NABC Insider goes one-on-one with basketball coaches and administrators at every level of the sport. Today's feature is Cal Lutheran head coach Tim Fusina.
Why did you become a coach?
“I really never wanted to or considered doing anything else. My dad was a high school and college coach for about 30 years, and I have always been around the game. I always tagged along with my dad to practices, games, scouting and recruiting trips, and those are probably some of the best memories of my childhood. There hasn’t been a time when basketball wasn’t a very major part of my life, and it was natural that I would want to follow this career path. I love the preparation, the competition and the improvement you can see in your student-athletes’ careers and lives.”
What experiences – both professional and personal – have shaped your career the most?
“Starting out in the profession at 21 years old and being a volunteer assistant just to get into the business taught me that you had to outwork people to get to where you wanted to get to. I developed a strong work ethic and understood that if I wanted to make it in this profession and be a head coach, I had to work extremely hard, make contacts and devote all I had to the game and learning how to be a professional. I feel that experience has helped me professionally over my 13 years in the profession.”
What was the most difficult part of transitioning from assistant coach to head coach?
“The most difficult part of becoming a head coach was realizing the amount of decisions that you have to make on a daily basis. As an assistant, I was focused on a few areas - recruiting, scouting and academics specifically - but as a head coach, everything is your focus. You really have to prioritize. Everyone is coming to you for a decision regarding your program. You’re the leader of the program and it is on you to make sure the ship is heading in the right direction. You have to be ‘on’ all the time. You can’t have a bad practice, a bad game or a bad day in the office. It’s a tough transition that I’m not sure anyone is ever ‘ready’ for when they step in, but you learn who you are and what your expectations are, and you never go against that.”
If you had to craft a mission statement for your program, what would it say?
“Our program is a family. We provide the best student-athlete experience that we possibly can as a program. In a student-athlete’s four years with our program, he will grow as a player, a student and as a person. Our program will be competitive on the floor and our players will be taught how to play the game the right way. They will be coached, developed and cared for, which will set them up for life after basketball.”
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The process. I know that is a big cliché in our game today, but the overall process of what we do is the most rewarding part of my job. The process of watching our kids develop as young naïve freshmen when we get them and graduating four years later as men ready to take on the real world is something very special.”
“Watching a team finally ‘get it’ on the court and believe in what you are preaching is something that I have cherished on some of our most successful teams. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it eventually gets there. It is great to see a team come together and work together at a high level.”
“The relationships we make doing this is another thing that I really cherish. I stay in touch with a lot of the guys that I have worked with in my stops as a coach. I have great relationships with the guys I coached as an assistant and especially since I have been a head coach. There are a few that have careers in intercollegiate athletics and they sometimes call for advice, and we check in on each other often. We spend so much time preparing our kids for life that it is the greatest feeling when one of our kids gets that first job, gets into medical school, gets married or has kids of their own. To be a part of their lives after basketball is done is very special.”
What does it take for a coaching staff to work well together?
“The most important aspect I feel in building cohesion within a coaching staff is trust and loyalty. Coaching staffs spend a lot of time together and have a lot of conversations about how to help our kids be their absolute best. Trust is important because everyone on a staff must fulfill their role to the best of their ability. Loyalty is important because the staff must be united in their approach to helping our kids. There needs to be a consistent message coming from the staff, and we must all use the same terminology on the court. A staff must have open and honest communication with one another, and there needs to be collaboration. No one has all the answers, so being able to bounce ideas off one another is important. Maybe it’s about recruiting, or how to defend a certain type of action, or how to construct summer camp, but I foster a collaborate environment within my coaching staff and I feel it has been beneficial to us.”
What advice would you give to young coaches just starting out in the profession?
“First, no task is too big or too small. And whatever that task is, do it to the absolute best of your ability. It is all a part of learning the ropes of the profession and doing what is needed for the coaching staff, players and program to be successful. Your work ethic will be the thing that gets you noticed and will help you advance in the profession. I feel something else that is important for people in our profession is to follow your own career path and don’t get caught comparing yourself to others, be it close friends in the profession or coaches you compete against. Everyone has their own path, and if you get caught worrying about what others are doing or where they are going, you can easily lose focus. If you worry about doing your absolute best where you are at that moment, you will be fine. This is a great profession, so learn as much as you can, ask questions, stay loyal and enjoy every little part of it.”