Tim Tai, Staff Photographer
Wednesday marked 23 years to the day that James Jones was named the Yale men’s basketball head coach in 1999, and with a contract extension that Jones signed with the University earlier this spring, he could remain at the helm of the program into next decade.
The extension means that Jones’ contract now runs nine years out through the 2030–31 season. It makes his steady footing at head coach — Jones has a program-best 352 career wins at Yale — even more secure, giving him one of the longest coaching contracts in all of NCAA Division I men’s basketball.
In an interview with the News, Jones reflected on the lengthened deal and his broader coaching career, which could stretch 32 years at Yale if he served out the full contract. The Bulldogs have arguably been the Ivy League’s most successful program over the course of the last decade, enjoying their best era in school history with four regular-season championships in the last seven seasons and three trips to March Madness in their last five opportunities, including one that pitted them against No. 3 Purdue last month.
“I’m proud and excited to have a contract and thankful that until 2031, I can continuously coach and do what I love to do,” Jones said. “When you’re fortunate enough to win championships and take a team to the NCAA Tournament, [administrators have] rewarded me and my staff with extra years because of how special what we’ve been able to do is.”
Jon Rothstein, a men’s college basketball insider for CBS Sports, first reported news of the extension through 2031 late last month. If Jones stays at Yale for the duration of the extended deal, he will have coached the Bulldogs for 32 years. That would push him past former Princeton coach Pete Carril, who led the Tigers for 29 seasons, as the longest-tenured coach in the modern era of Ancient Eight men’s basketball, as Ivy Hoops Online pointed out following the first report of the new contract.
The last change announced to Jones’ contract came in May 2019, when he and Yale inked an extension through the 2025–26 season. Jones said that last year in 2021, he also agreed to an extension through 2029 that was never publicized.
“It’s nice to know that people have appreciated what you’ve been able to do,” Jones said. “I work in an institution that is known for its academics and known for being special that way. Now the fact that I’ve been given this opportunity to coach here [for so long]it’s nothing short of brilliant.”
Jones, who turned 58 in February, now has a contract that extends longer than that of almost any of his coaching peers at the nation’s 357 other DI programs. Colgate University coach Matt Langel recently signed an extension through 2030, the same year that Auburn University coach Bruce Pearl’s eight-year deal is set to expire. University of Kentucky coach John Calipari is on a 10-year deal through 2029. University of California, Los Angeles coach Mick Cronin agreed to a six-year extension through 2028 in March. A select group of other well-established coaches, like University of Kansas coach Bill Self, have rolling contracts that automatically extend by an extra year after each season, allowing schools to brand them as “lifetime” deals.
Scott Gaffield ’04, Jones’ agent at Los Angeles-based Athletes First, said that in terms of length, those rolling deals are the only similar comparisons to Jones’ extension.
“There are a couple deals that have that kind of length on the football side,” Gaffield said, referring to large contracts that football coaches Lincoln Riley and Brian Kelly, who are also clients of Athletes First, respectively signed with the University of South California and Louisiana State University last year. “But on the basketball side, I believe it’s unique.
“Coach Jones is about as sure a thing as you can imagine in this evolving world of Division I basketball,” Gaffield added. “He built this program brick by brick from being among the lowest-ranked in Division I when he took it over to now being a premier mid-major program. … I think that gives Yale tremendous confidence in the leadership they have.”
Gaffield, who played 104 career games as a guard for the Elis between 2000-2004, was Jones’ second-ever recruit at Yale, though he joked that he does not think he could play for them now. Gaffield officially began representing his former coach in 2020 and is the agent for about 20 men’s college basketball coaches, including Nevada’s Steve Alford, Howard’s Kenny Blakeney, Navy’s Ed DeChellis and University of California, Riverside’s Mike Magpayo. (He mostly represents Division I head coaches, but the group of 20 also includes some DI assistants and non-DI head coaches.)
Before Gaffield was his agent, Jones’ extension three years ago followed an NCAA Tournament berth for the Elis in 2019 and mutual interest in the coaching vacancy at Big East school St. John’s, which interviewed him in April 2019 but ultimately hired Mike Anderson.
This year, news of Jones’ extension emerged after a similar combination of on-court success and coaching carousel buzz. When the offseason began, Jones was almost immediately linked to the coaching vacancy at the University of San Diego, which plays in the West Coast Conference. Mark Zeigler, a sportswriter for the San Diego Union-Tribune, reported that Jones emerged as San Diego’s top choice, visited its campus and had “multiple talks” with administrators there, including the athletic director and university president. (San Diego’s athletic department did not respond to an emailed request for comment on whether Jones interviewed for the opening; the Toreros ultimately hired former UCLA and St. John’s coach Steve Lavin.) On the same day that HoopDirt.com reported Jones was “picking up steam at San Diego” last month, news of his Yale extension leaked.
Chris Croft, an assistant professor of sports management at the University of Southern Mississippi, said that sequence, where outside interest incentivizes a university to negotiate a contract extension with a winning coach, is common in college basketball.
“People have success, and sometimes when [other schools] start calling to talk to them about their job,” Croft said, “the original school will counter and try to offer an extension to add some more years and maybe money on that.”
However, Jones said that Yale’s Director of Athletics Vicky Chun made it very clear to him that this extension and an update to his contract was in the works before Yale’s season had even ended. He added that he is “proud and excited and honored that I work for an athletic director who thinks that highly” of him to initiate that.
Since interviewing for the 2019 opening at St. John’s, Jones has been mentioned in connection to a number of other, now-filled head-coaching vacancies. They include Boston College, Penn State and Fordham in 2021, as well as the University of Massachusetts and George Washington earlier this spring. In February, The Athletic floated him as a potential replacement for Patrick Ewing at Georgetown when it was still unclear whether the Hoyas would bring him back for next season (they are). In 2016, after Yale’s first-ever win at March Madness, Jones was also linked to jobs at Pitt, Rutgers, Tulane and Vanderbilt.
Jones estimated that he only gets contacted by other schools about “one time in every five that my name is mentioned.” For example, he said no one ever reached out to him about the UMass opening earlier this year.
“My name is offered and popped up because it’s logical for them to want to talk to me, but at the same time, I got to a point in my career here at Yale where a lot of the opportunities that are interested in talking to me , they just aren’t better jobs than what we’ve been able to create at Yale,” Jones said, referencing Yale’s 20-point win over UMass last season. “You know, money isn’t the end-all, cure-all for me.”
Jones credited his assistant coaches for his longevity as well. Associate head coach Matt Kingsley has worked alongside Jones since 2005, while assistant coach Justin Simon ’04, a former player of Jones’, started coaching at Yale in 2011. “As long as I’m the head coach here and they want to be with me, they’ve proven that they’re good enough to continue to work here,” Jones said.
Despite the length of his updated contract, Jones is not necessarily bound to Yale all the way through 2031. College basketball coaches sometimes leave before completing the full duration of their contract; some may accept positions at bigger programs, while coaches that start to struggle may be released. Since Yale is a private university, coaching contracts are not accessible through public records requests like they often are at public schools, making it impossible to know how specific clauses or contract provisions govern scenarios in which either party wants to make a change before 2031.
A contract of nine years, Croft speculated, probably has “some pretty hefty buyout clauses.” As the years remaining on a contract decrease, Croft explained, the buyout or compensatory damages required of both sides — what Jones would owe Yale if he left early and what Yale would owe Jones if it terminated him — will typically continue to decrease, building flexibility into the deal for both sides in the longer run.
“James Jones is getting a nine-year commitment from Yale,” Croft, who was an assistant men’s basketball coach at Nebraska before transitioning into academia, said. “Yale’s trying to get a nine-year commitment from him … they’re trying to make it as lucrative as possible so he doesn’t leave, but also make it financially difficult where someone is going to have to come in and pay that [buyout].”
On Wednesday, Jones was in attendance when Yale introduced new women’s basketball head coach Dalila Eshe with a formal press conference. He had never met his new colleague Eshe before, but after standing near halfcourt of the John J. Lee Amphitheater and listening to her speech from her, he thought she spoke eloquently and had “a great leadership presence.” Jones said he remembers almost all of his own introductory press conference from him too. He spoke in the adjacent Lanman Center, which houses the Bulldogs’ practice courts.
“For lack of a better term, I was full of piss and vinegar and excited and aggressive and immature at the same time,” Jones said.
He said he has changed how he coaches since the early seasons that followed that first speech. He’s more measured and less fiery on the Yale sideline now, but he still has the edge that makes coaching rewarding.
“I still have the energy and the bite,” Jones said. “I still get nervous before games. I still enjoy going to practice. I still enjoy the competition. That hasn’t changed whatsoever, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”
Jones said this new contract extension would put him towards the end of his career. When asked about where he sees himself in a decade, Jones said he doesn’t ever think about the future like that. He will be 67 when the season ends in spring 2031.
“It’s hard for me to see myself coaching when I’m 70 years old, but I have no idea,” Jones said. “I’m 58 right now. I’m fortunate that I don’t look 58. I’m fortunate I’m in great health. And as long as that continues, I’ll keep working with these young men to help them become the best versions of themselves.”
Jones is the fifth longest-tenured active coach at one school in Division I men’s basketball behind Syracuse University’s Jim Boeheim, Oakland University’s Greg Kampe, Davidson College’s Bob McKillop and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and tied with Gonzaga University’s Mark Few.