CRAWFORD | The wit and wisdom of Louisville coach Jeff Walz
Louisville coach Jeff Walz has become a favorite on the podium at the NCAA Tournament -- or anytime. A look at some of his more outspoken -- or more insightful -- comments over the past week.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – University of Louisville coach Jeff Walz is a curiosity in the women’s game. He’s a character. We know that in Louisville. They know that everywhere else, too. Reporters show up when he has a news conference because they know at some point, something will be said that will entertain or interest people beyond the sport, maybe even go viral, if you ask him about participation trophies.
This year’s NCAA Tournament has been no different.
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma made fun of Walz for his “Italian restaurant tablecloth” shirts when the two first started tangling in the Big East Conference. When they asked him about Walz this week, he said, “It seems like he's been there forever, from our days in the Big East. It kind of took off right away. It didn't take very long. We played them in the Final Four when he had Angel (McCoughtry) and that crew. Then we played them again. So he's certainly set himself apart from a lot of other college coaches and has done a remarkable job there. The record speaks for itself. The accomplishments speak for themselves, the attendance change, everything. He's one of the best coaches that we have in the game. I don't think any of us in the business are surprised that he is where he is, and I would expect them to be a factor on a regular basis.”
Since earning the third Final Four appearance of his tenure at Louisville, Walz has been asked a number of things about the women’s game, Connecticut, and his upcoming matchup.
Here are some of his best responses.
1). IS CONNECTICUT BAD FOR THE GAME? He’s gotten the same variation of this several times this postseason, and I’m starting to think people just ask the question because they get a kick out of how he answers it. The question stems from the notion advanced by some writes that Connecticut’s dominance of the women’s game dampens interest elsewhere.
Walz spent a number of years in the same league not only with Connecticut but with Notre Dame. It’s no coincidence that those programs, among others, are emerging as top programs in the women’s game. Notre Dame and Louisville have risen because of a desire to catch Connecticut, combined with university athletics administrations who make a commitment to women’s sports.
Walz doesn’t want to be Connecticut. He wants to beat Connecticut. So when Walz is asked if Connecticut is bad for the game, well, his response is spirited.
“Oh, no, it's not bad for women's basketball,” he said after Louisville won the Lexington Regional. “I guess when Alabama beats somebody 66-3 it's bad for college football. You know, God forbid if they go beat somebody 70-2. Should they quit football because Alabama is dominating people? I look at it more as if you can't be impressed and admire what they do year in and year out, shame on you. If you want to sit there and write an article saying it's bad for basketball, maybe you're bad for what you do, I mean, because God forbid, if you can't appreciate greatness, then shame on you. I mean, maybe the people that write these articles suck at their job, so they want to try to crack on somebody else. That's my two cents.
“I mean, damn, like do you know how hard it is -- we're sitting there, and Steph Norman and I have been here for 11 years, and we're going to our third Final Four in 11 seasons, and I'm telling you, this is the damn hardest s--- I've ever been through. I sat there and told Steph before the game started, imagine, UConn every year for like 15 years, I think they've been -- whatever it's been in a row, their season doesn't end until April the 3rd, April the 4th, just about every year. Like it's exhausting. I mean, it's -- I told a friend that when we're finished, when it's all finished, I hope it's not until next Sunday, that my goal is to sit in bed for about four days and watch reruns of Law and Order SVU. I mean, I'm physically exhausted, because the amount of preparation you put into all of this. It's not you just show up for the game and roll the ball out and go. So what Geno has done I think is amazing. I don't think it's bad for anything. I watch it. I watch them play and admire it. Our goal is to hopefully get there at one point in time. That's what everybody is trying to do.
“So yeah, so whoever writes that needs to look at themselves and see if they suck at their job, because I think they do. Sorry about that.”
2). ON CREATING A NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED POWER AT LOUISVILLE. During the Final Four news conference, a reporter asked Walz how he went about building a Louisville program that has been to three Final Fours when it wasn’t a relevant player in women’s college basketball before that. The reporter noted that he wasn’t sure if Walz had a roster full of McDonald’s All-Americans (he has six, same as UConn and Notre Dame), but he wondered how Walz did it.
Walz talked about what he changed, but acknowledged he and the program have made it to this point because of players.
“You know, we were fortunate,” Walz said. “I say this all the time. When I took the job at Louisville, I took it over, and it was a good program. It was solid. Tom Collen had done a really nice job. Tom didn't get fired at Louisville. Tom took the Arkansas job. So I had the opportunity to inherit Angel McCoughtry. Now, we also worked really hard at changing the culture, changing expectations, changing what they have to do.
“Because I'll never forget, in my interview, the players had the opportunity to talk to me and ask me questions, and Angel asked me, What are you going to do to get us to a Sweet 16?”
“I said, Well, Angel, I'm not playing. I can't play for you. What are you going to do? And she kind of looked at me, and I said, It's about building a team. You guys have known that Coach Colin took the job at Arkansas a week ago, right?”
“She's like, Yeah.”
“I go, Which one of you have called the freshmen that have just signed, so they're seniors in high school, to tell them everything is going to be okay? Not one returning player had reached out to the incoming freshmen because they just didn't think about it. They didn't realize it. And I'm like, that's your problem. You've got each other right here, so you're comfortable with knowing, hey, we're going to find a coach. We're going to be good. But you've got incoming freshmen that signed -- and I know everybody says you sign with the school. No, you sign because you build a relationship with the coach at that school. The coach leaves, and now they were fractured some, the freshmen. They didn't know what to expect.”
“And that next day, on my second day of the interview, Patrika Barlow comes running up to me, and she says, Coach, I called all of them, and they're so thankful, and they're excited.”
“And that's kind of how things started with us, was getting the players to realize it's their team. It's not the coaches. We do our jobs at giving them guidance, putting in game plans, but they have to be the ones that invest in it.”
“And it started on that day, and we have just continued to build and build and build. And it's been a remarkable 11 years with some wonderful players that have bought in to us and believed in what we could do. And I've said, I mean, we're sitting here right now with Myisha Hines-Allen as our only senior, and we can say as a staff that everybody that's completed four years with us in 11 years has had the opportunity to play in a Final Four. We're proud of that and looking forward to a great weekend.”
3). ON CONNECTICUT, PART II. Walz was asked if it’s better to be in a Final Four where the Huskies had won several national titles in a row, or one, like this one, where they had made the Final Four and not won the title. Walz’s response ended the press conference.
“You know what, the great thing about it is when the draw comes out, everybody's like, You want to be opposite UConn,” Walz said. “That's a lie. That's the worst thing you could ever have happen. How many national championship games have they lost? You know the answer? Zero. When they lose is in the semis. So you want to play them in the semis because he can't coach that game very well (laughter). You know, he gets tight. He gets nervous, and he can't perform. Then finally in the championship game, he lets (longtime assistant coach) Chris (Dailey) do it, and he's 11-0. He gets all the credit, though.”
“So you want to be on the same side of the bracket. This stuff of being on the opposite side is bad business. . . . That was a great question. Thank you, everybody.”
4). RIDING IN A SIDECAR. Walz noticed on Tuesday that the motorcycles of the team’s police escort had sidecars. You don’t have to know Walz very well to know what happened next. Walz was climbing into the car with a helmet and sunglasses on.
“It was absolutely great,” Walz said. “That's one thing, I kind of was joking with them when we came to practice yesterday and said, hey, I'd like to sit in that on the way back. Roll out of practice, and he's got the jacket, helmet, and the gloves. I'm in. Yeah, I'd like to actually do it tomorrow on the way to the game.”
Does anyone doubt that he will?
5). ON GETTING THE OPPORTUNITY TO BE A HEAD COACH. Walz’s issues with stuttering have gotten less press in recent years, because it’s old news. He overcomes it a little more every year, and people don’t think about it as much. It’ll get some attention from ESPN in its pregame coverage because Durr had a stuttering issue of her own, and Walz has helped her to deal with it.
But the issue could’ve been a deal-breaker when it came to being a head coach. He’d been a top assistant at Maryland for a national championship run, but didn’t know when his chance would come until he sat down with then-Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich.
“When I took the job here, I was just grateful to have been given the opportunity to be a head coach<” Walz said. “I'm forever indebted to Tom Jurich. When Tom was here, he was the athletic director that hired me, I had applied at several other smaller jobs throughout my years, and could never even get an in-person interview. So when this opportunity came about and they reached out, I was like, hey, I'll take the job.”
“I can remember 11 years ago sitting in the Marriott downtown Louisville and Tom offered me the job, and he asked me, ‘What will it take?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘What kind of salary?’ I said, ‘I don't care. Are you offering me the job?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I'll take it.’
“So I took the job, accepted it. Had a press conference before we even knew what a salary was going to be because I just wanted to get this opportunity to be a head coach. I would never take a job without the chance to think we could do some special things.”
“But to have the opportunity to play in four Elite Eights and now be in three Final Fours in 11 seasons, I wouldn't say that we thought that was going to happen. But as we've continued to build this program and recruit some special players and special families, it's been neat to see it develop and grow throughout the years.”
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