“When you get to the NCAA Tournament, anything can happen, as Butler showed last year. It’s about building and maintaining a program that is going to win championships”
— Greg McDermott, Creighton men’s basketball coach
He wasn’t talking about Missouri Valley Conference championships, folks. This is a paraphrased clip of something I told someone last night: A basketball coach can’t increase his odds of being a good basketball coach with a good press conference. But, he can decrease his odds of being a bad basketball coach with a good press conference.
We’re going to have to wait and see what actually takes place on the basketball court over the next two or three years and, hopefully, beyond, but it’s impossible to come away from today’s events not excited about what lies ahead for the Creighton basketball program.
New Creighton men’s basketball coach Greg McDermott entered D.J. Sokol Arena through a Blue Crew/Cheerleader tunnel and he was greeted with a standing ovation from the estimated 250 fans seated in the stands. On the floor, there were 13 cameras lined up behind the three rows of writers and reporters, all waiting for the first new Creighton men’s basketball coach in 16 years to step to the podium.
McDermott’s family, including his son, Doug, who will play for his dad next year as a freshman for the Bluejays, sat next to Creighton’s President, the Rev. John P. Schlegel, S.J., in the front row. McDermott’s mug shot, smiling, but still dressed in a red tie, appeared on the arena’s video board up behind the east basket, in front of which was the podium set in front of a backdrop that proclaimed, perhaps even bragged, that this is the Valley. This is Creighton University.
Creighton Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen stepped to the podium first. He said this was a bittersweet time, that he was happy and excited for the departed coach Altman (“He did not take the job at Oregon; he earned the job at Oregon”), and that Altman and his staff had done a great job of modeling the mission of Creighton University.
“I congratulate him, and wish him continued success,” Rasmussen said. “Coach, his staff and his student-athletes continuously did a great job at representing themselves, their program, the university and the community, and we wish them nothing but the best.”
And that was that. Consider those words the final moments of the Dana Altman Era at Creighton University. After less than one minute of speaking about and thanking the former head man, it was on to the matter at hand.
Rasmussen began to talk about what he was looking for in a head coach. He layed out the following criteria:
- Someone who had had documented success as a head coach at the Division I level, “experience at a level that we aspire to compete. That is, a nationally-relevant program in men’s basketball.”
- Someone who who understood Creighton, the Missouri Valley Conference, the Midwest, “and who understood what it was to be the head of a major college basketball program in this country.”
- Someone with “great passion for the game, great intelligence in teaching the game, and great character.”
- Someone who was a great family man, and “someone who understood the emotions these young men and their families feel.”
- Someone who is a great teacher and has demonstrated an ability to develop players.
“I am confident that as you get to know Coach McDermott, you will see that he is an absolutely perfect fit for that position,” Rasmussen added. He then went on to discuss the process and how it happened so quickly. “Quickness is only an illusion,” he said.
Rasmussen claimed that, as an athletic director who had a men’s basketball coach who was often sought after and was often interested in other jobs, he has always kept a list of potential replacement candidates.
Said Rasmussen: “As I have watched basketball and observed coaches, I’ve watched and observed those on my private list. I’ve watched how they coach; I’ve watched how they interact with their players, with officials, with their boosters; I’ve watched how they’ve recruited; I’ve watched how they’ve taught the game; I’ve watched how they’ve conducted themselves. So, in reality, there’s probably been 100 or so coaches that have continually been interviewing for Creighton University.”
Rasmussen said he first watched McDermott coach when he was the head coach at Wayne State in Nebraska. “He was very highly thought of, not only by the Wayne State people, but by all the coaches in the state.” He then listed McDermott’s accomplishments at Northern Iowa and Iowa State, and, proudly, said the magic words (added emphasis is mine): “I am very proud to introduce to you today, the 16th head men’s basketball coach in the history of Creighton University, coach Doug McDermott.” D’oh! And so, the new chapter of Creighton basketball began with excitement, fanfare and an incorrect name. Excited yet?
Time to Turn the Page
As McDermott took his spot in front of the cameras, he received another standing ovation. He’s a tall man, which made it necessary that he bend slightly to use the microphone, so he set both hands on the podium and dropped his head when he spoke. This was it. This was one of the biggest moments in Creighton basketball history, and everyone in the building knew it.
“I’ve never had any applause from anyone in this town before, so that’s kind of nice.”
“I am so excited to be here,” he continued, and he started with a story about Creighton Director of Athletic Marketing, Mike West. West, who was working in the Sports Information Office at Wayne State while finishing up his graduate course work, was the first person McDermott met in his first two weeks at Wayne State, and he was one of the first people McDermott saw when he got to Omaha last night.
“I can’t shake him,” McDermott said about West. “It’s amazing how things work out, and I’m really excited and happy to be back in the state of Nebraska.”
He then went on to thank some people — Schlegel, Rasmussen, Wayne State people, Northern Iowa people, Iowa State people, his parents, his family.
“My family has been a rock for me,” he said. “[His wife] Theresa and I have been through a lot together. She has followed every move I have asked her to make during my coaching career. Those that know me, they say the best part of me is my wife. She’s the head coach in our house.”
Why Creighton is Right for Greg McDermott…
…according to Greg McDermott.
“I think what it really came down to…” started McDermott, “The core values that have been instilled in me since I was a child by my parents, in our household, were faith, family and farm, at that time. Now, my core values are my faith, my family and my team and the university I work for. I’m not sure that there’s an institution anywhere that embodies that better than Creighton University.”
He mentioned that Creighton offers a first-class education and that it has some of “the best fans in the United States,” something that he has first-hand experience with having coached at UNI.
“Those six or seven guys that sat right behind the opposing coach’s bench — they were in college then, but based on what they were doing at the games, they still might be in college somewhere, and I hope they’re saying the same things to the opposing coaches next year that they were five or six years ago, because those guys were having a good time.”
He said there is “no venue to play college basketball better in the United States to play college basketball then the Qwest Center,” citing not only the beautiful arena, but also the fans, both knowledgeable and boisterous.
McDermott said that, while his jobs at Northern Iowa and Wayne State were rebuilding jobs, his job at Creighton won’t be a rebuilding job but, rather, a retooling job.
“Coach Altman has done an unbelievable job during his tenure building this program to the level that it is. I understand that those are huge shoes to fill, not only because of what he meant to this University and this basketball program, but because of how he was thought of in this community. I take that responsibility very seriously. This isn’t a rebuilding job — it’s a retooling job. We need to tweak some things, maybe put our stamp on it, but these guys know what it takes to compete for championships, and we’re going to try to pick up right where coach Altman left off.”
McDermott’s son, Doug, is a senior at Ames High School in Ames, Iowa. He has previously committed to play basketball for Northern Iowa. The elder McDermott confirmed that Doug would now play for him at Creighton: “I can’t say, as Creighton’s coach, that he’s going to play for me, but as his dad, I can tell you that Doug’s going to come here and play for Creighton.
“He’s excited about it right now, though after that first practice, he might think otherwise.”
“When I think of Creighton basketball for me,” said McDermott, “I was able to admire what Dana did from afar while I was coaching at Wayne State when he had Ryan Sears, Ben Walker. I saw first hand when he had Nate Funk and Kyle Korver — we were playing against those teams. That was a special time in Creighton basketball. We have to get back to those times.
“When I took the Northern Iowa job, Creighton’s program was the benchmark for every other program in the league to follow. When Coach Altman wasn’t around, us coaches would talk about, How can we get our prgram to where Creighton is; what changes do we have to make to get to where Creighton is.
“This program and this University are really a benchmark for all to follow, and we have to keep it there and try to take it to another level.”
The elusive next level!
After the press conference ended and the fans cleared out, McDermott answered more questions for writers and sat down for one-on-one interviews with the local television stations.
- Though the terms of the contract weren’t released, McDermott was asked about getting a 10-year commitment from Creighton, and his answer seemed to confirm that the length is, in fact, 10 years.
“Obviously, it’s flattering. I think it speaks to the confidence that Bruce has in me. But, as he mentioned. we’ve known each other for a long time and he’s been able to follow what I’ve been doing, so it’s up to him to decide if I’m the right fit. At the end of the day, we both decided that it was a great fit”
- McDermott spoke to the importance of the next two weeks, as far as developing relationships with the current players.
“It’s more important than anything we could do on the recruiting trail. We have to try to establish relationships as quickly as we can and explain our vision to these guys, and hope that they share in that vision and feel like they can fit into that and be an important part of that.”
- McDermott has not yet spoken to any of the incoming recruits who had verbally committed or signed Letters of Intent. He said protocol is not to do that until after the coach is officially introduced. He said he will contact recruits today.
- Ah, yes, the P’Allen question.
“I’ll discuss his situation with Bruce and with the current members of the coaching staff and find out what has taken place to lead to that suspension. We only want guys here who want to be part of this program and who will follow the core values that we set for this program, and if he hasn’t lived up to that, then maybe he can’t be part of it.”
- On the hecklers that sat behind the visitor’s bench while he was coaching at UNI:
“It was definitely obvious that they were serving beer at the Qwest Center.”
- He was asked if mid-majors are closing the gap on BCS conference schools.
It certainly helps when you can maintain continuity on your staff, and when your facilities are as good as anyone in the country. It gives you an opportunity to get into homes that, otherwise, I don’t think you could get into. We’ve got to do a good job at selling Creighton off of our campus in order to get kids on our campus, because once you get here, this place really sells itself.
- McDermott lists the kids from UNI’s Sweet 16 roster that he recruited before he left for Iowa State: Jordan Eglsedar, Adam Koch, Kwadzo Ahelegbe and Kerwin Dunham.
- What was it like to see Creighton from a recruiting perspective, when he accompanied Doug on an official visit in September?
“The recruiting process in general, it was very educational for me to go through it as a parent. I think I learned a lot that helped me as a recruiter. It was interesting for me and a great learning experience for me to go through that. We learned a lot about Creighton in a short period of time. The people stood out. I hadn’t been on campus before, so I got a chance to see that and to meet a lot of people, and we were very impresssed.”
- I asked McDermott about his scheduling philosophy. We’re used to coach Altman and Bruce taking a strong stance against any one-and-dones or two-for-ones.
“When you have a team that you feel is as competitive as anyone in the country, you have to find a way to play those games. It’s hard to get them at your home court. Having been at the BCS level, there isn’t anyone in a BCS conference that’s going to be excited about coming to the Qwest Center, because it is known in the basketball circles that it’s a difficult place to play, because of the fan base and because Creighton has had very good teams. We’ll be hesitant to do one-and-dones, but we need to find a way to play those opponents.”
- I asked about the exempt event Creighton and Iowa State were to play each other as a part of. He started to laugh, sighed and said, to some laughter:
“That wasn’t very smart. I think we’re going to have to rally the troops in Omaha for that one. We might need to take a couple caravans over for that one.
“It’ll be fun. It’s never fun to play against guys that you coached and recruited, so that’ll be emotional, but other than that, it will be a good opportunity for our team.”
- Seeing as Dana was, how should I put it… technologically challenged? Unwilling to do a coach’s show (or generally promote the program at all)? Totally against fun? I asked McDermott his thoughts on things like Twitter (which he used at Iowa State), coaches’ shows and Midnight Madness-like events.
“Well, it hasn’t even been 72 hours yet. I couldn’t find my way back to the office from here right now. I’ll figure that stuff out over time. I’ll tell you that I’ve never been one to be afraid to say what I think. I’m very open and honest with the media, maybe to a fault at times where it gets me in a little trouble. I’m not going to change who I am. I want to be a coach who fans can feel like they can come up to and shake my hand and have a conversation. That’s just what I’m about and I’ve always been that way and I plan to continue to be that way.”
This was the first time most of the players were meeting McDermott. About half of them were in attendance at the event, and a few spoke afterward. Paul Liberty asked a few questions.
Junior Kenny Lawson, on his reaction to the change:
“There is really no point in looking at the past. We need to focus on growing as a team and working with Coach. I am really excited to work with him.”
Lawson, on McDermott’s coaching style:
“I had the opportunity to play against Brackins in high school so I was familiar with his skill set, and to see how he has grown under Coach McDermott is really impressive.”
Antoine Young, who had sounded upset at Altman’s departure, on if he’s excited:
Josh Jones, on expectations:
I think his expectations will be similar to Altman’s — we want to win. I am excited to play for him and get to know him.
Finally, I asked Creighton women’s basketball coach Jim Flanery and volleyball coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth what their reaction was to the press conference, and their thoughts on working with McDermott.
“I’ve only heard really good things about him. I’ve had several people text, e-mail and leave messages about what a great guy he is. A lot of people know him from Wayne or UNI. I’m surprised at how quickly it happened, but from what I know about him and every thing I’ve ever heard about him, he’s a great candidate and a great hire.”
“I thought it was great. I know the volleyball coach at Northern Iowa well — she’s a good friend of mine — and she just raves about what a good person and coach he is and how the players really enjoy playing for Coach McDermott. I always trust Ras. I think he makes great hires, so we’re excited to welcome him and his staff to the athletic department.”