In 2015 Chris Jans led Bowling Green to its first postseason win in nearly 40 years.
In the grainy photograph, snapped in a Bowling Green, Ohio bar on March 21, 2015, Chris Jans has a smirk on his face and a hand on a woman’s butt. The photo went viral on the internet hours after it was taken and within days Jans had been fired as coach of Bowling Green men’s basketball.
Despite leading Bowling Green to 21 wins in his first season as coach, a nine-win improvement over the previous season that included the program’s first postseason victory in nearly 40 years, Jans was dismissed and disgraced. After 25 years building a career as a junior college head coach and Division I assistant, he’d ruined the opportunity he always worked toward, leaving behind a contract worth more than $1 million the next four years.
The incident could have destroyed Jans’ chances of being a DI head coach again. Initially, Jans felt his time may have come and gone. In time, he realized if he made the necessary changes personally and handled the situation properly, another opportunity might arise down the road.
“I didn’t know when it would be,” he said. “But I was willing to grind it out and prove to people that I deserved another chance. I didn’t have a timetable per se, but if I handled it correctly and learned from it I would be given another opportunity - and fortunately I was.”
He spent the last two years as a special assistant to Gregg Marshall at Wichita State, returning to the school where he’d spent seven years as an assistant before he took the job at Bowling Green.
The second chance arrived last spring when New Mexico State hired Jans as head coach. He’s seized the moment, leading the Aggies to a 15-3 record and a share of first place in the Western Athletic Conference standings.
Before he could move forward in Las Cruces at the tradition-rich program - the Aggies have played in the NCAA tournament in seven of the last 11 years - Jans addressed the incident in Bowling Green, discussing it at length during his introductory press conference last April.
“I made a huge mistake and I have paid for it dearly,” Jans said then. “As coaches, we talk all the time about consequences and actions. And I failed that night. It was embarrassing, it was embarrassing for my family, it was embarrassing for the university, it was embarrassing for the students and it was embarrassing for anyone who was a Chris Jans fan. It was an embarrassment for college basketball and I’m not proud of it."
He was also up front with his new players at New Mexico State when he met them as a group for the first time.
“It’s something that we discussed in a detailed manner after I arrived, trying to use my experience to help others avoid putting themselves in those type situations,” he said. “I’m a living example there are consequences for your actions and you can learn from incidents and turn negative into a positive and change and I’m also a living example of that. We’re trying to use it to our advantage.”
His transparency is refreshing.
There was a petition to terminate his contract at New Mexico State circulating campus before he ever settled in. However, the chairwoman of the NMSU Board of Regents praised Jans for his accountability and said their research and her lengthy one-on-one meeting with the new coach confirmed it was an isolated incident and not a reflection of his character.
There was a transition within the team and it wasn’t always a smooth one during the summer and into the preseason, Jans said. Players weren’t necessarily on the same page with the coaching staff in the early stages as Jans and his assistants attempted to lay the foundation and build a winning culture for the long haul.
Poor outings in a closed-door scrimmage and exhibition game sounded an alarm for the Aggies and impetus to change, from Jans’ perspective.
“(It) was really a wake-up call for everybody that if we don’t figure this out quickly and get on the same page, it’s going to be a rough season,” he said. “I’ve just been impressed with their ability to be on the same page and build that togetherness. I think as the games have unfolded, just the competitive spirit they’ve built among themselves. They’re playing hard for one another and they’re trusting one another and I wouldn’t have said that in the summer and the fall.”
The personnel is in place to earn New Mexico State its third WAC regular season title in four years. The Aggies are in excellent shape because they played their first three conference games on the road and knocked off fellow contenders Cal State Bakersfield and Grand Canyon.
Jemmerio Jones, a 6-5 forward, has emerged as one of the best rebounders in the nation (11.4 per game), and a dynamic vocal leader. Shunn Buchanan (14.7 minutes per game) plays a smaller role on the court but an equally important one in leadership. And, with Zach Lofton, the Aggies have a guard who can dominate winning time as he proved via a 29-point outburst in a 70-59 win at Grand Canyon last week. Lofton, who is at his fourth Division I school and fifth college since 2012, leads New Mexico State with 19.9 points per game on 51 percent shooting.
The team has embraced the defensive identity Jans acquired from Marshall and previous mentors and instilled at Bowling Green, where he was named Joe B. Hall Coach of the Year in 2015. The Aggies are top 50 in the nation in defensive efficiency, top 30 in scoring defense and a powerful rebounding team, as they put on display against Miami (FL) en route to a 63-54 victory in the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas weekend. NMSU narrowly lost in the finals to Southern Cal.
All those years changing jobs, from junior college head coaching gigs to DI assistant roles, gave Jans the tools to handle any situation he might encounter on the bench or within a program. They also made him ready to put down roots in Las Cruces. He and his wife, Sherri, bought a house in the area and he signed a four-year, bonus-laden deal that guarantees him $250,000 this season and $20,000 raises in the next two.
New Mexico State is a proud program with a passionate fan base, averaging more than 4,500 fans for home games this season. Jans plans not to disappoint them.
“Those of you who are raising an eye or are leery of the university making this decision, I understand that too,” Jans said during his introductory press conference. “All I ask is that you let me earn your trust, you let me earn your respect and I think you’ll be very proud of the way I go about my business. I think you would be very proud how I lead this program and I want to be a source of pride for all of you down the road.”
Jans has been to the brink and returned a better man. In the land of second chances he’s grateful to have another shot and determined to learn from the past and use his influence to help his players avoid a similar misstep.