The Knox athletics department welcomed the newest member of its staff last week: new head Men’s and Women’s Golf coach Robert Jan.
Jan has a close relationship with the Prairie Fire. As a member of the Millikin University golf team in the late 80s and early 90s, Jan battled Knox and then-coach Harley Knosher on several occasions.
“I remember well the image of the Knox golf program,” Jan said. “In fact, I can still remember the sights and sounds of being on that golf courseÉ Knox has a storied history on the golf course, and I am more than excited to bring that back. Such an expectation of excellence still lives within the program, and I am ready to make it thrive again.”
Jan doesn’t have a shabby background himself: He is a two-time DIII All-American, a Hall of Famer at Millikin University, a two-time National PGA Club Pro Championship qualifier and a third place recipient in the NCAA National Tournament with his Millikin team.
“Obviously he had a successful playing career and he understands the DIII game,” Athletic Director Chad Eisele said. “But he has also shown great success in coaching at Ashford University, and due to his experience as a PGA teaching professional, he has a recruiting pipeline across the country.”
Neither Eisele nor Jan has any delusions about the golf program at Knox, and it would be futile for them to pretend otherwise. The fact that the women’s program currently has no golfers on its roster is a sign of a program gone far awry from its storied history. After Knosher stepped down as coach, Knox Golf has seen a revolving door of coaches come and go, to little success. After recruiting part-time coaches and asking other coaches already on staff to take on the responsibilities of a golf coach, Eisele knew the department needed to seek out someone on a full-time basis. Further, he needed someone who wasn’t afraid of a challenge. In Jan, he found such a coach.
“I love to put together a rebuilding process,” Jan said. “We have to make sure we’re recruiting the right people, and that we build the right culture in both the men’s and women’s programs … We certainly have a sense of urgency to turn things around, but we aren’t in a rush, either.”
On the one hand, it makes sense to wait it out. If Knox is truly set on a rebuilding process via recruitment, that will take some time. On the other hand, with young talent like freshman Duncan Wheeler already on campus, recruited to Knox on the basis of his golf talent by former coach KC Harding, it makes sense to push right on forward.
The solution is made all the simpler by the very nature of golf. The individualistic sport means one builds on a smaller scale until there is enough of a team to compete in team tournaments.
Jan isn’t necessarily seeking culture change; rather, he’s seeking reversion back to what Knox used to be. When asked what needs to be done, Jan had a quick response.
“We need to maintain an atmosphere of hard work, grit and mental toughness,” Jan said. “In college athletics, there’s often a tendency to coast, which is something I see as unacceptable. We must set goals and improve each and every day.”
Having been around golf since his teens, Jan has learned a fair amount about the game. And if there’s one thing that’s followed him, it’s that prepared teams are the ones that end up winning. As such, he has taken great pains to ensure that every team he’s been a member of, whether it’s participating, coaching or instructing, is as ready as can possibly be.
“Golf is a very straightforward game,” Jan said. “The amount of effort you put in is directly proportional to what you’ll get out of it. If you make a mistake, there is nobody to blame but yourself, and the fact that either your physical or mental preparation was not where it needed to be.”
The aforementioned individualistic nature of golf means that if Knox gets the right recruits, things could be looking up quickly. Eisele expressed support for the fact that Jan is already hitting the recruiting lines, before he’s even made it to campus. Given Jan’s recruiting initiative, and given the quick turnaround other Knox programs (volleyball, both soccer programs and football, for starters) have had after finding the right coach, optimism reigns supreme in the athletics department.
Both Eisele and Jan were quick to point to next season as a time in which the program can begin to be competitive again. That may seem like a stretch considering the fact that the women’s team currently has no golfers on their roster, but crazier things have happened.
“We feel very good about Coach Jan,” Eisele said. “He’s very much like Coach Edwards [men’s soccer]; he has very high expectations for himself. He took a 1-16 team in 2011 and never doubted himself for a second. He knew, he believed in himself that he was going to make this team successful. I see much the same thing in Jan.”