Coach Jankovich: the man behind the scenes
It was just another recruiting trip back in the 1990s for the University of North Texas Men’s Basketball Head Coach Tim Jankovich, at least that’s what he thought it was. Instead he met the woman who would become his future wife and the mother of his basketball loving son. Just another way basketball changed his life.
“I had not gotten her out of my mind in a year,” Jankovich said. “I’m really bad with names, really bad, but I remembered her name a year later.”
He married Cindy and they had one son, Michael, now in high school.
Everything in Coach Jankovich’s life has stemmed from his love of basketball, even finding love for himself. Jankovich arrived at SMU in 2012 with years of experience, including as a player himself and a coach at over a dozen universities.
Just days after Larry Brown accepted his head coaching job at SMU, he offered the associate head coach position or “head coach-in waiting” to former Illinois State head coach. Jankovich accepted the position with the understanding that he would take over soon after Brown’s retirement. Now, three years later who is this man behind the scenes?
“He is super friendly and is always thanking The Mob members who camped out for tickets,”said Sarah Tuohy, a senior sports management major and basketball fanatic. “He always has a smile on his face.”
Jankovich played college basketball at Washington State and Kansas State and was one of the winningest players. After graduating Jankovich considered finance jobs or law school, but never anticipated he would end up coaching.
“I never wanted to be a coach, ever, ever, ever. No desire,” he said.
But after only six months in a job as an institutional stockbroker, he could tell something was missing—basketball. From there he started as a graduate assistant at the University of Texas Pan America in 1983 making next to nothing, but he had found his calling.
His first head coaching position was in 1993 at the University of North Texas where he stayed for four seasons. He moved on to other schools as an assistant coach. His last and most recent head coach reign was at Illinois State University in Bloomington where he served from 2007 to 2012. For the past three seasons he has been at SMU coaching with Head Coach Larry Brown.
Jankovich dedicates himself to improving his athletes and strives to see them as full people, not just players. Having his son taught him what the coach’s role should really be–extended parents.
“It can’t just be about winning games,” Jankovich said. “I try to teach them some things about the world and life and experiences I’ve had. That makes coaching far more meaningful.”
He wants his athletes to understand how precious and short their playing time can be. Jankovich cherished his time on the court as a player and as a coach he pushes his athletes to be the best they can while they still have the time.
“So many athletes don’t understand the clock. And it’s ticking,” Jankovich said.
Former ISU player and current Indiana Hooiser player Nick Ziesloft does feel the clock and he thinks highly of his former head coach.
“I always wish we had more time to work together,” Ziesloft said.
Jankovich believes in creating a culture where his players are at their best. He strives to reorder priorities to first improve each player’s attitude and perspective, and then the winning will take care of itself.
“We have to act right and think right and then you do win,” he said. “It’s way more fun to me to do it that way.”
Zeisloft echoes Jankovich’s caring and individualized coaching.
“He was always trying to improve me as a basketball player and person on and off the court,” Zeisloft said. “Coach Jankovich wasn’t just a basketball coach to me. He made me feel like I was part of his family.”
But coaching isn’t Jankovich’s only talent. He loves tennis. He played in college and continued to play competitively after college. He also loves the guitar and played in a band called Major Violation.
“I always say, I’m definitely good enough to play in a really bad band,” he said.
But his favorite role and his source of inspiration for his life is being a father to his son Michael.
“The greatest thing in the entire world is to be a dad. I can’t imagine living a whole life without that experience. And as much as I love coaching, I love being a dad more than that,” he said. “He gives me a different and great perspective of the world. Just the fact that he was born helped me become a better person.”
Jankovich had to transition from being head coach to a “coach-in-waiting” at SMU. While there is no official timeline for when Brown will depart, it was understood that Brown wouldn’t do the job more than two or three years. But, both Brown and Jankovich are focused on the program’s success.
Jankovich said deciding between his former job at ISU and his current position was one of the hardest decisions he has even had to make.
“I’d be lying if I said, ‘Oh my god I love being assistant more than head coach,’” he said. “So there’s a definite sacrifice on my part. But, by and large I have no regrets.”
SMU fans seem confident in the soon passage of power.
“Looking at his background, especially working Coach Bill Self, he’s been involved with several notable programs and had a lot of success over the years,” said Andrew Arnold, a junior political science major and basketball fan. “Hopefully he can help Larry take our program to the next level.”
It seems SMU will just have to wait and see when Jankovich will take over. For now, Jankovich and Brown have a successful and productive rhythm down. And even more, a friendship.
“I don’t wanna be the guy saying hey hurry and leave,” Jankovich said. “Part of the motivation for me when I took the job was to help him go out feeling great. I mean I would want to go out of my career feeling great.”
Larry Brown is known as a legendary basketball coach. Brown is the only coach to have won both an NBA championship and a NCAA championship. Brown played himself in college and professionally at the University of North Carolina and in the American Basketball Association. Since then, he has coached at over a dozen NBA teams and universities. Now, at age 74, Brown plans to end his career with the SMU Mustangs.
Jankovich’s future and legacy is still being written. He dreams of winning an NCAA championship, but he also wants his legacy to be more than that. He hopes it is written by his former players. The coach’s goal is to make playing basketball for him the greatest experience of his athletes’ life. And for Jankovich it always comes back to love.
“Obviously I want to win this and that and the other, but I have figured out when it’s all said and done those things they’ll be important, but not nearly as important as the feelings you get from the relationships,” Jankovich said. “I love the game. And I always have. And I love to teach the game.”