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Noland to ETSU fans: Have patience in coaching search

Joe Avento • Updated May 5, 2020 at 3:58 PM

East Tennessee State basketball fans are anxious to find out who their new basketball coach will be.

The university’s president is urging them to be patient.

During a virtual town hall meeting Tuesday, ETSU President Brian Noland discussed the search to replace Steve Forbes, who left last week to take over the Wake Forest program, and he warned fans not to believe everything they read.

“We have a lot of individuals we are interested in,” Noland said. “I can assure you I have not offered anyone a contract. I’ve not had contract negotiations with any candidate. We’re doing our homework. We are one of the top mid-major programs in the country. We finished the season No. 26, and the No. 26 men’s basketball team in the country is generating a lot of interest.”

Noland said he’s had a lot of people call to make recommendations on Forbes’ successor.

“Those recommendations are long and broad and it might take us a little time to do our due diligence,” Noland said. “So don’t believe the rumor mills. Don’t believe what you read on Twitter. Our AD Scott Carter and I and Dr. Richard Sander are going to run this search. I’ve been in close conversation with our Board of Trustees and when I am comfortable in the position that I find myself in, I will then make my decision.”

It looks as though Forbes’ fingerprint might remain on the ETSU program. At least two of the top candidates are very good friends with Forbes.

When Forbes left ETSU, he endorsed his assistant Jason Shay to become his replacement. He reiterated that point Tuesday.

Shay has familiarity with the program. He also knows the returning players and had a hand in recruiting the five newcomers who have signed to join the Bucs.

“He’s one of the best Xs and Os coaches I’ve ever been around,” Forbes said Tuesday during a video conference with local media. “He has a lot of responsibility offensively. He calls the majority of the plays. I leaned on him exclusively, pretty much, during the games. I think he has all the experience. He knows the ins and outs of the SoCon. He knows our program and success.

“I have all the belief in him. I’ve said this the last couple years that if this day ever comes, I really feel like he would be the right fit. That’s what I’m hoping for, but I understand there’s a process, especially when you have a successful program. I have all the faith in Dr. Noland. He’ll get the right guy in there because he really loves the basketball program.”

New Mexico State coach Chris Jans’ name has since popped up as a potential candidate in those Twitter reports Noland says to ignore. Jans and Forbes are good friends and they spent time together as assistants at Wichita State and Idaho.

Jans would bring some experience, having spent four years as a Division I head coach.

Jans is 83-17 at New Mexico State, where he has been the Western Athletic Conference coach of the year all three seasons he’s been at the school. Jans’ winning percentage of .830 there is actually higher than Forbes’ five-year mark of .751 at ETSU.

Like Forbes and Shay, Jans is a native of Iowa.

The 51-year-old Jans has a blemish on his record, however. He was fired from Bowling Green in 2015 after a 21-12 season for inappropriate conduct after a video emerged of him slapping a woman’s backside in a bar.

He publicly apologized after his first year as a head coach ended with his firing. He then spent two years on Gregg Marshall’s staff at Wichita State as a special assistant before getting a second chance as a head coach at New Mexico State.

Jans’ teams have won the WAC regular-season championship all three of his seasons and the conference tournament his first two. He didn’t get a chance at three tournament titles in a row when the WAC canceled its postseason event in March in the wake of the novel coronavirus.

Jans’ contract at New Mexico State runs through 2023 and includes $290,000 in base salary and a yearly retention bonus of $216,000. Forbes was making $400,000 with a retention bonus of $200,000 and an annual stipend of $50,000. He also had several incentive bonuses in his contract, many of which were met this season with a 30-4 record and Southern Conference championship.

“My relationship with Chris goes all the way back to high school,” Forbes said. “We’ve known each other since he was a senior in high school and I was working camps. I have spent the majority of my career with him. We’re very, very good friends. I have the utmost respect for him, not only as a person, but as a coach.

“I have a really close relationship with him, just like I do with Jason. I made it really clear who I want to get the job. That hasn’t changed.”

Noland also addressed losing a coach like Forbes, who reinvigorated a once proud program that had become stagnant.

“It’s difficult to say goodbye,” Noland said. “But it’s also sometimes really wonderful to watch people succeed, spread their wings and fly and that’s what Steve is doing. I’m excited to watch the things he’s going to do there.”

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