Friday, April 26, 2013
Friday Cardinal Couple -- David Watson takes a look at....Jeff Walz
FRIDAY CARDINAL COUPLE
(David Watson pilots us into the weekend. Seems the lad is still celebrating the Cards runner-up finish in the 2013 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament. As well he should...it was an exciting ride on the Redemption Train.
Today, he looks at Lady Cards head coach Jeff Walz.)
Used to be, when people would listen to me talk about Jeff Walz and the job he's done at UofL with the women's basketball program -- they'd sometimes point to the Cards 2009 success with a verbal asterisk. He inherited Angel. What's he done lately, since she's gone?
We can finally put that caveat to bed. Bury it in the garden. 2013 will be remembered as the year in women's college basketball when Baylor DIDN'T win the national title after being picked by 9 out of every 10 people who pretend to know a little something about the game -- because a color-blind, stuttering coach from Louisville, KY sent the Bears into early hibernation and caught the hearts and imaginations of probably every fan base in women's college basketball but the Bears, UConn Huskies and Kentucky Wildcats.
That 10th. person resides in Connecticut.
You know UK fans. They still think Matthew Mitchell is better. It was great to see all of them in New Orleans.
So, who is this guy? This coach who has taken a 4 and 5 seed to the Big Dance title match twice in five years?
Meet Jeffrey Jacob Walz. Born October 27th., 1971 in northern Kentucky. I was at my dear old alma mater in South Bend at the time, protesting the U.S. involvement in Vietnam and missed the blessed event. He attended Fort Thomas Highlands High School and was a decent enough basketball player to garner a scholarship to Northern Kentucky University. After a couple of years, he "retired" from the team and freed up a scholarship. The athletic department was in full agreement, according to him. He was fascinated with coaching, though...began at the eighth-grade level and parlayed his success, and the success of his younger sister Jaime ( Kentucky Miss Basketball 1996) into a job with Paul Sanderford at Western Kentucky University...where he coached her as a graduate assistant and got a master's degree in secondary education.
It wasn't in food service management, even though he's been pondering a career working for his friend Geno Auriemma in restaurant operations.
When Sanderford took the Nebraska head coaching job in 1997, Walz accepted the invite to be an assistant coach and headed to Lincoln. He and Paulie made three consecutive NCAA appearances there together.
In 2002, a lady named Brenda Oldfield (now Brenda Frese) asked him to join the staff at the University of Minnesota. He spent a year there, watching her improve the Golden Gophers from a 8-20 record to 22-8. She was named AP Coach of the year, and promptly left for Maryland. Walz went along, figuring he'd tried lutefish and was ready for some crab cakes. They turned the Terps into a national power...winning the 2006 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.
Tom Jurich was watching. He was faced with the dilemma of replacing Tom Collen, who was offered a chance to go home to Arkansas and tend to the Hogs.
Cardinal fans should have seen that move eventually coming. Collen all but had the Vanderbilt job but because of a discrepancy on his resume..the 'Dores passed on him. Collen "settled" for Louisville. He craved the SEC. He finally got back there. It was great to see him in New Orleans also.
Never claim to be an astronaut unless you've been one. Or list that you were one of the original Beatles. Collen seems like a nice enough guy. He bears a striking resemblance to Mel Brooks. That probably wasn't on the resume.
You know Jurich. He works his magic on everything. When the 2007-08 season tipped off, Walz was on the Freedom Hall bench -- skippering the Lady Cards.
He had Angel McCoughtry. A junior. He had another talented junior in Candyce Bingham. A precocious freshman named Dez Byrd was trying to learn how to be a point guard. Brandie Radde was the three-point specialist and the Cards were getting ready for their third season in the BIG EAST. Walz's inaugural team posted another 10-6 conference record, third in a row, and went 26-10. They made it to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. They also cracked the top 15 in attendance in WBB college ball, with 6500 fans a game watching McCoughtry magic.
We all know what happened in 2008-09.
He is now preparing for his seventh season as the head coach of Louisville. He is at 148-65 in his time at the corner of Cardinal Blvd. and Floyd Street and five wins away from becoming the leader in career wins for the Lady Cards program. It took Bud Childers eight years to get to 152. Against decidedly weaker competition.
Others are noticing. Tennessee considered making the call before elevating Holly Warlick. Ohio State rang the doorbell. There will be more inquiries and calls. It happens.
People want the best they can get.
Walz is a shooting star. He handles it with style -- unafraid to display his wonderfully sarcastic sense of humor in pressure situations.
He answers his own phone and returns his own e-mails and texts.
That he does that speaks volumes for the man. Paulie told me of a story recently where he was trying to get an on-line interview with Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb after the Bears made the Final Four. He sent an e-mail to Ms. Gottlieb. He got a reply from an assistant intern, stating the the coach would love to do something like that. Would, in fact, reply that very evening. Paulie's still waiting for that reply. From either Gottlieb or the assistant intern. Or anyone in California.
Walz has sent two assistants to head coaching jobs. His college kids graduate and (although some do transfer) are taught life lessons about what to expect when their playing days are over. They stay in touch. They appreciate, eventually, what he teaches them.
So, how do you keep a shooting star in your galaxy?
Money helps. Filling the seats in the KFC YUM Center couldn't hurt. It's more than that, though.
There is the love of the campus, the city. He has the best boss in the business in Tom Jurich. He gets to watch Rick Pitino practices and play golf with him. And, he gets good seats for the Kentucky Derby. He even likes most of the local media guys. Think you can get that in New England or Knoxville?
Geno's job for him -- of busing tables and hauling trash -- may have to wait a very long time. Which begs the question...when the "man" steps down eventually in Hartford, does the "mad scientist" get the phone call?
Only Jeff Walz can answer that. For now, the challenge awaits of facing his pal for a season in a league where UConn and UofL look to be the exacta pick. Then, to battle against the ACC.
Jeff Walz will take it all in stride. From being the uninvited party crasher who ruined the dance -- his destiny will most likely turn out making him the honored guest at the coronation. And, he'll deadpan that, as well.
I've never met the man. Through Paulie's site here and on-line clips, though -- I feel I've known him for years. I'll probably never meet him -- my days of travelling 3 1/2 hours to watch Louisville WBB games are about to end. It's an age thing, and with this wonderful thing called the internet, I can follow the Lady Cards' successes in the comfort of my recliner. I may even start a checkered shirt collection.
I'll never match him in air miles. Every flight attendant at Southwest is probably on a first-name basis with him. I bet he gets two packages of peanuts or crackers. He probably never loses a piece of luggage.
Keep it up, Coach. These are fun days. When's the first game, again?