Jon Teitel's "Coaching Greats" Series: Former Charlotte head coach Bobby Lutz

May 10th, 2011

In the most recent installment in his "Coaching Greats" series CHN writer Jon Teitel took some time to talk with former Charlotte head coach Bobby Lutz. During his time at Charlotte, Lutz led the 49ers to five NCAA Tournament appearances. Coach Lutz recently became a member of new head coach Mark Gottfried's staff at NC State.  

Jon Teitel: From 1984-1986 you were an assistant for Cliff Ellis at Clemson. What made Ellis such a great coach, and what is the most important thing you ever learned from him?

Bobby Lutz: Coach Ellis taught me the value of attention to detail in all phases of your program. He was/is a master of changing defenses, dictating tempo, and preparing a proper game strategy. I also learned the value of recruiting. By the way, Coach Ellis won his 600th game last season at Coastal Carolina.

JT: In 1986 you were named head coach at Pfeiffer College, and in 1995 you led the Falcons to the NAIA title game before losing to Birmingham Southern. Did you consider your run in the NAIA Tournament to be a success (due to making it to the title game), or a failure (due to getting so close but not winning it all), or something in between?

BL: When we took over at Pfeiffer, the program had made only one trip to the NAIA National Tournament in the previous 50 years. Our last six seasons there we won six conference titles and made six national tournaments. We went to a Final 8, two Final Fours (losing to eventual champ Oklahoma City twice in the semifinals), and lost in the title game in 1995. We graduated 33 of 36 players during that time. Of all our great teams, the 1994-95 squad was not the most talented but still made it to the finals. They were on a mission and are now collectively a part of the Pfeiffer Hall of Fame. It was absolutely a success despite the disappointment of not winning the title.

JT: In 1995 you were named head coach at Gardner-Webb, but resigned two weeks after accepting the job in order to become an assistant coach at Charlotte. Did you have any regrets about making the switch, and what did it mean to you to return to your alma mater?

BL: A little background is necessary to understand my actions after leaving Pfeiffer in April of 1995 to go to Gardner-Webb. I had attempted to join Coach Jeff Mullins at UNC Charlotte three times during my nine years at Pfeiffer. As I was about to accept the Gardner-Webb job, Coach Mullins called me and said that he would hire me if a spot opened up (he anticipated that an assistant might get a head coaching position elsewhere). I told President White and AD Eddie Holbrook at G-W before accepting the job that I would take a position at UNC Charlotte if it was offered to me. I wanted them to know the risk up front, but they still hired me. Two months (and six signed recruits later), Coach Mullins called me and offered me a job. It was difficult to leave G-W but I made the change. Joining the staff at UNC Charlotte was a special opportunity for me. Honestly, I was frustrated that despite our success at Pfeiffer I could not get an interview for a Division I position. There are so many excellent coaches at lower levels who never get a chance at the highest level.

1999 NCAA Tournament (head coach at Charlotte)

JT: Galen Young had 17 points and 10 rebounds in an overtime win over URI. How big a deal was it to win a game in the tourney?

BL: We won four games in four days to win the C-USA conference tourney in l999 (my first season as head coach), which included wins over Cincinnati in the semis and Louisville in the finals; it was very special. We were a #5-seed and drew URI and Lamar Odom in the first round. We were a sizable underdog according to the experts, but we won in overtime thanks to a team effort. C-USA tourney MVP Young was marvelous before fouling out, and his fellow Memphis native Marlon Thomas did a great job guarding Odom in OT. This team understood their roles, and was the best team I ever had at understanding scouting reports.

JT: Young had 23 points and 13 rebounds in a loss to Oklahoma. Did he just carry the team on his back that March, and what was the reaction like when you got back to campus?

BL: After the URI win, Kelvin Price got the flu and was getting IV fluids before the game. He tried to play but was ineffective, so we had to play a freshman in the post against OK. We were not a real deep team (especially up front), and although we fought valiantly, we fell short. It was difficult to lose, especially without having KP. Our campus was excited about the season both before and after the tourney.

2001 NCAA Tournament

JT: Rodney White had 12 points and nine rebounds in a seven-point win over Tennessee. What did your team learn from the 1999 tourney that helped you in 2001?

BL: In the 2000 conference tourney we were not quite as talented but still made the semifinals vs. DePaul (who had four future NBA players). We had the lead at halftime before Tremaine Gardiner pulled his groin. 2001 was our most talented team, and had it not been for injuries we might have had a much higher seed than the #9-seed we received after winning the CUSA conference tourney again. We were better than Tennessee despite not playing particularly well, and we felt we had a great shot at beating the #1-seed Illinois and Coach Bill Self.

JT: Demon Brown scored 19 points in a loss to Illinois. Did Illinois just have a more talented team, and what was the feeling like in your locker room afterwards?

BL: Illinois was very physical and was able to dominate us. We did not shoot the ball well, which we needed to do against them. After Illinois beat Kansas in the Sweet 16 they lost their next game to eventual national runner-up Arizona (who shot 56 free throws in that game!). We were not able to get to the line in our loss, as we only took 17 free throws. We were disappointed, but proud of the season that we had. White declared for the NBA draft and was the 9th overall pick (one spot ahead of Joe Johnson) after being named ESPN's Freshman of the Year.

JT: What are your memories of the 2002 NCAA Tournament (Ryan Humphrey had 20 points and 11 rebounds in a win by Notre Dame)?

BL: 2002 was special because we lost a lot of talent off the 2001 team yet still made the NCAA Tournament behind Jobey Thomas, Cam Stevens, and Brown. We liked our match-up with Notre Dame, but once again the flu hit us as Thomas was sick and on IV fluids. He played but was not even close to half-strength, and without him we were no match for the Irish. Humphrey led Notre Dame after also playing on the Oklahoma team that beat us in the 1999 NCAA Tournament.

JT: In November 2003 Brendan Plavich scored 31 points (including a Carrier Dome-record 10 3PM) in 30 minutes for a four-point win over Syracuse, as you became the 1st team in NCAA history to beat the defending national champions in their home opener (despite allowing Syracuse to score 63 PTS in the 2nd half). Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot he put up seemed to go in because he was "in the zone", and how on earth did you win after giving up 63 points in the 2nd half?

BL: We went to Syracuse for their home opener after they had won the title the previous spring, and won behind Brendan's 10 3-PT baskets. We were an attacking team and were able to break their press and get easy baskets for Brendan. Curtis Withers was also terrific against their big inside players, which allows us to build a huge lead. Gerry McNamara was phenomenal in the 2nd half (scoring 28 of his career-high 34 points) and we held on for a win despite them scoring 63 PTS in the 2nd half. It was a tale of two halves, but we won the 40-minute game despite being on the road against a team that seldom loses to non-conference opponents at home. It was a fun game, and perhaps our best non-conference road win ever.

JT: What are your memories of the 2004 NCAA Tournament (Withers had 17 points and nine rebounds in a three-point loss to Texas Tech)?

BL: 2004 was another fun/good season. We were unable to beat Bobby Knight's team (led by Andre Emmett), but Withers played well and we made a late run to lose by just three points. Martin Iti got a couple of tough foul calls against him in the first half, which really hurt us because he was a major defensive factor for us all year and in that game as well. With him sitting out due to foul trouble, we watched a close game turn into a comfortable margin for them that we could not overcome despite a great 2nd half effort.

JT: What are your memories of the 2005 NCAA Tournament (Eddie Basden had 15 points and 10 rebounds in 40 minutes in a loss to NC State)?

BL: 2005 was a great season, but we ended it with tough losses due in large part to scheduling. We were at Louisville on senior night and got beat while playing for the regular season title. After that 9PM loss on a Thursday, we traveled to South Florida for an early afternoon game on a Saturday, and I made a mistake by practicing on Friday because our seniors wanted to practice. I should have just had a walk-through and shoot-around, because we had no legs left on Saturday as we lost at USF. Then went to Memphis for the conference tourney and lost our opener to Memphis. They were very talented, but we had beaten them at home in Halton Arena earlier that season. We lost a little confidence going into the NC State game in the NCAA tourney, but played great and had a big lead in the first half. Brendan made a lot of early 3-PT shots, but then NC State got very physical with him off the ball. I will never forget Brendan coming to me as soon as the half ended and pulling his jersey up: his chest was red from all the scratches/bruises. I had him show referee Ed Hightower, which just pissed him off even more. A former ACC head coach who was at the game told me afterward that had it been JJ Redick instead of Brendan, he would have shot 20 free throws in that game. C-USA POY and Defensive POY Basden was terrific in the game, but down the stretch our team could not make enough plays. Julius Hodge led his team to the victory despite our best efforts.

JT: After spending last year as an assistant coach to Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State, you recently took a job with NC State. How did you like working for Hoiberg, and why did you decide to take the new job?

BL: My experience at Iowa State was tremendous in every way. Hoiberg (who was named rookie COY by Basketball Times) was wonderful to work for, and the future of Cyclone basketball is in good hands. We shared similar philosophies in terms of both basketball and life. The team won the most games it had in the past 5 years, and will be a contender in the Big 12 next season. My decision to return to the state of North Carolina (and NC State specifically to work for Mark Gottfried) was both complex/simple. I will miss not being a part of the Cyclone team that I helped to build for the 2011-12 season. However, every professional decision I have made has been primarily focused on my family since I left Clemson in 1986 to go to Pfeiffer after my sister Tammy was killed in a car accident. Similarly, my father recently had a heart attack on February 18th, and the opportunity to return to North Carolina made perfect sense. In addition, the opportunity to work for Mark and to be in the ACC was obviously very attractive. I look forward to assisting Wolfpack basketball's return to national prominence.

Coach Lutz is also on Jon's list of best fantasy coaches in A-10 history.

Charlotte: Bobby Lutz (1998-2009) 199-146, 5 NCAA tourneys, 1 conference title
Dayton: Don Donoher (1964-1989) 437-275, 8 NCAA tourneys, 1 NIT title
Duquesne: Chick Davies (1924-1943, 1946-1948) 314-106, 1 NCAA tourney, 3 NIT appearances, 1 conference title
Fordham: John Bach (1949-1968) 263-193, 2 NCAA tourneys, 1 conference title
George Washington: William Reinhart (1935-1966) 319-237, 2 NCAA tourneys, 2 conference titles, 1-time conference COY
La Salle: Ken Loeffler (1949-1955) 144-28, 2 NCAA tourneys, 1 NCAA title, 1 NIT title
Massachusetts: John Calipari (1988-1996) 189-70, 5 NCAA tourneys, 5 conference titles, 1-time national COY, 3-time conference COY
Rhode Island: Frank Keaney (1920-1948) 401-124, 8 conference titles
Richmond: Dick Tarrant (1981-1993) 239-126, 5 NCAA tourneys, 5 conference titles, 4-time conference COY
Saint Louis: Eddie Hickey (1947-1958) 211-89, 2 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, 1 NIT title, 2-time conference COY
St. Bonaventure: Larry Weise (1961-1973) 202-90, 2 NCAA tourneys
St. Joseph's: Jack Ramsay (1955-1966) 234-72, 7 NCAA tourneys, 7 conference titles
Temple: John Chaney (1982-2006) 516-253, 17 NCAA tourneys, 8 conference titles, 2-time national COY, 5-time conference COY
Xavier: Pete Gillen (1985-1994) 202-75, 7 NCAA tourneys, 6 conference titles, 5-time conference COY