Jon Teitel's "Coaching Greats" Interview Series: Stephen F. Austin's Danny Kaspar

December 15th, 2010
In the most recent installment in his "Coaching Greats" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with current Stephen F. Austin head coach Danny Kaspar. Kaspar, who made the move to SFA after a successful run at Incarnate Word in San Antonio, led the Lumberjacks to their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 2009. Stephen F. Austin is off to a 6-2 start this season and is expected to be a contender in the Southland Conference.

Jon Teitel: From 1983-1986 you were an assistant coach at SFA under Harry Miller, who was famous for who never missing a game or practice in all his years of college coaching. What made Miller such a durable presence on the sideline, and did you ever think you would return to SFA as head coach?

Danny Kaspar: I just think he was very committed and loyal to the game. When you ask players to give it their all, you have to give them your all as well. He won an NAIA title at Eastern New Mexico. He cared about the kids and was committed to the job. I thought there was a chance that I would return, as they asked me to apply back in 1990, but they game it to someone else and I was later told that politics played a big role in that. I did not return until 10 years later.

1980 NCAA Tournament (as an assistant under Billy Tubbs at Lamar):

JT: Mike Olliver scored a tournament school-record 37 points in a one-point win over Weber State. What made Olliver such a great scorer, and how was he able to play his best when it mattered the most?

DK: Mike had great confidence in himself, as he worked very hard and was constantly in the gym practicing his shot. Coach Tubbs allowed Mike to shoot so he also deserves some of the credit.

JT: BB Davis scored 18 points in a four-point win over Oregon State. What was the key to pulling off the upset, and what was the reaction like when you got back to campus?

DK: That was a tremendous win, as most people did not think we could beat them. BB played a great game, but the unsung hero and key to the game was our PG Alvin Brooks. Oregon State pressed us a lot, but Alvin broke their press with great ease. BB was a tremendous scorer who showed up for big games.

JT: Larry Nance had 16 points and 11 rebounds in an eight-point win by Clemson. Was Nance just bigger than everyone else, and could you tell at the time how good a player he would become?

DK: You had a feeling that Larry would be great, as he had a physical presence on the court. His rebounding played a great role in their win. We were up by eight points with about 10 minutes to go, but just let it get away from us.

JT: You spent most of the 1990s coaching at Division II Incarnate Word, where you averaged about 25 wins per year and were often ranked in the Top 10. How were you able to come in and be successful from the start, and what allowed you to remain consistent throughout the decade?

DK: My programs are known for their defense and we just pressured the passing lanes and pressured the ball, which was the core of our success. We were able to get some good players out of the San Antonio area who had been overlooked. It is one of the biggest cities in the country, and we picked up some guys who could have played at the Division I level who could score for us. The first year was rough, as the program had been a perennial loser, but I converted my returning players into believing that we could win the next year.

JT: In 2000 you became coach at Stephen F. Austin. Why did you take the job, and were you concerned that it would take a while to rebuild a program that had lost 20+ games each of the prior two years?

DK: I took the job because I wanted to take a Division I team to the Big Dance. It was not a money issue, but the pay helped. My wife and I had been running several camps every summer, and we got a lot of income from that. We loved living in San Antonio, but it was a big difference to move to a college town of only 40,000 people. We knew it was a nice area, but I do not know if we would have made the move if we had not been there before (my wife as a student and me as an assistant coach). I grew up in Corpus Christi, so it was nice to be closer to home. My success at Incarnate Word instilled a lot of confidence in me that I would be successful at SFA, and we are the winningest college program in the entire state of Texas over the past three years. This place was really down when I got here, and a lot of people told me not to take the job, but we feel like we are in a good place now.

JT: In 2008 you won the conference title and were named Southland Coach of the Year. How big a deal was it to win the conference title, and what did it mean to you to win such an outstanding individual honor?

DK: We were 26-6. That was probably our best team. Our best player (Josh Alexander) got hurt in warm-ups before the last regular season game, and we ended up losing in the conference tourney. We had some great non-conference wins on the road that year, and I heard that we might have been a #12 seed if we had won the conference tourney.

JT: What are your memories of the 2008 NIT (Dante Milligan scored a career-high 24 points and had seven blocks in a UMass win)?

DK: I remember how the NCAA did us wrong. We learned of the game late on Sunday night, then had to play at UMass on Tuesday night in the first game of the NIT. The majority of our traveling party left Sunday night, and the rest left the following morning. We had to practice at 10PM Monday night, followed by a delicious McDonald's. UMass had a good team, but they were not 20 points better than us. We were just exhausted, so I was frustrated.

JT: What are your memories of the 2009 NCAA Tournament, the first in school history (Jonny Flynn had 16 points in a win for #3-seed Syracuse)?

DK: When you go to the NCAA Tournament you are treated very well. I remember that Syracuse was huge, and Flynn was the key to their team. We tried to play them man-to-man, but Flynn was too good and picked us apart on the pick-and-roll. I remember our kids being nervous, and we missed a lot of shots that we normally did not miss. I told my wife on the plane ride to the game that I was more worried about us beating ourselves than Syracuse beating us.

JT: Your teams are known for being among the best in the country in points allowed. What is the key to having a good defensive team, and are you a firm believer in the saying that "defense wins championships"?

DK: I am a firm believer in that saying. I was a shooting guard in high school, and had some great shooting games and some poor shooting games while in college. I learned that the only way you can win when you are not shooting well is by playing great defense. We work on defense a lot, and I put a lot of emphasis on it. I think we teach it very well, and if a player is not going to play defense for us, then they are going to sit.

JT: Earlier this summer you brought in Kelvin Sampson's son Kellen to be an assistant coach. What do you think he will bring to your staff, and did he learn a lot from his dad?

DK: He played for his dad, so I am sure he learned a few things. Kellen was one of several names that came up, and when I talked to him on the phone I could tell that he is very personable/optimistic/energetic. First and foremost I needed some good recruiters, and I get the sense that Kellen will be a good recruiter even though he is only 25. I have several former assistants who have gone on to become assistants at other Division I schools or head coaches at Division II schools and JCs, so I have had some success in finding good assistants.

JT: What are your goals for this season, and how hard will it be to succeed with nobody on the roster taller than 6'7"?

DK: We have five returning players (including three full-time starters) and all five will probably start, so we will need several of our recruits to step up and play quality minutes. I do not think the rest of our league is very big this year, but I think it is more important to play big than to be big. If we do not get hurt and everyone can stay eligible, then I think we have a chance to win the conference.

Kaspar is also on Jon's list of best coaches in Southland history.

Central Arkansas: Don Dyer (1979-1993) 285-145, three conference titles, three-time conference COY

Lamar: Pat Foster (1980-1986) 134-49, two NCAA Tournament appearances, three conference titles

McNeese State: Ralph Ward (1952-1971) 282-194, six conference titles, one NAIA title

Nicholls State: Rickey Broussard (1990-2002) 150-183, two NCAA Tournament appearances, two conference titles

Northwestern State: Mike McConathy (1999-present) 172-177, two NCAA Tournament appearances, three conference titles, two-time conference COY

SE Louisiana: Billy Kennedy (1999-2005) 80-92, one NCAA Tournament appearance, two conference titles, one-time conference COY

Sam Houston State: Bob Marlin (1998-2010) 225-131, two NCAA Tournament appearances, four conference titles, three-time conference COY

Stephen F. Austin: Danny Kaspar (2000-present) 187-115, one NCAA Tournament appearance, two conference titles, one-time conference COY

Texas A&M CC: Ronnie Arrow (1999-2007) 134-91, one NCAA Tournament appearance, one conference title, one-time conference COY

Texas State: Mike Miller (1994-2000) 87-79, one NCAA Tournament appearance, two conference titles, one-time conference COY

Texas-Arlington: Eddie McCarter (1992-2006) 179-211, one conference title

UTSA: Tim Carter (1995-2006) 160-152, two NCAA Tournament appearances, one conference title, one-time conference COY