After 16 years as an assistant men's basketball coach at Penn, Gil Jackson was prepared for the possibility he would never get a Division I head coaching job.

"Sixteen years is a long time, you never know," Jackson, 57, said after he was introduced as Howard's new head coach yesterday afternoon. "I wanted to be a head coach, but if it didn't happen I wasn't going to say I was not successful, because I was selective."

As it turned out, that selectivity led Jackson -- who met many of his new players for the first time yesterday -- back to a school with which he had previously interviewed. He was a candidate to become Howard's head coach in 1998, and also interviewed for jobs at Delaware, Dartmouth and Columbia during his time at Penn.

Bison junior Will Gant said the players were relieved to have a coach in place, especially one whose career has been marked by stability. And Howard President H. Patrick Swygert -- who said he was "absolutely convinced that we've got it right this time" -- said the relatively late hiring would not affect Jackson's attempt to turn around a 5-23 team.

"We understand that he's got building to do, not simply rebuilding, but building to do," Swygert said. "I don't think a month or two would have made very much difference. We know it's going to take time for the program to regain traction."

-- Dan Steinberg