Shockers epitomize ‘The Marshall Way’ — and that way is spreading
The Gregg Marshall coaching tree (clockwise from top center): Wichita State's Marshall, Army's Zach Spiker, Charleston Southern's Barclay Radebaugh, Tennessee State's Dana Ford, College of Charleston's Earl Grant and Bowling Green's Chris Jans.
Trevor Ruszkowski - Danny Wild - Ron Chenoy - Jim Brown - Crystal LoGiudice - Scott Kane
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When Chris Jans turned his phone back on Sunday, an old, familiar number popped up on the voice-mail inbox. The same one that had been there, all winter, with congratulations or to comfort him, sight unseen, after a tough loss.
It’s easy to tell, even from a time zone or two away, if Gregg Marshall is in a good mood. After handing Kansas its backside on national television, Marshall was in a very, very, very, very good mood.
"He’d asked me if I was going to make it," Jans, the former Wichita State assistant and head coach at Bowling Green, said of the Shockers’ NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional semifinal showdown with Notre Dame tonight at Cleveland, roughly 114 miles from Jans’ northern Ohio office.
"He’s helped me all year long. He’s still there for me if I need someone to bounce something off of. Or (he’ll) just have a timely text or voice mail if he knows I’d be a little bit down after a loss."
In March, you never forget your roots. Or, for that matter, your acolytes.
Marshall, whose seventh-seeded Shockers (30-4) are dancing to their second Sweet 16 in three years, is on the sexy end of his 17th year as a Division I coach — a strong run, but not quite to two decades yet. And yet this past season, at least five of his former assistants are already Division I head coaches themselves, a group that comprises Jans (21-12), Barclay Radebaugh at Charleston Southern (19-12), which reached the National Invitation Tournament, Zach Spiker (15-15) at Army, Earl Grant at College of Charleston (9-24) and Dana Ford (5-26) at Tennessee State.
"Just as many of those guys are from Winthrop (where Marshall coached from 1998-2007) as there are from Wichita State," the Shockers’ coach noted. "Which is cool."
Jans was the latest, newest one to branch out from the tree, taking the Bowling Green job a year ago after seven seasons as a Marshall lieutenant in Wichita. In Jans’ first campaign, the Falcons hit the 20-win pleateau for the first time since 2002. They won a postseason game — in the CollegeInsiders.com Tournament, or CIT — for the first time since 1975. The Iowa native is even a finalist for the Joe B. Hall Award, presented annually to the best first-year Division I head coach, and his 21 victories are the most ever by any first-year BGSU coach.
With a squad that had won just 12 contests the year before, the Falcons forged an identity of clamping down on the defensive end (62.3 points allowed per game, ranked 57th nationally) and grinding opponents down more as the tilt went on (32.6 opposing second-half points, which ranked 51st).
Sound like anyone we know?
"Certainly, at BG, I’ve taken the (Marshall) blueprint and tried to run with it," said Jans, who spent 2007-14 on the Shockers’ bench. "I wouldn’t say it’s the exact model. If you’d watch us play, you’d see that it’s a similar style of basketball that we’re trying to implement. Obviously, we’ve got to improve our recruiting efforts to be able to play that style, (but) you know, that’s what we’re comfortable with and that’s what we’ve tried to implement. So far, so good."
There’s a "Marshall Way," one spread throughout the coaching family, but it’s more philosophical than it is tactical, more Bruce Lee than, say, Sonny Liston.
"I heard him (say) this: ‘It’s not smoke and mirrors — it’s good, old-fashioned (work), roll up your sleeves and get after it every day," Jans said. "There’s no magic formula. He’s a hard-working guy and he’s very, very smart. And he’s a winner and his teams reflect his personality and play with great confidence and they are consistently attacking and challenging. And that’s just the everyday approach."
Marshall’s thinking: Prepare for every game, from November through the conference tourneys, like it was the Super Bowl. Because as a mid-major, you never know which chip will wind up cashing in for you come Selection Sunday.
"I think the thing that always impressed me the most was that he was always on," Jans continued. "He always had that mindset of, ‘How can we make this program better today?’
"When a coach has that type of approach, it bleeds into the rest of us as a staff and, hopefully, to the players."
Same gene pool. Same tree. Different strokes. Charleston Southern’s Buccaneers were more fun-and-gun, ranking second nationally in 3-point attempts per game (27.5) and 10th in 3-point makes (9.2). At the College of Charleston, the Cougars ranked among the top 50 in fewest opponent field-goal attempts per contest (50.2, 35th) and opponent field-goal makes (21.3, 50th).
"Yeah, they all have their own (ideas)," Marshall said. "Some of them closely resemble what we’re doing. And some other guys are doing their own thing, which is fine. I’m happy for them and proud of them. I want them to have great success."
With that, he laughed.
"Ultimately, one day, one of them might hire me."
Actually, all Jans wants is a good seat. And a regional party as good as the one the Shockers threw two years ago in Los Angeles, the last time they danced straight into America’s hearts.