Damon Stoudamire left the University of Arizona as one of the best players to ever play at the school. He was 101-24 in his four years at UA. Losing was a rarity.
He had a 15-year NBA career and an admirable/enviable life as an assistant coach in the pros and under Josh Pastner at Memphis and Sean Miller at Arizona.
What he’s found out in his role just a seat or two from where he used to sit – as an assistant – is life isn’t all that easy. In just more than a full season – and nearly two years of being named the head coach – his Pacific Tigers have lost 30 times in 46 games. This season, they are 5-8 overall.
“Things are going good, but this was a tough one,” Stoudamire said after Pacific lost to ASU 104-65 in Tempe. “We’re trying to fight for a culture to be successful. That’s what the biggest thing is for us. What people need to understand is you need all your horses.”
And, at Pacific horses don’t come in herds. He will try to change that but it’s been difficult in replacing former coach Ron Verlin, who was eventually fired for several Level I NCAA violations involving impermissible academic assistance to student-athletes.
“I’m down three scholarships and only have eight on scholarships now,” he said, after letting a player go earlier this year. “You’re playing at a deficit when things like that happen. It’s hard to compete. You try to keep the guy’s heads up more than anything.”
“I can’t skip steps with Pacific and that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “When I do start to get better and see it coming, it’s going to be that much more special.”
He likens his team – and program – to Arizona State’s given the respect it gets. As he said, “people laughed at them and laughed at them” and now they are where they are: doing well.
Still, he says it has been “nerve-wracking.”
“You get home and you have knots in your back you didn’t know you had,” he said, laughing. “You are continuously thinking of what to do to get better.”
The questioning is constant. What could have been differently to make it better? What should he have not have done to make it better? He’s always thinking about something.
“Things always come up,” he said.
Does he use coaching methods of Lute Olson or anyone from his past?
“I use methods of everybody and my own,” he said. “It’s just a different scenario.”
What he has found out about himself – if he didn’t already know – is that he’s a patient man.
“I have to practice patience and it’s different than when I played,” he said. “Everybody always says (after seeing him coach) ‘you did a good job of holding it together over there (on the sidelines).’ (He laughs). And, heck, on the inside I was boiling hot.
“But you have to be composed. You can’t always let people see you sweat. That doesn’t mean you don’t want it as bad as you do. I can’t afford to have my team see me lose my poise in a game like this.”
He talks of teaching points, doing things right and moving forward.
“I knew it wasn’t a quick fix,” he said. “I took a job that was down scholarships, I’m down recruiting days, down official visits. There are a lot of things that are playing against me, but it’s an opportunity and I won’t use it as a crutch. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
It’s just games like Friday’s against ASU that “make you feel funny.”
“Fortunately for us,” he said, “we don’t play a lot of teams that look like this.”