STARKVILLE, MS - March 23, 2022 - Mississippi State Men’s Basketball Head Coach Chris Jans speaks to the media during Chris Jans’ Introductory Press Conference at the Leo Seal Jr. Football Complex at Mississippi State University in Starkville, MS. Photo By Austin Perryman

Question: What does it tell you when six of the 14 universities in the Southeastern Conference have hired new men’s basketball coaches in a week’s time?

Answer: I don’t know. It just means more?

Rick Cleveland

In a way, it does tell you it means more – at least from a financial standpoint. It must. SEC schools, including Mississippi State, will pay many millions of dollars of buyout money to coaches who will not be their coach any more. They are doing that so they can hire new coaches and pay them more millions to succeed where their predecessors could not.

State, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Missouri and South Carolina all have hired new hoops coaches.

When nearly half of a league’s coaching jobs change hands, it also tells you these are difficult jobs where the only thing that exceeds the salaries are the expectation levels. Al Davis said it best: “Just win, baby!” Davis coached football, not basketball, and he coached in the pros, not colleges. But what he said surely applies to SEC basketball. Just win, baby! Win, or else.

Chris Jans, the new Mississippi State coach, brings sterling credentials to the job. To paraphrase Davis: Jans has just won, baby, everywhere he’s been and especially at his most recent job, New Mexico State.

Over the past five seasons, Jans’ New Mexico State teams have won 122 games while losing only 32. Three of those five teams made the NCAA Tournament. Contrast that with this: Mississippi State has made the NCAA Tournament once in the past 13 seasons.

The flip side: Look at the credentials Jans’ predecessor brought to Starkville. Before Ben Howland took the State job he had been selected Coach of the Year in three different conferences, had taken two Pittsburgh teams to the NCAA Sweet 16 and then taken three consecutive UCLA teams to the Final Four. Howland’s teams at Pitt and UCLA won nearly 70 percent of their games.

Howland’s Mississippi State teams won 58% of their games over seven seasons and went to the NCAA Tournament once. To be fair, Howland’s 2019-20 State team (20-11, 11-7) almost surely would have gone to the NCAA Tournament had not COVID caused cancellation of the post-season.

The point is, Howland – always a gentleman in all our dealings – is a proven winner and never had a losing season at State. Yet, he couldn’t do enough at State to keep his job for an eighth season.

Jans, who looks for all the world like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, seemed nothing if not confident in his opening press conference Wednesday morning in Starkville. (Jans looks so much like Cruz, I had to check and make sure I was on the SEC Network, not CNN.)

“We’re going to play with confidence,” Jans said. “When we walk out of the tunnel, we’re going have a swagger about us, We’re going to believe in each other. We’re going to play together. We’re never going to step out on the floor without a chip on our shoulder. And we’re never going to fear anybody. We’re going to respect our opponents, but we’re going to be very prepared and treat every game like the Super Bowl.”

Jans’ winning percentage of .765 currently ranks fourth among active coaches (and that will soon be third because this is Mike Krzyzewski’s last season).

During the press conference Wednesday, a reporter mentioned that State has been to only one NCAA Tournament in the last 13 years and asked how long it would take Jans to remedy that.

Jans didn’t hesitate before answering. 

“Our goal is to be in the tournament next year,” Jans said. “You’re not going to hear me talking about building a program. In this day and age of transferring and the portal and with the landscape of college basketball, that’s not the way it is going to be done. You’ve got to build a team each and every year. With my junior college background, that’s what we’ve done for the most part over my entire career. I’m comfortable in this space. It’s been proven around the country, you can improve your fortunes in a hurry.”

Yes, you can. And, by the same token, your dreams can crash and burn in a hurry as well. Remember, similar press conferences were – or will be – going on at six different SEC schools. Everybody’s goal is to be in the NCAA Tournament every year.

More than half, most years, will fail. And that will lead to more multi-million buyouts – and more press conferences.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.