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Bob Lutz: Shocker coaches share common, intense bond

  • Published Thursday, April 4, 2013, at 5:51 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, March 20, 2014, at 6:22 p.m.

— There was a picture in the newspaper the other day and it showed Gregg Marshall in an emotional moment. There are lots of pictures like that.

In this one, though, Marshall looked to be screaming at his top assistant, Chris Jans, who has been Marshall’s top lieutenant for the six seasons he has coached Wichita State’s basketball team.

Shocker intensity isn’t limited to the players.

Marshall is a carousel of emotions during a game or practice. And Jans, who won a national Division II junior-college championship as coach at Kirkwood in his home state of Iowa in 1998, is no wilting flower, either.

“Coach Jans is a grinder, that’s the best word to describe him,’’ said another WSU assistant, Greg Heiar, who played for Jans at Kirkwood and coached with him at Chipola (Fla.) Junior College. “He grinds to recruit, he grinds every day in practice and he’ll grind in the film room. That’s him, that’s who he is. And Coach Marshall is the same way.’’

Grinders grind. Grinding isn’t pretty.

Jans loves the dirty work of coaching. He has been a coach for 21 years and nobody has handed him anything.

To follow his coaching stops you need a map. He started as an assistant at Division III Elmhurst College in Chicago. Just try finding a Chicagoan who has heard of Elmhurst.

Then it was on to Grand View College in Des Moines. Then came stops at Kirkwood; Idaho; Howard College in Big Spring, Texas; Chipola; and an assistant’s job at Illinois State, where he was fired three years later.

Marshall knew Jans. He offered Jans a job at Winthrop, but Jans declined. When Marshall took the WSU job, though, Jans was one of the first coaches to contact him.

“I thought, ‘OK, here’s a guy who was at Independence, who had junior-college ties and who had coached in the (Missouri) Valley,’ ’’ Marshall said. “And he’s a guy I already knew and is really good. It was a natural for me.’’

The Marshall-Jans combination has been a huge, if at times fiery, success.

They both love not only coaching, but the process of coaching. Neither backs off from long hours, most spent doing the unglamorous aspects of the job.

“I like to prepare, I like to scout, I enjoy the chess match,’’ Jans said. “It’s fun to try and figure out how to attack a team and take them out of their comfort zone. And I’m a slow learner, I really am. I’m not comfortable unless I watch an opponent on film game after game after game. Over that time, usually something seeps into my brain.’’

Jans said he’ll have watched 10 to 12 Louisville games by the times the Shockers tip off against the Cardinals on Saturday.

Having the information in his brain is one thing. Getting as much of it as possible into the brains of WSU’s players is the biggest challenge.

Marshall gives Jans, who has the title of associate head coach, responsibilities in every aspect of the operation. They battle at times, like most coaches and top assistants. Off the court, though, they’re friends.

“Coach Marshall has an unbelievable sense of humor,’’ Jans said. “He really likes to scare people. Sometimes you’re just walking around somewhere and he’ll jump out from behind a pole or something and scare the heck out of you.

“Outside of basketball, he’s just a regular Joe. He likes to play golf, spend time with his family and have a good time.’’

Sometimes their arguments have nothing to do with basketball, Jans said. It’s just the way they’re made.

Marshall said Jans is a connoisseur of red wine and chocolate. When Jans, his wife and kids visit, Marshall’s wife, Lynn, makes sure both are in stock.

“Chris has been great for Wichita State,’’ Marshall said. “He’s a tremendous coach, a tremendous teacher and a tremendous family. His wife, Sheri, is a wonderful lady. She and Lynn spent some time sightseeing when we were in Los Angeles last week. I’m sure they spent a lot of money.’’

Marshall thinks Jans should be making more money. Which is why he’s promoting Jans, to whomever will listen, as a Division I head coach.

“Somebody is going to strike lightning in a bottle,’’ Marshall said. “That person has not stepped forward yet. No one has been smart enough to figure it out, but it’s going to happen and it’s going to happen soon.’’

Jans, 43, seems pretty good at this.

“I want an opportunity, but I don’t think ‘antsy’ is the right word,’’ Jans said. “I’m very happy in the position I’m in and I love being at Wichita State. We have great staff chemistry. At the same time, do I want an opportunity to run my own program? Of course. But jobs are hard to get in our industry.’’

Heiar has the perspective of someone who has played for and coached with Jans.

“He’ll be a tremendous head coach at this level,’’ Heiar said. “He has such a passion for the game. He wants to be successful and he’s driven through that competitiveness and passion. He’ll recruit, develop and hold players accountable on and off the court. And if he has to work 24 hours a day to make sure he’s prepared, that’s what he’ll do.’’

Marshall expects his players, his assistants and everybody associated with the program to work hard. Sometimes, emotions spill over. It’s natural.

“He’s a very demanding coach,’’ Jans said. “Most successful head coaches are Type-A personalities and Coach Marshall expects positive results from everybody in our program. If you’re not doing your job, you’re probably going to hear about it. If you’re thin-skinned, you’re probably going to have a hard time.’’

But after the screaming subsides, there’s red wine and dark chocolate to be had.

Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com. Check his blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz, and follow him on Twitter: @boblutz.

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