Back to Where It Started

When I was coming out of high school, recruiting rankings didn’t exist. That didn’t matter much anyhow, because I wouldn’t have had any stars next to my name. I was just a kid from California with oversized ambitions and undersized athleticism. Like a lot of teenagers at that age, I didn’t have a firm grasp on life. But what I did understand is that I had a passion for the game of basketball. I wanted to be around it any way that I could. But to pursue it professionally, I knew I’d need to attend college, something nobody in my family had ever done.

All I needed was an opportunity — a way in.

That’s what TCU offered me.

Late in the summer after I graduated, right before school started, TCU offered me a scholarship when nobody else would. They took a chance on me, and I never forgot it. My experiences there served as the launching point for what would become a career that’s taken me around the world — from New Zealand to Hawaii to Pennsylvania and beyond.

And now, it’s time for me to return to where it all started.

It’s difficult to explain what I’m feeling. The opportunity to go back to your alma mater and do something that hasn’t been done, it’s … well, exciting isn’t the word … it’s bigger than that.

It’s personal.

While I couldn’t be more excited to return to Fort Worth, it’s incredibly difficult to say goodbye to Pitt, a place that’s been such an important part of my family’s life.

I coached there for 17 years, and in that time we adjusted and adapted constantly to stay competitive. We saw change happen around us, but we always kept the same mentality with our program in order to stay successful. It’s the same mentality of the entire state, really: Hard work, integrity, results.

What will I miss most?

The players. No question.

I look for certain things in a basketball player. First and foremost, I want guys who can pass. Plenty of guys can score at the high school level, but I want players who can make their teammates look better. I also look for guys from winning programs. Winning is, in part, a mentality. It’s about pride. Kids who have that expectation ingrained in them from a young age can take it with them to the college level. And finally, I want players who show a feel for the game. Never mind flashy dunks or crossovers, I want guys who understand the game of basketball. I want players who truly take joy in playing it the right way.

And finally, I look for character. The young men I came across during my time at Pitt possessed this quality in spades. I learned so much from them.

When we were in the Big East, we had a long stretch where we were winning the conference’s most improved player award on a consistent basis. That was something our program emphasized — it’s not about what you are, but what can you become. I never wanted guys who peaked at 18. That’s not what going to college is about. What always excited me was finding a kid who didn’t even know how good he could be, and helping him realize that potential. That’s really the joy of coaching.

It was truly an honor to mentor the young men that came through our program. They could have chosen plenty of schools, but they chose Pitt, and I never wanted them to regret that decision. What an honor to coach them. What an honor.

After I announced that I was leaving Pittsburgh, I was very appreciative of the support I got from the school and the fans alike. That truly meant a lot.

It was always really important to me to not just be a coach at Pitt, but to also be deeply involved in the community. I viewed representing the university well as a responsibility, and I took it really seriously. But it was never too hard to do that. It’s a really great place. I always felt privileged to be associated with Pitt.

I’ve spent a lot time the past few weeks making phone calls to people in the Pitt community who have been an important part of my day-to-day life for a long time. It’s not easy to do that. But I’m thankful for the time we had together.

I approached every day at Pitt as if I was going to finish my career there — because that was what I thought would happen. That’s what I hoped would happen. It’s a place that had a tremendous impact on my life, and I feel like the school and I both grew together over time.

As Pittsburgh and I both move on to new chapters, I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity I was given there. The school is always going to be a definitive part of my life.

As I move to TCU, I feel fired up.

I’m confident we can win here. I didn’t take this job strictly out of obligation or nostalgia. I truly think we can build a very good basketball program.

How do I know?

I’ve seen it. I’ve been a part of it.

When I got to TCU in the ‘80s, we were at the bottom of the conference. We were known as a football school. Nobody took our basketball team very seriously. And we hadn’t made the NCAA tournament in more than a decade.

Sound familiar?

But year by year, we made steady and gradual improvement. We might have been outmatched in terms of talent, but we never got outhustled or outworked. We were a team in every sense of the word. And by the time I left the school, we were conference champions.

So don’t tell me we can’t win here. I know it’s possible.

Of course, I understand it will be a process. You can’t build a program overnight. And there’s an incredible amount of work to be done. Every time my staff starts on one job, it feels like three more issues pop up. But that’s O.K. I’m used to adapting. I’ve always run a program that thrives on figuring out what works instead of on doing what’s conventional.

I feel we have the framework here to turn things around. For starters, we’re part of a great conference. This school bounced between seven different conferences over the course of 21 years. It’s really difficult to build a program when there’s that much uncertainty. But now we’re settled in the Big 12, where some of the best basketball in the country is played. If we can beat teams in this conference, we can beat anyone in college basketball. We have several programs that compete and win on a national level. That’s where our basketball program should be as well. That’s the goal.

To help us get there, we have new facilities and a new arena. Not only does that help in attracting talent but they’re also really indicative of new era for us. They represent a fresh start – a foundation to build on.

Now, it comes down to developing players, which has always been what I love most about coaching. I’m excited to get started with the talent we have on campus, and also to get out there and find the Horned Frogs of the future. It’s a unique situation to be sure. When I look at it from an outside perspective, things seem to be coming together. The state of Texas, and the DFW Metroplex in particular, is producing some of the best basketball talent in America. We’re in a position where we can go down the street and find a program-changing player. We can build a very good team just by keeping these guys home. Fortunately, we’re also offering the opportunity to attend a quality university that sells itself.

This school is a much different place than when I was a student. It’s better in just about every way, from the academics, to the athletics, to the facilities. But there’s also still so much that’s familiar. The people are the same. There’s the same distinct kindness and pride that exists in Fort Worth. I missed it. You’d be hard-pressed to find a group of people more committed to their school than the students and alumni at TCU. It has been amazing to watch the school grow from afar all of these years.

Many years ago, this university offered me an opportunity that changed my life. Now, I couldn’t be more excited and honored that TCU has put its faith in me once again. It feels so good to be home.