then was called back for a second interview, and they offered me the job in June a year and a half ago."

The community college basketball programs in Florida are more high powered than in Pennsylvania. They are almost all NJCAA Division I schools, which means they can offer full scholarships for tuition, housing and meals. Many of the junior-college players in Florida end up at NCAA Division I programs.

Polk Community College competes in the Sun Coast Conference and was 22-10 in Furjanic's first season despite the fact he got a late jump on recruiting. It just missed going to the state tournament. This season, Furjanic's team is 11-7 despite a rash of injuries.

"One of our players from last year, John Alexander, is at Central Connecticut State, which is in the same conference with Robert Morris," Furjanic said. "I've got four or five guys on the team this season who will end up going Division I. They may not end up in the Big East, but they'll be at Division I programs.

"That's one of the reasons I came down here. It was a chance to coach Division I college players again. My opportunities in Pittsburgh were limited, so I had to leave. It's a great situation, and we're able to recruit nationally. We get some players who didn't make it with the [Scholastic Assessment Test] and need to improve their grades and foreign players who needs a year to get their grades up."

Furjanic has a 320-198 career record and has had a winning program at every level. He wouldn't mind coaching at the NCAA Division I level again, but realizes those jobs are not easy to land.

He enjoys coaching in Florida. Furjanic pointed out the state is loaded with outstanding high school athletes and that more and more they are turning to basketball.

"It's easy to recruit a player to come here and play," Furjanic said. "The competition is good, a lot of Division I college coaches come to watch the games and there is the warm weather."

Polk Community College also has a central location. It is a three-hour drive from Miami, three hours from Jacksonville and 30 minutes from Walt Disney World in Orlando.

"Hey, we've got Disney passes," Furjanic said. "We'll sometimes just go over there on a Sunday and just walk around."

It looks as if Furjanic has found his magic kingdom.


If you have any suggestions or candidates for Where Are They Now?, e-mail Rich Emert at emert196@attbi.com.

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