Former Butler coach reflects on lifelong journey of basketball & leadership

Writer / Jon Shoulders
Photographer / Michael Thierwechter

Todd Lickliter can still recall playing in the stands of North Central High School’s basketball stadium as a five-year-old, while his father ran practice drills as head coach of the Panthers varsity men’s team. Something about the game of basketball had begun to seep into his bones, even back then.

“I think it was inevitable that I’d be involved in athletics,” Lickliter recalls. “It was always an activity where I could really have some direct contact with what my father was doing by attending practice and the games. As I grew older and became a coach myself, I realized how fortunate I’d been to spend that time at the gym around players and my father.”

Lickliter grew up on the north side of Indy, and by the time his high school years rolled around, he was playing varsity hoops on the same court he had watched his father’s teams practice on as a youngster. After graduating from North Central he went on to play at the collegiate level, earning an associate degree from Central Florida Community College and finishing his junior and senior years at Butler University. Even as a student-athlete, Lickliter had an inkling that coaching was in his future.

“I saw the satisfaction that it brought to my father and it seemed like something I had a good grasp of,” he says. “I’m an education major as well, and it was just natural that I would teach and coach and follow in my father’s footsteps.”

Almost immediately after graduating in 1979, Lickliter secured a coaching position at Park Tudor where he began honing a craft that would lead to a successful run in the college ranks. Several staff positions within the Butler men’s basketball program, including assistant to former head coaches Barry Collier and Thad Matta, helped to refine his own approach as a leader and mentor.

“I had developed good relationships with the people and players at Butler for a number of years,” Lickliter says. “I ventured to a couple different college situations before I came back to Butler, and what I found was that the quality and sincerity of the people at Butler was almost unmatched. Becoming head coach was really a dream come true.”

From 2001 through 2007 Lickliter served as Butler’s head coach, and in his first season, he led the Bulldogs into the Associated Press’s Top 25 ranking for the first time in five decades. By 2007, Lickliter had accumulated a 131-61 overall record, and was named 2007 National Coach of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

“If you want to do something very special in athletics, 98 percent of your situations are going to require that you have a tremendous culture, because you’re going to be better collectively than you are individually,” Lickliter says. “The things we did at Butler to help build the program were not due to any one individual. We had a terrific staff, and our student-athletes were incredible and our administration was strong. It doesn’t surprise me that it continued to grow as they moved into the years where Brad Stevens took over as head coach.”

After his time at Butler, Lickliter saw coaching stints at Iowa and Marian universities. Two years ago, he reunited in a professional capacity with Stevens, his former assistant coach at Butler. After Stevens left his own successful coaching run with the Bulldogs to coach the Boston Celtics at the NBA level, he offered Lickliter a chance to serve as a regional scout for the organization. From early fall through late spring he travels to college and NBA Development League games, evaluating and critiquing player potential.

“It’s been a nice, new challenge for me and a way to stay involved and enjoy the relationship Brad and I have developed over the years,” he says. “I get to attend some practices and training camps in Boston, and my wife and I have found that we love downtown Boston.”

The seasonal nature of his NBA scouting job has allowed Lickliter and his wife Joez to spend more time than ever before at their home on the White River, entertaining their three sons and daughters-in-law — all of whom are based in the Indianapolis area, as well as their five grandchildren. These days, Lickliter also occupies a portion of his downtime in a different sort of coaching capacity. A few years ago he adopted his two-and-a-half-year-old dog Rocco and is currently attempting to train the 150-pound Italian Mastiff.

“Being a grandparent is the best, and my wife and I spend as much time as we’re allowed with the kids,” Lickliter says. “I think I’m busier now than I ever was coaching, and that’s fine by me.”

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