NABC Insider goes one-on-one with basketball coaches and administrators at every level of the sport. Today's feature is Nebraska special assistant to the head coach Bobby Lutz.
Why did you become a coach?
“My father is in three athletic Hall of Fames and was manager of perhaps the greatest slow pitch softball team ever. Therefore, I grew up on a ball field and learned to love all sports. Having been a very good high school basketball and baseball player at Bandys High, I enrolled at UNC Charlotte and attempted to walk on to the basketball team. I did not make the team and focused on school, but missed athletics more than I can describe. In fact, I often returned home on Friday nights and sat on the bench of my high school team.”
“In l980 I enrolled in law school at UNC but quit mid-semester when the JV boys and girls coaching position opened at Bandys. I also assisted on both varsity teams. Being on a team and missing athletics is why I quit law school to coach. My high school coach and several teachers attempted to talk me out of my decision, but I was immediately happy and knew it was the right decision.”
What personal experiences – on or off the court – have had the biggest impact on you as a coach?
“I had wonderful parents and a supportive community that are the foundation of everything I have done in my life. Faith and family have always come first, and that is the motto I shared with all my players. Traveling with my dad's softball team all over the nation was an education that prepared me to coach and win.”
“Another personal experience that impacted my career was the tragic death of my sister, Tammy, in January of l985 when I was a grad assistant for Cliff Ellis at Clemson. Although I had my priorities in order before her car accident, I realized that as much as I loved basketball, there was more to life.”
“In my first year as head coach of UNC Charlotte, I had the honor of coaching Charles Hayward, the highest ranked recruit in Charlotte history, after he had beaten leukemia. Charles was an amazing player and even better person - one of the most inspirational people in my life. Unfortunately, leukemia returned and we lost Charles on September 10, 1999. Both Tammy and Charles are still inspirations for me to make a positive difference.”
You’ve coached for more than 30 years. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
“The most satisfying part of coaching for me is the accomplishments of all our players after graduation. At Pfeiffer, we won six-consecutive conference titles and went to three Final Fours. We left as the winningest coaching staff in Pfeiffer history. At UNC Charlotte, we went to seven NCAA Tournaments and won three Conference USA titles.”
How do you interact with your student-athletes off the court? What role do you play in their lives?
“I always try to be a role model for our players. My goal has been to make a positive difference for every player, and to encourage them to find academic and career success in and out of basketball. I taught business statistics at Pfeiffer, and my assistants and I ran study hall. At UNC Charlotte, I tutored our players in certain subjects and taught a summer school course for five years. I hope I made a positive difference.”
How would you describe your leadership style?
“I believe in leading by example first and foremost. Based on my family and background, I have always believed the players did not care how much I knew until they knew how much I cared. Despite being a demanding coach who wanted players to have great attention to detail and corrected them when they were not on task, I tried to whisper criticism and shout praise. As a player and coach, I have always had a chip on my shoulder and challenged myself and our team to defy the odds. Leadership is about treating everyone fairly but not necessarily the same. Leadership means motivating every individual to contribute their best while truly committing to being part of the team. Our motto was ‘get better every day in every way’.”
What coaching skill or competency do you feel is most often overlooked?
“I think it is extremely challenging to treat every player fairly, but not exactly the same. A coach must have rules and guidelines, and all have to be on board. But the best coaches realize that every player reacts differently and is motivated differently. It is easier to have a bunch of rules then to spend the time necessary to truly understand each player.”
What is the first piece of advice you would give to an aspiring coach?
“Do it for the love of the game, not for the money. Do it because you love being on a team and can't imagine your life without it. My career has gone beyond my wildest dreams and I ended up making a very good living, but I truly believe it would have been wonderful had I remained a high school coach my entire career. In addition, try to learn and get all the good ideas from other coaches, but you can't use all the great ideas. Develop a philosophy and style that you believe in, and become the best you can possibly be at coaching that way.”