Detroit — LaVall Jordan, in his first season coaching his alma mater, Butler, has had a number of mentors along the way, including Michigan coach John Beilein.
Jordan was an assistant coach on Beilein’s staff from 2010-2016, before taking the head coaching job at Milwaukee, which he left after one season to become head coach at Butler, accepting the job last June. Jordan, from Albion, Mich., said he continues to draw insight and input from Beilein whose entire coaching career has been as a head coach.
Butler (20-13) is a No. 10 seed and will face No. 7 Arkansas (23-11) in a first-round NCAA Tournament game Friday at 3:10 at Little Caesars Arena.
Jordan said Beilein has helped him become a better coach.
“In a multitude of ways,” he said.
Because Beilein has only known about being a head coach, Jordan learned how to run a program.
“Obviously, teaching the game is one thing,” Jordan said Thursday. “I had great mentors and played under and then coached under (and learned much) in terms of basketball itself. But he’s never been an assistant.
“And so all the decisions that you have to make, the presence that you have to have, the constant messaging that you have to do, handling all the other things outside of the team was something that, I think, he’s a tremendous CEO, outside of a brilliant basketball mind.”
But aside from learning the management side of head coaching from Beilein, he also added to his basketball knowledge.
“It was learning the concepts with offense and spacing and some of those things as well,” Jordan said. “But I think my biggest takeaway was running the program. I was able to ask questions and go into his office and have conversations about that. And he’s still a tremendous help in that area.”
After spending a season at Milwaukee, Jordan was starting to settle in. He had a chance to breathe and was establishing himself in his still-new environment. But then the Butler job opened when Chris Holtmann left for Ohio State on June 7 last year. Jordan had interviewed for the Butler job twice before, but this time, it was his. He accepted the job five days later.
He was back home at Butler, from which he graduated in 2001. He was on three NCAA Tournament teams with the Bulldogs.
“I think June is a unique time for turnover in this profession,” Jordan said Thursday. “And so that was definitely a surprise. I was here last year in Detroit with our Milwaukee team and we fell just a little bit short of being at this point. But after everything happened, obviously, we’re excited. My family was excited to come back to Indianapolis and this opportunity.
“And fortunately the timing worked out because we had a foreign tour, a foreign trip with our team to Spain. And that allowed us to really get to know them. We had 10 practices leading up to the trip. And we had a 10-day trip. So there was ample amount of time to get to know guys one-on-one, listen to hear them talk and hear their stories and backgrounds, what led them to choose Butler and their goals and things like that. That was really important, I thought, for our staff. It just felt like the right time. You got to spend time getting to know the players”
Jordan is 38 and the Butler players said it has been easy to relate to the first-year Butler coach.
“I would say he’s probably the youngest coach I’ve had,” Butler senior Tyler Wideman said. “He’s a player’s coach. He understands stuff that’s going on and our generation for the most part. So, he’s a player’s coach. He’s easy to talk to. I like the coaching staff that we have.”
Jordan has played in the NCAA Tournament and coached in it as an assistant. While he has a unique perspective as a head coach, a lot of it feels the same.
“I don’t know if it’s different,” he said. “I think at each role that you’re playing, obviously, when you’re a player, it’s what you dream of, getting to the NCAA Tournament, competing for a national title. But I think the same thing when I decided to become an assistant coach and now being a head coach, that is definitely the end (goal) in mind.
“You lose some control as a coach. You can’t make a shot. You can’t make a play. You can’t guard anybody. And so you’re trying to just make sure our team is as prepared as possible. And our staff does a great job. Our assistant coaches have been phenomenal since Selection Sunday up until today. And so you just try and make sure that they know what to expect so they can play with free minds and great energy.”
With Butler playing so close to where he grew up, his grandparents, who live in Auburn Hills, will make the trip and his father will be here Sunday if Butler advances.
“I was excited to see our name in the tournament,” Jordan said. “I think that reaction was just, ‘OK, now we’re in. Wherever they send us, we’re ready to go and we’ll see who we’re going to play against.’ And obviously with Detroit being at home and Michigan, my grandparents can make it. So that was exciting.
“And then I think our Butler community, a lot of them will be able to drive up (from Indianapolis) and be here for the weekend. And so that will be great for our guys to get that amount of support, and I think we’ll have a good turnout.”