In the latest installment in his "Coaching Greats" interview series, CHN writer Jon Teitel caught up with current Northern Arizona head coach Mike Adras. During his time in Flagstaff, Adras has led the Lumberjacks to a pair of conference titles and an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Jon Teitel: You were an assistant at Northern Arizona under Coach Ben Howland. What made Howland such a great coach, and what was the most important lesson you learned from him?
Mike Adras: I actually started there as an assistant before Ben even got the job, but stayed on due to our previous coaching relationship at UCSB. His mentality is to grind until the job gets done, and I am built the same way. His attention to detail and not settling were the most significant things I learned from him.
JT: In 2000 you won the conference tournament title with a four-point OT win over CSUN after Markus Carr missed a jumper at the end of regulation. How close did you come to losing that game, and how amazing was Ross Land's 70-foot shot right before halftime?
MA: I remember Land's shot being the play of the day. It was even seen by people overseas. I was content to go into the locker room with a double-digit lead at the half, but Ross decided "why not". He shot it from right in front of our bench, and I swear that I knew it was going in as soon as it left his hand! We ended up needing it due to the game going into overtime, but all of our games against CSUN were close. I always felt that we were in control even though we almost lost the game.
JT: You made the NCAA Tournament in your first year as head coach. How were you able to come in and have so much success so quickly?
MA: We had a nice nucleus of returning players and brought in a couple of new guys as well. Even though it was a transitional year, the disappointment of not making it the previous year was a great motivator. They were not going to settle for anything less than the tourney and we had a lot of fun.
JT: In the 2000 NCAA Tournament you had a five-point loss to #2-seed St. John's in Tucson after leading with 30 seconds to go. How devastating was that loss, and what was the feeling like in your locker room afterwards?
MA: The story I tell is that when I meet the dear Lord, I will need 30 seconds of my life back because we did not get it right the first time! We were actually up with 15 seconds left and had a timeout so I thought we were in good shape, but the plan to foul them did not work out as we would have like. Ross fouled Lavor Postell, who made a shot and free throw for the game-clinching three-point play. It was a great thrill. Some people in Tucson said it was the loudest they have heard the arena in years. We were so close to winning it that afterward I just thanked my guys for a great ride and great journey. There is not much else you can say; sometimes it is just not meant to be but it was still a terrific season with guys who played their hearts out. Dan McClintock ended up getting drafted in the second round because of how he played in that game.
JT: In 2006 you were named conference Coach of the Year after winning the school's first regular-season title in almost a decade. What did it mean to you to win such an outstanding individual honor?
MA: Anytime you are recognized by your peers it is personally gratifying, but to be honest what the guys accomplish on the court means more to me, and even more what they accomplish in the future. We deserved to win the league that year and we were able to do so.
JT: You have coached some of the top three-point shooters in NCAA history. What is the meaning of your "Recruit to Shoot" theme, and who was the best long-range shooter you ever coached?
MA: When you look at the NAU record book, I coached a lot of guys who could shoot the ball. The key is to get them shots during the game because the defense knows in advance that they can shoot. Kelly Golob became our all-time leading scorer but he has a shot that I do not think I could even teach anyone else. He is one of the brightest human beings I have ever met and he taught himself how to do a lot of things. If I have to pick one guy, I would go with Ross because of his 3PT%. However, if we had a contest, Steve Sir just might win it because he can shoot from a farther range than the other two. Whenever any of those three shot the ball I always thought it was going in. Steve was only here for 2½ years, otherwise he might have put a bigger dent in the record book. They are all about 6'4" but have very different shooting styles. Ross had a textbook shot that you would use to teach others, Steve could get his shot off faster than anybody, and while Kelly's was not pretty I
did not care as long as he could put it in the hoop. As you can see every year in the NCAA Tournament, you need guys who can make three-point shots down the stretch.
JT: Your teams have recorded the seven highest semester GPAs in the history of the program. How much importance do you place on academics?
MA: It is really important to me and my family and the university. We place an emphasis on recruiting student-athletes, and one of the things I tell recruits is that I have graduated more guys in the past decade than anyone else out West. My players understand the commitment that it takes and the school gives them support with tutors. They represent our institution when they step on the court and in return we help them earn their degree.
JT: You taught a Coaches' Choice video presentation of the "4-Out/1-In Motion Offense". What makes it so successful, and how do you enjoy the teaching aspect of coaching?
MA: The best part of my job is teaching, and I think it is what I am very good at. It has been an evolution for me. I think that I am a better coach now than I was a decade ago. When we spread the floor it creates isolation and allows guys to drive to the lane. If the defense tries to pack it in then we can find an open man behind the arc. We have finished very high in the country in free throw, field goal and three-point shooting year in and year out and the proof is in the statistics.
JT: Your win total places you among the Top 5 in conference history. Would you prefer to stay in Flagstaff and become one of the best in the Big Sky, or do you one day hope to move up to a bigger conference to see how you stack up against the best in the country?
MA: I would definitely say the latter. My family enjoys it here and I have figured out how to be successful and do the job correctly. However, I would love to contend for a national title someday and I do not know if that is possible at NAU. That being said, I would not just jump at any offer. I have a passion for coaching and have been blessed with a lot of talent that helped me be successful in a very tough business.
JT: When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most?
MA: I hope they feel that I succeeded in a very tough situation and that my players graduated and were successful on the court.
Adras is also on Jon's list of best coaches in Big Sky history.
Eastern Washington: WB "Red" Reese (1930-1942, 1945-1964) 473-298, 12 conference titles
Idaho State: Jim Killingsworth (1971-1977) 163-109, 2 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, 2-time conference COY
Montana: Blaine Taylor (1991-1998) 141-66, 2 NCAA tourneys, 2 conference titles, 1-time conference COY
Montana State: G Ott Romney (1922-1928) 144-31, 5 conference titles
Northern Arizona: Mike Adras (1999-present) 179-156, 1 NCAA tourney, 2 conference titles, 1-time conference COY
Northern Colorado: George Sage (1963-1968) 95-36, 4 conference titles
Portland State: Ken Edwards (1972-1978) 94-63
Sacramento State: Jerome Jenkins (2000-2008) 80-147
Weber State: Neil McCarthy (1974-1985) 205-105, 4 NCAA tourneys, 5 conference titles, 3-time conference COY