As a longtime assistant, Jan Jensen loves where she is with Iowa women’s basketball

Jensen has been an assistant for her entire coaching career. Although she’s had opportunities to jump up to be a head coach, she likes where she is with her best friends.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

Iowa associate head coach Jan Jensen talks to the media during a 2023 NCAA Final Four press conferences and open practices at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas on Thursday, March 30, 2023.

Chloe Peterson, Sports Editor

DALLAS — Iowa women’s basketball associate head coach Jan Jensen could’ve been a Division I head coach by now.

With 30 years of experience as an assistant and associate head coach at Drake and Iowa under head coach Lisa Bluder, Jensen is overly qualified for a head coaching job.

“Jan has had so many opportunities to go on and be an assistant or a head coach of lots of Division I places,” Bluder said. “But we have always said we enjoy what we’re doing so much here. You never know what it’s like on the other side of the fence.”

But Jensen sees herself as a loyal person. Maybe sometimes, she said, too loyal of a person.

Even with new opportunities available, she can’t imagine leaving Bluder, her best friend, or special assistant to the head coach Jenni Fitzgerald — the three have been working together for over 30 years.

“I just think in this world, you can chase a lot of things, and you can chase the money and the titles, but it’s pretty shallow,” Jensen said. “I’ve always really put a lot more stock into the experiences in my circle, and I’ve been so blessed with such a great family and friends, and my work group is so wonderful.”

Jensen joined Bluder’s coaching staff at Drake as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator in the 90s. Jensen was a Bulldog alum, as she played at Drake from 1987-91 — she was a senior in Bluder’s first year as Drake’s head coach in 1991.

After Jensen and Bluder joined forces as coaches, they were inseparable.

The duo coached the Bulldogs to five 20-plus win seasons and reached the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament eight times. 

But Bluder had her eye on a bigger opportunity — the Iowa women’s basketball head coaching position.She had applied for the position once before following C. Vivian Stringer’s departure in 1995. That time, Iowa went a different direction and hired then-assistant Angie Lee.

When Lee stepped down in 2000, Bluder was given the offer she had hoped for. And she wanted Jensen and Fitzgerald to follow her to Iowa.

At first, Jensen was hesitant. When Bluder put in her resignation, Drake reached out to Jensen to ask if she’d be interested in the head coaching position.

“That, for me, was one of my personally bigger crossroads, to stay at Drake and become a head coach then or to come over with her,” Jensen said.

Jensen wanted to experience something new, however, so she moved from Des Moines to Iowa City.

“At the end of the day, I grew up at Drake as a player and a coach, and I really wanted a different challenge,” Jensen said. “And then I got here and life unfolded as it did. I’ve been so blessed, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Now, 23 years and two national players of the year later, Bluder, Jensen, and the Hawkeye women’s basketball program made it to the Final Four.

But it came in the wake of tragedy for Jensen and her family.

Jensen’s father, Dale Jensen, died of pancreatic cancer at age 86 on March 26 — the same day Iowa played Louisville in the Elite Eight.

Following the Hawkeyes’ 97-83 win over the Cardinals, Bluder took Jensen in for a long embrace at Climate Pledge Arena.

“You really want to keep it going for everybody, not just yourself,” Jensen said. “And I think that was the moment, and then of course, you know, I had a lot of personal stuff going on. So they had buoyed me up that whole day. So, it was just a moment, I think, a moment among moments, and it just felt so good.”

Jensen doesn’t like to be singled out — one of the reasons she opted not to become a head coach after all of these years.

But the sole reason she enjoys individual awards is to be able to tell her parents of her accomplishments. And one of the final things Jensen said she told her father was that she won the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association 2023 Division I Assistant Coach of the Year honor.

“My mother passed away six years ago, and she thought that I could’ve taken over [UConn head coach Geno Auriemma’s] job,” Jensen said. “She believed in me that much, and so did my dad. It’s just been an emotional week, because I got to tell him that moment.”