By Ira Childress | ChildressSports.com | December 30th, 2012
Following their road win over the Northwestern Wildcats a few weeks ago, a smiling University of California Women’s Basketball team trickled out of the locker room and headed towards the bus. As the trickle slowed to a drip, I inquired about the head coach’s whereabouts to one of the players. “She’s right there,” she replied and motioned towards what appeared to be another group of teammates. I almost missed the 35-year old head coach as she blended in with her team, swapping her sideline-ready dress slacks and button-down for the team-issued travel gear. It was a fitting sight for one of the nation’s best young coaches, a coach who embodies the essence of her players. But don’t let the warm-up suit fool you. Second-year head coach Lindsay Gottlieb has No. 8 Cal (10-1) off to their best start in school history.
Gottlieb is a tireless worker, a visionary with a high IQ. The Brown University graduate fits the Ivy League prototype to a T with her tenacity for studying film and a cerebral mentality about the game. One conversation with the coach is like listening to an artist speak of their latest work – filled with colorful dialogue about the intricacies of each player and the philosophies behind key decisions. But her greatest attribute may be her ability to connect — with people and with technology.
“Being ahead of the game on technology is the way the world is going. You can reach more people. Women’s basketball is still a grassroots initiative, and the more that I can do to help build this program and our brand, the more I will do,” Gottlieb said.
Gottlieb got her first coaching offer on the day she graduated from Brown. At the ripe age of 21, she accepted the assistant coach role at Syracuse and served two seasons there before moving on to New Hampshire and then Richmond. While at Richmond, Gottlieb teamed up with mentor, Joanne Boyle — a coaching partnership that would span five years and two universities, eventually landing the pair at Cal in 2005. Gottlieb spoke highly of Boyle’s early empowerment of the young coach.
“I was 24 years old and couldn’t even rent a car; I needed a note to rent a car. She said let’s do this thing together. I got to see things and do things in the profession that might be as close to what it might be like to run a program, even though I was an assistant. She gave me a lot of responsibility.”
With her successful tenure under Boyle at Richmond and Cal, the head coaching offers started to come in, but the right fit was important. She found that fit with the University of California Santa Barbara. From 2008-2011, Gottlieb guided the Gauchos to two post-season berths and a pair of Big West Conference championships. Her leadership was commemorated with the 2009 Big West Coach of the Year award. UCSB provided a valuable training ground for the young coach to run her own program and put her process to the test.
Her third season at UCSB would be her last with the Gauchos. In the spring of 2011, Gottlieb would return to Cal to become the head coach following Boyle’s departure for Virginia. She wasted no time finding success at Cal. In her first season as the Bears’ head coach, Gottlieb’s team advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. She also became the first head coach in Cal program history to win 20 games in her first season as head coach. But Gottlieb is not about just winning games; she wants to take the program to another level.
“Joanne Boyle helped make this program a national program, and now it’s a matter of becoming elite. I think that there’s an opportunity for us to be cutting edge while still knowing basketball, while still having personal relationships, and still having the old fashioned ‘you do it with hard work’ and ‘it’s a people business,’ but let’s be at the forefront of the profession.”
Gottlieb is definitely cutting edge. Through social media interactions with her players, fans, and an innovative website devoted to all things Cal Basketball at thisiscalbasketball.com, Gottlieb is a pioneer for the new school of women’s basketball coaches.
“I’m using social media to open the doors and the windows to our process and whoever is interested in learning about it, here it is. I think that’s where the more successful companies and the more successful teams get an edge is by reaching more people.”
She does a great job of reaching her student-athletes off-the-court as well. Through what she calls the Individual Development Plan, Gottlieb has developed a system that allows her players to remain organized and productive from the palm of their hand. This systems gives players the ability to access important information about practice times, shot charts, class syllabi, and tutor appointments with the click of a mouse or from the player’s smart phone.
“Everything we do is geared towards making sure they are as successful as possible and as high performing as possible while they’re here as student-athletes,” Gottlieb continued, “and at the same time making sure they’re as high functioning in whatever they choose to do when they walk out of here.”
Make no mistake about it: Gottlieb has surrounded herself with a talented coaching staff and has very talented players, but her ability to connect with them and connect them to an inspired vision is what has Cal Women’s Basketball on the verge of something very special.