Coaches Corner: Jeff Walz
Entering his 14th season as the very successful women’s basketball head coach at the University of Louisville, Jeff Walz six times has served as a USA Basketball coach.
In 2019, he led the USA to 7-0 record and gold medal at the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup in Thailand. Following that performance, Walz was named as a co-recipient of the 2019 USA Basketball National Coach of the Year award.
Previously, he was head coach of the 2018 USA Women's U18 National Team, which he led to a 6-0 record and a gold medal at the 2018 FIBA Americas U18 Championship, and an assistant coach for the gold medal winning 2014 USA Basketball Women’s U18 National Team and 2015 USA Basketball Women’s U19 World Cup Team. Walz also served as a head coach for the 2017 USA Women's U23 National Team that captured the inaugural U24 Four Nations Tournament against Australia, Canada and host Japan in Tokyo. And, he was a court coach at the 2017 USA Women's National Team training camp in October.
At Louisville, Walz has led his teams to nine NCAA Tournament Sweet 16s, five Elite Eights, three Final Fours and the 2009 and 2013 NCAA championship game.
Overall at Louisville, Walz owns an exceptional 364-104 record (.778 winning percentage) as of Dec. 17, 2020.
Prior to leading the Cardinals, Walz was an associate head coach (2006-07) and assistant coach (2001-02 to 2005-06) at the University of Maryland; and an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota (2001-02), the University of Nebraska (1996-97 to 2000-2001) and Western Kentucky University (1996-97).
USA Basketball spoke with Walz to get his insight and perspective on coaching.
What things are you focused on during the first part of the season?
Well, for us, I think the first part of the part of the season is an opportunity to have everyone get adjusted, especially your incoming freshmen and possibly some transfers. We're just trying to get them accustomed to the way that we like to do things here in Louisville, and then the returning players are also getting a chance to get comfortable with their schoolwork, and their class assignments and what they're trying to do academically as well.
We have been very fortunate. We actually had just about all of our players here on campus in early June, so we have had a very productive summer. There were a couple that took some summer classes, but the rest were here for training. So, we didn't necessarily have the same requirements academically as we normally would, just because of the pandemic. But being able to have them on campus and getting them adjusted to each other, getting them to learn each other's habits and learn more about each other. We were able to accomplish that, which is always a big thing for us in the summer months.
What is the most important lesson you've learned in your coaching career?
For me, the most important thing is that there are so many ways to do this business – there's no one right way. And I've learned that each individual player is different, too. So, it's not just one way to coach, and there’s not one way to teach. You have to do everything you can to figure out what motivates each individual, and then be able to adjust your coaching style to that player. I don't ever give in on our values and what we stand for here in Louisville, but I am willing to change my coaching technique per player.
Every team will form its own personality. And then within the team, you've got to learn how to coach each individual player. So, we take a lot of pride in that. I take a lot of pride in getting to know my players as people. And I ask them, how do they want to be coached? What is the coaching philosophy or technique they would like me to use? Then when you give the players that power, then you can hold them accountable, because that's how I'm going to coach them. And then they can't get upset with me with how I’m coaching them, because that's what they told me they want.
What is the most challenging aspect of coaching for you?
Well, the most challenging aspect of coaching is just your daily interaction. Coaching is 10% of the job. The actual in-game coaching is probably 10% of the job. It's recruiting, it's time management, it's learning how to motivate each individual player. And then, in today's age, it's social media. It's terrible the amount of pressure that's placed on student-athletes from fans. And when they play well, they're great. But if they struggle, they're terrible. As a coach, you've got to explain to your players that they don't have to worry about what everybody writes or tweets about them.
Is there one overall defensive principle you think is most important while coaching?
I'm a big believer in scoring the basketball. I think the better offense you have, that will in turn become a great defense for you, because it puts pressure on the other team to have to score. We will play man-to-man, and if we have to, we'll play zone. We do whatever we have to do to try to figure out a way to win.