Jon Teitel's Coaching Greats Series: UCF's Kirk Speraw

May 17th, 2011
In the latest installment in his "Coaching Greats" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with former UCF head coach Kirk Speraw, who led the Knights to four NCAA Tournament appearances and helped shepherd the program from the Atlantic Sun to Conference USA. Coach Speraw is now an assistant at his alma mater (Iowa) under Fran McCaffery, where he was also a graduate assistant on the 1980 team that reached the Final Four.

1980 NCAA Tournament (as a graduate assistant at Iowa for former coach Lute Olson)

Jon Teitel: Vince Brookins had 21 points in an upset of #1-seed Syracuse. How big a deal was that win? 

Kirk Speraw: I cannot tell you much about that game, as I was on the road recruiting at the time.  One of our assistants (Tony McAndrews) had been badly hurt in a plane crash earlier that season, so Lute sent me out on the road that winter.

JT: All-American guard Ronnie Lester scored the first 10 points for your team, but re-injured his knee midway through the first half (ending his college career) in an eight-point loss to eventual champion Louisville. How devastating was it to lose Lester, and do you think you could have won it all if he had been healthy? 

KS: Ronnie and Louisville's Darrell Griffith each scored 10 points to start the game and nobody else scored a single point early on.  Kenny Arnold came in and kept it competitive, but with Ronnie I think we would have had a great chance to win.

JT: Joe Barry Carroll had 35 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks to give Purdue a win in the consolation game. Where does he rank among the best college players your team ever faced? 

KS: He was a very talented center in college and he gave a lot of other teams trouble besides us.

JT: In 1994 you became head coach at UCF and made the NCAA tourney in your very first season (a loss to #1-seed Purdue in UCF's first national TV appearance). How were you able to make the tournament so quickly, and did you feel any sense of revenge going against your old Big Ten rival? 

KS: We had a group of young men who challenged themselves.  Our goal was just to have a winning season but we grew more and more confident throughout the year, and we placed winning above individual accolades.  It was not a revenge thing for me: just a chance to play against one of the best teams in the country.

JT: In 1996 you entered the Atlantic Sun tourney with an 8-18 record, but won three straight games to make the NCAA Tournament before losing to UMass (Marcus Camby had 17 points and 14 rebounds). How on earth were you able to win the conference tournament, and was Camby just unstoppable? 

KS: We were a very young team who lost several close games early on but we started winning a lot in February.  Not only was Camby a tough match-up but their guards were very good (including Edgar Padilla and Carmelo Travieso).  We played them closer than almost anyone else in the tournament during their run to the Final Four.

JT: What are your memories of the 2004 NCAA Tournament (Carl Krauser scored 20 points in a nine-point Pittsburgh win)? 

KS: It was a very close game throughout.  Pitt's man-to-man defense was great but we also played good defense and were a few bounces away from an upset.

JT: What are your memories of the 2005 NCAA Tournament (Charlie Villanueva had 22 points in a six-point UConn win)? 

KS: They had six future NBA players on that Connecticut team (Josh Boone, Rudy Gay, etc.) and four of those six played in the frontcourt.  We made a good run in the second half but missed a dunk with a few minutes left that would have cut it to four.

JT: In 2005 your program switched from the Atlantic Sun to the Conference USA. What did you think of the decision to switch, and what was the biggest difference between the two conferences? 

KS: It was a good decision for the university and what we wanted to accomplish in terms of athletics.  It was also tremendously challenging, as the Atlantic Sun was about the 30th-best conference in the country, while C-USA was about the 10th-best. Our guys were very competitive immediately (despite the fact that most people thought we would be in the cellar during the first few years), which was a huge accomplishment.

JT: In 2007 you were named conference Coach of the Year. What did it mean to you to win such an outstanding individual honor? 

KS: It is just a reflection of the players and assistants you have, as well as a testament to their dedication on a daily basis.

JT: Your first name was the inspiration for the formation of a UCF fan club called "Kirk's Jerks". What did you think of the fan club, and do you wish they would have picked a different name? 

KS: They were a great group of students that latched onto that, had a lot of fun and provided us with a lot of support.  They invested in season tickets, and helped make the transition from cheering students into strong alumni.

JT: You were fired by UCF in 2010, then became an assistant coach at your alma mater under new Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. Why were you fired, and why did you decide to take the new job? 

KS: We were proud of what we accomplished at UCF and had a team coming back that had a chance to compete for the conference title.  We are excited about the opportunity at Iowa and the chance to get back in touch with family and friends.

JT: Your sons Drew and Dustin played for you at UCF and your daughter Brooke currently attends Iowa. How important a role does your family play in your life, and is it extra-special to have your kids go to school where you coach? 

KS: We have been very fortunate to be at UCF for 17 years where I got to coach two of my sons, which was very special.  Now I have an opportunity to spend a year at Iowa with my daughter.  I am proud of all my kids.
Coach Speraw is also on Jon's list of best coaches in Conference USA history.

East Carolina: Tom Quinn (1966-1974) 102-106, 1 NCAA tourney, 1-time conference COY
Houston: Guy Lewis (1956-1986) 592-279, 14 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, 3-time national COY
Marshall: Cam Henderson (1935-1955) 362-160, 3 conference titles, 1 NAIB title
Memphis: John Calipari (2000-2009) 252-69, 6 NCAA tourneys, 7 conference titles, 1 NIT title, 2-time national COY, 3-time conference COY
Rice: Buster Brannon (1938-1942, 1945-1946) 85-37, 2 NCAA tourneys, 2 conference titles
SMU: EO "Doc" Hayes (1947-1967) 299-192, 6 NCAA tourneys, 8 conference titles
Southern Miss: MK Turk (1976-1996) 300-267, 2 NCAA tourneys, 1 conference title, 1 NIT title
Tulane: Perry Clark (1989-2000) 185-145, 3 NCAA tourneys, 4 conference titles, 1-time national COY
Tulsa: Nolan Richardson (1980-1985) 119-37, 2 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, 1 NIT title, 2-time conference COY
UAB: Gene Bartow (1979-1996) 350-193, 9 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, 3-time conference COY
UCF: Kirk Speraw (1993-2010) 279-233, 4 NCAA tourneys, 1 conference titles, 1-time conference COY
UTEP: Don Haskins (1961-1999) 719-353, 14 NCAA tourneys, 9 conference titles, 1 NCAA title, 2-time conference COY