Say this much for Chris Jans: he's well connected. The new Bowling Green head man has many contacts through his time at various levels of college coaching, and he seems to be using every one of them to get as prepared as possible. At the top of the speed dial is his former boss, Gregg Marshall, who has built Wichita State into a powerhouse in a short period of time.
When the Falcons tapped Jans to take over for Louis Orr, who went 101-121 in seven seasons at BG, they were hoping to get the same sort of drive and relentlessness that made the Shockers such a successful program. Jans doesn't have the big-school pedigree behind him, but that could be a blessing. There won't be a culture shock thanks to his junior college and mid-major experience, as he already knows how to identify recruits who could outperform their rankings and to operate with small budgets. If he's successful, he could end one of the longest NCAA tournament droughts, as the Falcons haven't been to the Dance since 1968.
SI.com caught up with Jans in a rare moment of free time and discussed program building, mid-major experience, the opportunity Bowling Green presents and more.
SI: It’s been a busy few weeks for you. How has the experience treated you so far, and what’s life like as the head coach at Bowling Green?
Chris Jans: It’s been an overwhelming but fun experience thus far. You can talk to other coaches you know who have been through what you’re going through. You can attend conferences and hear about the first 30 or 90 days, but until you go through the onslaught (texts, phone, email, Facebook, Twitter) of people reaching out to you to congratulate you, inquire about a position on your staff, recommend a position to someone on your staff or inquire about possible prospects in a very short period of time, you can’t prepare for it if you’re a first-year division one head coach. Getting through that and finally feeling like you’ve gotten back to everybody in a satisfactory way, you hit the ground running and try to stay focused on what you think is important. For me it was getting to know the players I’ve inherited, hiring a staff and the underlying current of recruiting. That’s always the driving force every day.
SI: What’s your approach to recruiting? Every coach will say recruiting is important, but every coach seems to tackle it differently.
CJ: I think it’s first you have to evaluate the players you’ve inherited. Obviously not having a bunch of knowledge – it’s a different league – I didn’t know much about the players or the structure that was in place prior to coming here. We had five one-hour practices since I got here. Those were more informative for me than anything else.
In terms of philosophy, you have to balance trying to win right away and for the future. You have to keep both areas in mind when you’re making decisions on the student-athletes you’re interested in. At the end of the day we’re trying to find the biggest and best and most skilled prospects that are out there, but who also fit our philosophy. Spring recruiting is always a different animal. Thing happen quickly, people are making decisions early. One phone call can change everything. We’re trying to attack it with an aggressive approach and get involved with as many kids as we can.
SI: You mentioned that you can’t prepare for this, but you can talk to others. Who have you talked to specifically, and what sort of advice have you been given?
CJ: The first person I got to is the guy who put me in this position, Gregg Marshall. He’s been through it a couple times, at Winthrop and Wichita State. I communicated with him right away in the interview process and then when we knew I was going to accept it and move on. I tried to lean on him as much as I could. Obviously he was very helpful, and hopefully he’s someone I’ll always be able to lean on for advice. There are other guys out there that I know who have been through it, guys like Rick Ray at Mississippi State, Kareem Richardson at UMKC, Steve Prohm at Murray State and Greg Lansing at Indiana State. I really reached out to a number of different people to try and pick their brains from A to Z. All of them gave me tidbits of advice that I took and ran with at different times in the last few weeks.
SI: What was it about the Bowling Green job specifically that excited you?
CJ: I can’t pinpoint one specific factor that made this job so attractive, but the more information I gathered, the more I learned about BG specific to the men’s basketball program, the more excited I became. Initially the new facility, the Stroh Center, which was built which was built two and a half years ago, smells new and feels new. I felt they built the perfect size arena for this community. The university has a wonderful reputation. To have 18,000 students with 12 residence halls, the potential of having that many students on campus right next door to the Stroh Center is huge.
Once I learned about the players, I’ve been unbelievably impressed by their attentiveness, their receptiveness to coaching, their reputation on campus from talking to students and administrators. It’s a testament to coach [Louis] Orr and his staff for recruiting quality young men. Academically, there’s only one [out of the nine scholarship players] who is in academic peril. A lot of times when you take over a program that’s made a change, they have a bad attitude on campus, their reputation isn’t good, they have a lot of academic issues, it’s somewhat broken. I don’t think it is here.
The potential of it – with having not been to the NCAA tournament since 1968. I wasn’t even born yet the last time they made the Big Dance. That’s exciting. The women have raised nine banners in a row, between the NCAA tournament and the NIT. They play in the same place, they eat in the same cafeteria, they’re in the same residence halls. Why can’t the men do the same thing? I just think the potential for this program is huge.
SI: A lot of times when you see a program in a conference like the MAC, they’ll reach out to an experienced assistant from a power conference. It’s almost rare to see a person who was the top assistant at a mid-major with a lot of success get plucked. What benefits are there to that? Do you think there are advantages to hiring someone in your position?
CJ: I do think there are reasons why more people should look for guys like that. The obvious is that they’re in a non-BCS conference and they understand that fight in recruiting. They understand maybe some of the disadvantages you have to deal with in trying to run and build a non-BCS program. Why wouldn’t you want to take someone who’s been successful in helping build a program like to the heights that we had at Wichita State, as opposed to coming from a BCS conference and having more amenities, bigger budgets and not as many disadvantages? It certainly makes sense to me to pluck someone who’s been through those experiences and understands that animal a little bit better than some guys who have spent a majority of their careers in the BCS leagues. It got to the point where people didn’t view us at Wichita State with the success we had as a mid-major in terms of how scheduled, traveled and recruited. We certainly didn’t feel like we were and didn’t act like we were. The results didn’t say we were either.
SI: It’s unrealistic to expect a Final Four in year one or even in year two, but do you think a lot of the things you did at Wichita State are sustainable and are a good model to follow for the program you’re trying to build at Bowling Green? CJ: All coaches are thieves. I’m no different. We’re certainly going to steal, slash, borrow the blueprint we created at Wichita State and try to implement it at BG. Our floor model will be similar to how we played at Wichita State. Our recruiting model will be similar, but not quite the same because I feel like we’re in a location within a four-and-a-half hour radius where you can drive to places like Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Akron, Detroit, Columbus, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh. Where in Wichita, we weren’t afforded those fertile recruiting grounds. It won’t be completely the same, but we’re going to build the program on rebounding and playing hard. We’re not going to be afraid to take a kid who is an inch shorter or was maybe overlooked or doesn’t quite have the ranking as the next person. We want to see the upside and talent in the guys who have a chip on their shoulder and develop them over time. Then we’ll fill in with a junior college player who can make an impact and help get the program going while some of our high school kids develop.