Writer / Matt Roberts
Photography provided by Butler University Athletics
Butler University basketball has been remarkably resilient through its last six coaching changes. From Thad Matta to Chris Holtmann, the Bulldogs regularly promoted assistant coaches to the top job and continued to enjoy success.
New Coach LaVall Jordan spent last year at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, but that doesn’t mean he’s a stranger to the program.
After playing at Butler under coach Todd Lickliter, Jordan served as an assistant coach at Butler for four years. He then joined Lickliter’s staff at Iowa and moved on to Michigan before accepting the head coaching job at Milwaukee. That team won only eight games during the regular season and lost its last nine in a row. But entering the Horizon League tournament as a 10-seed, the Panthers won three games and lost to eventual champion Northern Kentucky by six points.
A first-year head coach might be expected to question his coaching philosophy after such a tough start, but Jordan believes staying true to the process facilitated the late-season turnaround.
“Nothing changed,” he says. “Which is what allowed us to have good results. If guys didn’t believe in what we were doing, if we hadn’t been consistent as a staff, we wouldn’t have advanced. Consistency is the mark of a champion.
“I give that group a lot of credit. There were a lot of reasons not to believe, losing nine in a row, but when we won the first game (in the tournament) it was like, ‘Hey, we just did it the way we wanted to all year.’”
Working with multiple successful coaches has provided Jordan with an opportunity to absorb distinctive strengths and styles.
“I’ve been fortunate with the type of people I’ve been around,” Jordan says. “They’re all great human beings. With Barry Collier, it was instilling values and holding people accountable. Thad was an unbelievable motivator who just had a gift for getting guys ready. Todd was terrific at team building. He got a lot of respect from the locker room because players knew he cared about them. Brad’s (Stevens) organizational skills are off the charts. Coach Beilein is a great tactician. I really learned how to run a program from him.
“I still lean on them all now,” Jordan adds. “The nice thing is, they’re just a phone call away.”
Jordan was named Butler’s head basketball coach in June, which left only a few weeks to verify that all the freshmen were staying and make arrangements for the team’s trip to Spain. The Bulldogs got four games against international competition and the trip provided a good opportunity for the team to gel with its new coach.
“That was really beneficial,” Jordan says. “We had 10 days just to be together and build relationships, especially with the freshmen. It was also good to be able to go against an opponent. Because in practice, you’re trying to figure out if it was good offense or bad defense. Facing somebody else and having some adversity and seeing who was communicating, having guys make some important shots and seeing what the freshmen can do.”
Jordan will put his own stamp on the team, but don’t expect any wholesale changes to “The Butler Way.”
“We’ve always been opportunistic here, but valuing the basketball has been a staple,” he says. “We’ve always been rated pretty highly in fewest turnovers, and that won’t change. If it does, we’ll have to have some conversations. And playing unselfishly has always been a staple, I don’t see the way we play changing that much.”