Chris Jans (R) receives his Bowling Green jersey from Athletic Director Chris Kingston. (Courtesy of Bowling Green Athletics)
As the new men's basketball coach at Bowling Green, Chris Jans has many concerns.
One of them is finding a place to live, besides the hotel that has served as temporary lodging since he took the job on March 24. But his homelessness is not a high-priority issue. More pertinently, Jans has to decide whether his players will attend both summer school sessions or just one. He has to figure out if there is time to run a summer camp. He has to select a meal plan. He has to settle on the gear that his new staff will wear on the recruiting trail. He must choose what kind of logos will be on that gear. He will decide it all, all the way down to what stationery Bowling Green's basketball office will use.Jans arrived by way of Wichita State, where he was an assistant coach, which means he has lived in a program approaching perfection. He believes his personal investment matters.
“I'll be very hands-on from A to Z in the program,” Jans said. “I'm involved in every decision that we're trying to make. There's a lot of newness walking in the door. I'm trying to get as educated as I can about our situation and how things work.”
Reengineering Bowling Green on a 1,300-acre patch of land in northern Ohio requires expertise and rigorous attention to detail, especially when considering the school’s 46-year absence from the NCAA tournament. It also requires money, which is why the task might be less daunting than it seems: Bowling Green is working with the bulk of a $20 million gift from longtime fan and benefactor Bill Frack. It's an endowment the school estimates will generate roughly $675,000 annually to supplement the regular budget for the men's basketball program. It's coin that gives the Falcons new options when it comes to scheduling, recruiting, salaries or whatever is on a given year's wish list.
Bowling Green needed a boost to operate like a Gonzaga or a Wichita State, the mid-major schools that have near-major basketball commitments. Wichita State's basketball expenses in 2012-13 exceeded $5.3 million per U.S. Department of Education data, for example, while Bowling Green's were less than $1.5 million. But it should have more resources, and it should have a coach who comes off a seven-year tutorial on how to maximize them.
“That's the goal,” Jans said. “I can't sit here and tell you that's the end-all, is to try to replicate what we did at Wichita State, but it's certainly something to shoot for. If we're focused and have that mentality that we're getting there every day and get the right student-athletes in our program, and we shoot for goals like that, the final results will be pretty darn good and everyone in the program will be happy with results and where the program is going.”
Bowling Green has been committed to pursuing athletic success; the football team just won the MAC championship and the women's basketball team has earned nine straight bids to either the NCAA tournament or the WNIT. Jans doesn't have to convince anyone that winning in men's basketball is necessary. That's also self-evident in the team's home, the 4,700-seat Stroh Center that is not even three years old.
Still, the Frack gift dwarfs everything else. His initial pledge announced in 2011 was $10 million, and he gave another $10 million in April. Whether Jans would have assumed the burden of building a winner at Bowling Green without that money is a different story. (“That's a good question,” he said.“Fortunately I don't have to answer it.”) But it's also moot. The money simply enables the program to operate at a different level. Bowling Green reported $1.46 million of men's basketball expenses in 2012-13, ranking 11th out of 12 teams in the MAC. The money won't bring them as high as Ohio's league-high $3.22 million, but it will help close the gap.
“It's going to be a game-changer for us, in terms of where we are not just in the MAC, but in the landscape of Division I basketball,” athletic director Chris Kingston said. “My job is to make sure that these coaches and these student-athletes have everything they need and a lot of what they want. This will help us get kind of over the top with the 'wants.'”
Using these funds to improve training facilities or to dole out raises to keep valued assistants or to commandeer jets for recruiting trips doesn't make Bowling Green unique among basketball programs, but it’s a benefit.
“It helps more here than it would at the higher levels,” Jans said, “because most of those schools already have that kind of money.”
These are fundamental problems that were pre-solved for him. Now comes the basketball part, using the resources to help create a product worth watching. There, too, Jans insists he arrives ahead of the game.
Personnel attrition follows coaching changes almost as naturally as outsize expectations. Yet not one potential returnee on the Falcons' roster, Jans said, expressed a desire to transfer. If that holds, Bowling Green will return its top four scorers from 2013-14, all of whom averaged in double-digits, led by Richaun Holmes (13.3 points, 7.7 rebounds per game). Three of them will be seniors. Cynically, one might argue that returning four top players from a 12-20 team means that you just have four middling players who are a year older. But at least Jans has something to work with, in several senses: At every team meeting, every individual confab, every workout, he says his new players have showed up on time. “They're just starving to win,” Jans said. “A lot of times when you take over a program that has made a decision to change leadership, it's broke. That's what I'm excited about – it's not broke.”
His Wichita State pedigree – the Final Four trip in 2012-2013, the 35-0 start in 2013-14 – helps make what he's selling more believable. And when Jans discusses the “non-negotiable” staples of the program he intends to build, he does not stray far afield from what worked at Wichita.
He cited a statistic that 80 percent of teams that win the rebounding battle win the game, so his Bowling Green teams will rebound, just like Wichita State did. (The Shockers ranked eighth nationally in rebound margin last season.) And the Falcons will defend, too, just like Wichita State did in ranking 12th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency last season, per kenpom.com. If it's not exactly Play Angry at first, it's Play Hard, with Angry evolving from that. “We'll get after the basketball,” Jans said. “We're going to take people out of what they want to do.”
After Jans arrived at Wichita State as part of head coach Gregg Marshall's staff in 2007, the Shockers won 11 games in Year 1. The program didn't earn an NCAA tournament bid until four years later. So when Jans interviewed with Kingston for the Bowling Green job, knowing how arduous the undertaking would be, he had questions about recruiting, budgets, resources, budgets and available scholarships. Everything, Kingston said, that left him comfortable that Jans “could come be the CEO of the program.”
“He's got experiences that are unmatched in some areas where he's prepared his whole entire career to be right here doing this,” Kingston said.
Both Jans and Kingston flinch a bit when the discussion frames Bowling Green as the next Wichita State. There's still quite a gap to cover there, and they want the program to stand on its own merit anyway. Either way, that requires both a plan and the resources to enact the plan.
The school now has a coach with a plan that works. It also has the means to put the plan in place.