In August 1999, four months after being named head coach of the Yale men’s basketball team, James Jones told The New York Times that an ideal head coach of Yale’s program is “a guy who doesn’t want to be here for 15 years.”
“He should want to use this [position] as a stepping stone, and to do that he has to get it done and [an Ivy League championship] gets it done,” said Jones, who was 35 years old at the time. “When I close my eyes, I see me and my staff hugging on the court at the end of our last game because we’ve won the league and we are going to the Big Dance.”
On March 5 of this year, that is exactly how Yale’s regular season ended. In his 17th season at the helm of the program, Jones’ Bulldogs earned an outright Ivy League title, entered the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 54 years and won its first tournament game in program history.
After his team’s performance on the national stage, rumors have begun to surface of the Bulldogs’ success potentially becoming that stepping stone to another program. In the past month, Jones has been mentioned in connection to head coaching vacancies at Pitt, Rutgers, Tulane and Vanderbilt — all of which are members of conferences with more national exposure than the Ivy League.
The most serious interest reportedly came from Tulane, which The New Orleans Advocate reported had “mutual interest” in Jones during its search for a new head coach. The other three programs were connected to Jones by sports analysts suggesting possible candidates for the teams’ new vacancies.
All four coaching positions have been filled since Yale’s tournament appearance. Still, communication with both Jones and athletic administrators from relevant schools neither confirmed nor refuted that Jones intends to change programs, or that Jones has been a candidate for any vacancies this year.
“The rumors you speak of regarding [Jones’ potential departure] I pay no attention to,” Yale Athletic Director Tom Beckett said. “The Yale men’s basketball team has experienced a record-setting season … Coach Jones and I, as we have done for the past 17 years, discuss all aspects of the season. We review and plan. That process is underway.”
Jones, the 16th-longest active tenured head coach in Division I men’s basketball out of 351 programs, told the News in March 2015 that his contract with Yale had four years remaining, and that he was discussing a potential extension of the contract with Beckett. When asked on Thursday if the contract had in fact been extended, Beckett said he was not able to comment on personnel matters.
This is the second consecutive year in which Jones’ name has been floated as a potential hire following a successful season. Last year, after earning the program’s first share of an Ivy League championship since 2002, Jones was rumored to have interviewed for the head coach position at Fordham University, which competes in the Atlantic 10 conference with regular NCAA Tournament contenders such as Dayton and Davidson.
Jones denied applying to or interviewing for the Fordham job in March 2015, but this year, he did not comment when asked if there had been interest in him for other coaching vacancies.
“I am committed to making Yale basketball the best it can be,” Jones told the News when asked on Monday about the rumors.
Assistant director of sports publicity Tim Bennett acknowledged that Jones’ name had been mentioned in connection with certain coaching vacancies, but he noted that it is natural in Division I men’s basketball for head coaches to receive interest from other programs after leading a team through a successful season.
Last year, Jones told the News that while no coach could ever rule out leaving his or her program if the right job was offered, his focus was on his current role.
“There are certainly jobs out there that you look at and say, ‘God, that’d be a great job,’” Jones said in March 2015. “But for me, I live in the day and in the moment, and right now, my moment is at Yale.”
After the 2015–16 season, Jones won Ivy League Coach of the Year for the second-consecutive year, in addition to four other national and district-level awards.
“With the success Yale has enjoyed under Coach Jones, it’s not surprising there are rumors,” Bennett said. “He has done a remarkable job at Yale, and I hope he remains the head coach for a long time.”
Though the season ended in elation, it was marked by a tumultuous few weeks after news broke that former captain Jack Montague was expelled from the University for violating sexual misconduct policies four weeks into league play.
Jones, who was the adviser for Montague during his University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct hearing, has reiterated in press conferences since the expulsion that he is focused on the basketball elements of his job.
“I’ve been a head coach at Yale for 17 years,” Jones said in a press conference before Yale’s NCAA Tournament First Round game against Baylor. “This is the first time we’ve made the tournament since 1962 … So I think that’s a great story. And I’d like to tell that one going forward.”
When asked if Jones had been interviewed for the head-coach position, athletic administrators at Vanderbilt, Rutgers and Pitt said they could not comment on specifics of coaching searches. An athletics administrator at Tulane did not return multiple requests for comment.
Yale went 23–7 in 2015–16, marking its best winning percentage since 1945–46.