WASHINGTON -- When Jeff Jones was hired by American in 2000, conventional wisdom had him staying at the school for just a few years before moving on to a bigger conference.
Conventional wisdom has proved wrong. Jones, who last season led the Eagles to the NCAA tournament for the first time as a Division I school, has signed a six-year contract extension that will keep him in northwest Washington through the 2013-14 season.
"It was really funny," Jones said Thursday following the school's announcement of the new contract. "Because there were so many people that assumed that I was coming to American and trying to use it as a stepping stone of sorts. I tried telling people and they just didn't listen, that I appreciated that at a time when I had been out of coaching, American gave me a great opportunity to come back. There's a lot to that."
Jones had left Virginia in 1998 under a cloud, forced to resign after a season of scandals involving several players. It was a sour ending to an eight-year run that included five NCAA berths with the Atlantic Coast Conference school.
Jones then spent a year out of basketball and worked a season as an assistant at Rhode Island before American offered the chance to become a head coach again.
"It's not just all about what conference or how much money you're making," Jones said. "At least for me, a big part of it is being wanted and being in an environment where you're comfortable and happy. And the big one is 'Are you in a place were you truly believe you can win?' And all of those things were true for me and have been true for me."
Jones took over a program that hadn't enjoyed a winning season in a decade. His arrival, coupled with the decision to drop a level to the Patriot League, began a turnaround that has produced a 125-113 record in Jones' eight seasons. The Eagles lost three tournament championship games under Jones before they finally cleared that major hurdle, beating Colgate last season to earn the automatic NCAA bid.
The next task, of course, is find a way to become an NCAA mainstay.
"Actually getting into the tournament was that important threshold that we had to reach," Jones said. "Now the goal is you go from hoping you're going to get there to dealing with a different set of expectations and trying to get back."
Jones recently returned from a USO tour of Iraq, where he coached a practice for a team of military personnel preparing for a basketball tournament against fellow American servicemen. It was a diversion from the day-to-day stress of serving in a dangerous region.
"The level of basketball was good," Jones said. "The intensity of the competition was great."