College Sports

Shocker assistants find success in same pipeline

WSU assistant coaches Greg Heiar, left, Chris Jans and Steve Forbes talk prior to the March 1 Missouri State game. All are from Iowa with junior-college coaching backgrounds.
WSU assistant coaches Greg Heiar, left, Chris Jans and Steve Forbes talk prior to the March 1 Missouri State game. All are from Iowa with junior-college coaching backgrounds. The Wichita Eagle

What do Wichita State assistant basketball coaches Chris Jans, Greg Heiar and Steve Forbes have in common?

Got a minute?

It’s a long list starting with the fact they were all born and raised in Iowa — Jans in Fairbank, a dot of a town in the northeast corner of the state; Heiar in Dubuque and Forbes in Lone Tree, not far from Iowa City.

None was a great basketball player, though Heiar, who played at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa and then at Franciscan University, undoubtedly was the best. The only people who would argue that are Jans and Forbes.

Each has paid his coaching dues two- or three-fold, working up the ranks to find themselves on Gregg Marshall’s staff at a place reveling in the greatest basketball riches in its history.

And coaching in junior college, all three will tell you, was essential in them getting there.

“We’re all grinders, no question about it,” said Jans, the first coach Marshall hired when he came to Wichita State from Winthrop seven years ago. “None of us would have it any other way.”

Jans, 43, has four juco stops on his coaching resume: Kirkwood, Independence, Big Spring (Texas) and Chipola (Florida). He was also an assistant for three seasons at Illinois State before coming to Wichita State and before that coached at Grand View College (NAIA), Elmhurst College in Chicago (NCAA Division III) and Idaho for two years under Dave Farrar.

Heiar, 37, played for Jans at Kirkwood and coached under him at Chipola, where he later became head coach for six years before spending two seasons as an assistant at Southern Mississippi.

Forbes, 48, has coached at Southwestern Community College in Creston, Iowa, as well as Barton County; Idaho; Louisiana Tech, Illinois State, Texas A&M, Tennessee and Northwest Florida State, where he coached the Raiders to a 61-6 record in two seasons.

Rand-McNally should hire these guys as spokesmen.

“I didn’t play Division I basketball, so I had to work my way up,” Forbes said. “I’m fortunate because I feel like everywhere I’ve been has been a good move. I don’t regret any of it. Junior college was a good avenue for me to learn how to coach and how to network with other coaches. I’ve definitely been on the road a lot over the years.”

Jans, Heair and Forbes are all regarded as outstanding recruiters, a skill they either picked up or enhanced at the junior college level.

“The first thing you learn coaching in junior college is that you have to do everything that at the Division I level there is somebody hired to do,” Heiar said. “You’re the trainer, you do the academics, you do the study hall and the tutoring. The recruiting and the scheduling. You start to understand the complete picture of what coaching is about.”

Heiar and Jans go way back. When Marty Gross left as an assistant after the 2010-11 season, Marshall and Jans decided Heiar, 164-15 during six seasons at Chipola, was the right guy to replace Gross.

Last summer, Forbes replaced K.T. Turner, who left after one season to join Larry Brown’s staff at SMU.

“I have a hard time hiring assistant coaches,” Marshall said. “I take my time because I want guys who are professional college basketball coaches, guys who have done it before. It’s not on-the-job training. There is so much recruiting and scouting that goes with this, so you don’t want guys who have never done it before.”

Marshall didn’t set out to have three coaches who cut their teeth in the junior college ranks. And he sure as heck didn’t set out to have three guys from Iowa on his staff.

“Before I came out here,” he said, “I had never been to Iowa. And I didn’t coach in junior college. But with these guys it works.

“They’re great people who can relate to kids and who are fun to be around in the office. I tell my staff that it’s their job to get along and we have a very close-knit group. We enjoy spending time together.”

Part of that is because of the friendships forged long ago between Jans, Heiar and Forbes. The commonality of their Iowa upbringings and junior-college coaching backgrounds binds them.

“There’s such a comfort level amongst us because of knowing each other so well,” Jans said. “So there are very few surprises. We communicate very well and that makes the job just a little bit more fun. And probably a little bit easier for us because there are no agendas. Everybody is on the same page. We work really well together.”

Forbes has more coaching experience than Jans or Heiar, for instance, but he knows his place on the Shockers’ staff. Jans is Marshall’s right-hand guy and Heiar is next in line. Forbes is the new guy.

“Honestly, sometimes you can have too many chiefs,” Forbes said. “I know my role here. I don’t say a whole lot and when I do I try to keep it concise. We have a good thing going. This was obviously well built. Coach (Marshall) and Chris have a long relationship and there’s a lot of trust there. Greg has three years of equity in the deal. I don’t try to be Mr. Know It All.”

There’s probably not an assistant coach in the country who doesn’t want to be a head coach, but the three Iowa Shockers are content for now to pour through scouting reports and hit the recruiting trails. They are part of something special and they know it.

“It’s crazy that we’re all here at the same time,” Jans said. “I don’t think any one of us would have thought this would ever come to fruition. The stars aligned.”

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