UND men's basketball coach accepts Illinois State job

GRAND FORKS — The only head men’s basketball coach the University of North Dakota has known in the Division I era is leaving Grand Forks.

Fighting Hawks coach Brian Jones has accepted the associate head coaching position at Illinois State.

Jones, 48, spent 13 seasons leading UND. The Rock Island, Ill., native, hired before the 2006-07 season, has a 190-217 (.467 winning percentage) career mark.

UND announced that assistant Steve Grabowski will serve as the interim coach while the school conducts a national search for a new head coach.

Jones is the second coach with an office at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center to leave UND in the past 10 days. Fighting Hawks volleyball coach Mark Pryor announced in late April his plans to take a Division III job in Texas.

Jones told his team at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

“It was very emotional for me,” Jones said. “After 13 years, that’s the thing — I feel good because I left my heart out there.”

UND athletic director Bill Chaves didn’t respond to a message seeking comment. A UND spokesman said Chaves was traveling back to Grand Forks from hockey meetings in Florida and was unavailable.

Jones said the decision came down to family. In Normal, Ill., Jones will be closer to his extended family in Iowa, and he’ll have a chance to make shorter recruiting trips than are possible from Grand Forks.

Jones is married with three kids.

“I lost my father when I was 8 and when I became a father, I promised to be visible in their lives,” Jones said. “My kids won’t be in the house much longer, and I really struggled this year with missing so many of my kids’ games.”

Illinois State coach Dan Muller and Jones have been friends for years, Jones said.

Jones also said he’d still like to be a head coach down the road.

This will leave a rare vacancy atop the UND men’s basketball program. Since Dave Gunther was hired as the head coach in 1970, the job has only been open twice in the last 49 years.

Gunther coached for 18 years. He was followed by Rich Glas, who also coached 18 years from 1988-2006 before giving way to Jones.

Jones is fourth all-time in wins in program history behind Glas (335), Gunther (332) and Clem Letich (224).

“Anytime someone invests over a decade as a head coach at one school in this day and age, it is a tremendous upset but coach Jones did that and more,” Chaves said in a statement. “He took us from Division II to Division I, independent status, and then three D-I conferences all the while doing with integrity and hard work. Brian will always be the coach that took us to the ‘Big Dance’ for the first time and we will always be appreciative and thankful for that. We wish him and his family nothing but the best moving forward.”

Jones’ best season was the 2016-17 campaign in which the Fighting Hawks went 22-10 overall, 14-4 in the Big Sky Conference and advanced to the school’s first NCAA Division I Tournament behind the core play of Quinton Hooker, Geno Crandall and Drick Bernstine. Jones was named the Big Sky Coach of the Year that season.

Jones led UND through four different conference affiliations and a change in divisions. When he was hired, UND played in the North Central Conference in NCAA Division II, then moved to the hodgepodge Great West Conference (2008-12) during the school’s Division I infancy. The Big Sky Conference (2012-18) followed the Great West and finally the Fighting Hawks landed in the Summit League (2018-19).

Jones, who played at Northern Iowa, came to UND after assistant coaching stints at Nebraska Omaha, Southwest Missouri State and Iowa.

After advancing to the NCAA tournament, Jones signed a contract extension in the summer of 2017. The four-year contract extension started with a base salary of $140,000.

“This place has been special to many, and it has allowed me to live my dream,” Jones said. “I gave my heart and soul to UND and will be forever grateful for the people and the memories made here.”