Interview Conducted 10/21/2008
Steve McClain, now in his second season as Colorado’s Associate Head Coach, has not been a stranger to success throughout his coaching career.
McClain compiled a 157-115 overall record in his nine seasons as Head Coach at Wyoming from 1998-2007. He led the Cowboys to one NCAA Tournament appearance and three NIT bids.
He was noted for his ability to recruit talented out-of-state players to a school that a Chicago Tribune sportswriter once referred to as “The Siberia of Division-I college basketball.”
Larimie, Wyo. is a remote town of just over 27,000 residents. Laramie has long, cold winters and is over 100 miles from Denver, the nearest large city. None of these factors were conducive to landing highly-touted recruits. In addition, few Few Division-I basketball recruits hail from the state of Wyoming.
MCCLAIN: “We tried to go find kids who had a great desire to get a college degree, but were more worried about how they could become a better basketball player, how they could develop the goals they wanted to reach, and they weren’t worried about how big the city was or how the night life was.”
“We had to focus on getting kids that were serious about getting an education and who wanted to play college basketball on the highest level. We didn’t sugarcoat it. We told them exactly how it was, because you’re not going to trick a kid.”
“Once we got a player to Wyoming, we knew we had as good of facilities as anyone in the country. If we could get them on campus, we’d have a great shot to get them.”
McClain’s contract was terminated on March 12, 2007.
When former Denver Nuggets and Air Force Head Coach Jeff Bzdelik accepted the Colorado job in April 2007, he hired McClain as his top assistant.
MCCLAIN: “We coached against each other being in the same league. We had the best games in the Mountain West Conference. Our games with Air Force were always the best games and Jeff had respected what I had done at Wyoming for nine years.”
“When everything happened and he got the job, we sat and talked. There wasn’t any question that I wanted to come aboard and he wanted me to come aboard.”
McClain, well known for his intensity and animated demeanor on the sidelines during his over 25 years of coaching, has a lot to offer Bzdelik and the Colorado Buffalo players.
MCCLAIN: “My style has always been high-energy and trusting the guys I work with, whether as a head coach or an assistant coach and be the same way. I get [the players] to love what they are doing and do it to the best of their ability. That’s how I coached at Wyoming and that’s what I hope I’m bringing to Colorado.”
“One thing about me is that I can walk into any practice and add something, even if I don’t know what you’re doing. I believe your job as an assistant coach is to get guys to go harder and have some enthusiasm.”
With Bzdelik and his staff inheriting a team with little depth, Colorado went 12-20 in 2007-08.
They are again predicted to finish last in the Big 12 2008-09 Men’s Preseason Basketball Poll.
MCCLAIN: “We came in with a realistic idea that this wasn’t going to change overnight. Not in this league. You’re not going to jump from twelfth to second in this league in a year or two. It’s a process.”
This is not the first time McClain has been involved in a rebuilding process. When legendary coach Billy Tubbs accepted the Texas Christian University Head Men’s Basketball job in 1994, he added McClain, who had just won a national NJCAA title as Head Coach of Hutchinson Community College, to his staff.
MCCLAIN: “When we walked into that program, it was about as low as it could be. Four years later, we were in the NCAA Tournament.”
“One of the biggest things I learned from Billy is that you’ve got to go out and recruit great players. You’ve got to have the ability to get them to play hard and to make them believe they are better than they are.”
McClain said that Colorado is putting together a solid 2009 recruiting class and are ahead of schedule for the Classes of 2010 and 2011.
MCCLAIN: “Things are going to happen good around here.”
He offers several selling points to potential recruits.
MCCLAIN: “Let’s be honest, I’m working for a guy who spent 18 years in the NBA. If a kid’s really got the dream of playing in the NBA, then its easy for me to sit there and say ‘why won’t you come play for Jeff Bzdelik?'”
“We’ve got a great campus, we’ve got great academics, and we sit in a beautiful part of the country, and we play in one of the best leagues in the country.”
“All we needed was to upgrade our basketball facility, and there’s no question that the Chancellor [Bud Peterson] and [Athletic Director] Mike Bohn made a commitment to do that. I think the dollar number we’ve spent in almost a 14-month period is $2.5 million in upgrading the facilities.”
“We moved into new offices. They put in a new permanent floor this summer in our arena, We’ll break ground on a practice facility in several months.”
McClain said that he is looking for high-intellect recruits who are both students of the game and fit Coach Bzdelik’s style of offense, a hybrid between the Princeton Offense and sets that he ran as Head Coach of the Denver Nuggets.
MCCLAIN: “We’re going to get this program turned around and it’s something we’re really excited about. Hopefully, in the next two or three years, we’ll have something going at Colorado.”
The last minute of Wyoming’s Opening Round Upset
of #6 seed Gonzaga in the 2002 NCAA Tournament
Steve McClain Links:
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