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Is Robert Jones leaving Norfolk State? ‘With any success comes suitors,’ coach says.

Robert Jones addressed a report that he’s in negotiations to leave Norfolk State during his weekly press conference on Tuesday in what is seemingly becoming an annual tradition.

The Field of 68’s John Goodman reported Tuesday morning that Jones is currently in negotiations to take over the program at University of Illinois Chicago. UIC just fired its head coach, Luke Yaklich, on March 10. The Flames were 47-70 and failed to finish above eighth place in the Missouri Valley Conference during Yaklich’s tenure.

“With any success comes suitors,” Jones said. “So it’s just part of the business, really. That’s all I’ll really say about that.”

In 11 years at Norfolk State, Jones has compiled a 210-148 record and has taken the Spartans to the NCAA Tournament twice in the past four years. Norfolk State has been MEAC regular-season champions four times under Jones and his teams have posted a 124-42 record in conference play.

The New York native was the MEAC Coach of the Year this season, the third time he’s received the honor. No other sitting coach in the MEAC has won the award as much as Jones.

Jones said he has addressed the report with his players.

“(Junior guard) Terrance Jones asked me about it, to be honest with you,” Jones said. “I told him I’m standing right here. Nothing’s happening, I’m standing right here. So that’s where we’re at with everything.”

Norfolk State finished its regular season 22-11, its third straight with more than 20 wins, with a loss to Howard in the MEAC semifinals. The Spartans are currently preparing to play in the CollegeInsider Tournament (CIT) semifinals on Saturday against either Austin Peay or Alabama A&M.

Jones said he “understands the business” of the sport and isn’t worried about preparing his team for the CIT while also being peppered with questions about his future.

“Nothing is always the way it seems. So that’s why I just kind of just let people just say what they want to say. This actually probably happened every year, for like four years at this point. People say ‘Oh, you’re gonna go do this, you’re gonna leave,’ things like that. I’m not saying that stuff like that won’t happen. But right now, it’s all focus on the CIT and all focus on these guys.”

Jones has become a hot commodity in the coaching world and has flirted with potential suitors several times in the past few coaching carousel cycles. Just last season, he received interest from St. John’s, Georgia Southern, Buffalo and Temple. In previous years, he interviewed at Fordham and received inquiries from Western Michigan, La Salle, East Carolina and Saint Peter’s.

Often, the action on the coaching carousel is veiled in secrecy. But Jones prefers to keep everything transparent after the way his predecessor, former head coach Anthony Evans, left Norfolk State.

“We were totally blindsided,” Jones said of Norfolk State’s previous coach’s departure. “I told myself that if I ever got an opportunity that somebody else wanted me, per se, that I would make sure that my staff and administration know completely. You owe it to your staff, you owe it to your administration. The administration has been so good over these years … to leave them in the dark, I didn’t think that was fair. And once again, the previous coach did what he did, but I’m not him and I’m going to do it the way I want to do it.”

Michael Sauls, (757) 803-5774, michael.sauls@virginiamedia.com