ST. LOUIS — This all looks familiar to Jim Schaus.
His school is in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16, surprising many, with a coach he hired to revive a basketball program. Back home, fund-raising and planning is underway to improve his school’s athletic facilities.
Schaus helped make that happen in 2006 with Wichita State. Now he is athletic director at Ohio University, which plays North Carolina on Friday night at the Edward Jones Dome.
“Success is always a team effort,” Schaus said. “Our administration, our donors, a lot of people helped us. It’s very analogous to what happened at Wichita State. Each place is always a little bit different, but some of those criteria make sense wherever your are.”
In 2006, coach Mark Turgeon led WSU to the Sweet 16, capping almost seven years of work for Schaus, highlighted by hiring Turgeon and renovating Koch Arena. Ohio is in the NCAA Tournament for the second time under coach John Groce, hired by Schaus in 2008, and in the Sweet 16 for the first time in the tournament’s current format.
Schaus departed WSU in the spring of 2008 for Ohio, a move that put him in charge of a football program and put him closer to his aging parents. It also presented him a different challenge. Athens, Ohio, is a city of around 23,000 in southeast Ohio, about 40 miles from West Virginia. The university enrolls around 20,000 students on its main campus.
“Athens is a very small market,” he said. “We don’t have a commercial TV station. This type of national-level exposure is really important for the school. It really helps us brand who Ohio University is. It’s true everywhere, but in a smaller, more rural area, it’s even more critical.”
The Bobcats are in the national spotlight with Groce leading the way. Schaus didn’t expect to be hiring a men’s basketball coach when he took over in April 2008. Coach Tim O’Shea won 19 or more games in each of his final four seasons at Ohio before leaving for NCAA Division I newcomer Bryant (R.I.) in June 2008. Schaus hired Groce from Thad Matta’s staff at Ohio State later that month.
That Schaus handled the odd timing and made a good hire will surprise no one in Wichita. He built a reputation for excellent judgment at WSU, hiring successful coaches such as Turgeon, current men’s basketball coach Gregg Marshall, women’s basketball coach Jody Adams, volleyball coach Chris Lamb and track and field coach Steve Rainbolt.
Marshall intrigued Schaus in 2006, when WSU played in the same site as Winthrop in the NCAA Tournament. When Turgeon went to Texas A&M in 2007, Schaus pursued Marshall. The same kind of homework helped him land Groce.
“You have to be prepared for change,” said Dan Hauser, a senior associate athletic director at Ohio. “He is in tune with who are outstanding coaches right now, whether that be assistant coaches or head coaches. When those scenarios occur, he’s got in his mind some individuals he wants to discuss and talk to.”
Schaus’ personality is also a good fit at Ohio. Hauser said he came to the athletic department with an open mind and listened to the opinions of employees. Hauser sees him as a boss who high-fives staff members and regularly praises them for their work. Building an $11 million indoor practice facility for football and other sports and improving the basketball locker rooms are the ongoing projects.
“I really appreciate how many times he says ‘Thank you,’ ” Hauser said. “He’s fun and light-hearted. This can be a serious business. He makes work fun.”
Schaus, son of former college and NBA coach Fred Schaus, added to his reputation for fixing basketball programs.
“We wouldn’t be here without him,” Groce said. “The commitment level they had, and I sensed it when I took the job, they’re a big reason why I came. I felt something like this could happen, that we could build it. If you don’t have that type of support and that type of vision from your administration, it’s hard to do something like this.”
Groce put the Bobcats in the NCAAs in 2010, when they defeated Georgetown 97-83 before losing to Tennessee 83-68. Schaus doesn’t expect this team to get close to 100 Friday night.
“This team really makes its living on defense,” he said. “We have good offensive players, but everything (comes) from our defense. I know we’re a major underdog, but I know our kids are not afraid.”
Schaus said he follows Wichita State on the Internet and regularly talks with friends from his days in Kansas. The move to Athens allowed him to spend two years close to his father, who died in February 2010, while he lived in nearby West Virginia. Fred Schaus coached at West Virginia and Purdue and with the Los Angeles Lakers. Barbara Schaus, Jim’s mother, lives within driving distance.
“That was really important to me to come back,” he said. “I’m glad I was there for him and my mother through his illness.”