Butler University Men’s Basketball Coach Chris Holtmann
Writer / Kara Kavensky
Photographer / Brian Brosmer
Chris Holtmann grew up in Kentucky where horse farms and basketball hoops are most prominent. Holtmann has always loved sports, especially basketball. “I loved the games and practices when I was a kid and still do,” shares Holtmann. “Beyond that, I didn’t have much of a social life.”
Holtmann played basketball at Taylor University for Hall of Fame Coach Paul Patterson. Patterson was connected to Butler and knew Todd Lickliter and Brad Stevens. This link transcended to Holtmann who aspired to being a coach. He returned to Taylor, taking his first assistant coaching position. Holtmann then went on to be an assistant at Garner-Webb University and Ohio University before returning to Garner-Webb for the Head Coach position.
During Holtmann’s head coaching gig at Gardner-Webb, they underwent a massive rebuild of their men’s basketball program. In Holtmann’s third year at the helm, the Gardner-Webb team set a school record for wins and earned a spot in the postseason for the first time in school history. Not long afterward, Holtmann received a call from Brandon Miller.
“I had spoken with Coach Stevens about a coaching job in the past, but it didn’t work out. This was a different moment in time,” states Holtmann of joining the Butler coaching staff in 2013. “Coach Miller and I talked about Butler heading into their first season with the Big East. This call precipitated a tremendously difficult conversation that I had to have with my team at Garner-Webb.”
When asked why he left a coveted head coaching job for an assistant position, Holtmann replied, “It was the most difficult professional decision of my life, but Butler is Butler…” Not dissimilar to Lou Holtz having an escape clause in case Notre Dame called him up, Holtmann felt at home in Indiana, and Butler was obviously a big draw. “The reason I came to Butler was because I knew the culture,” continued Holtmann. “I simply could not decline the offer to assistant coach at Butler.”
While Holtmann was content with an assistant position at Butler, little did he know how fate would intervene. The day Holtmann was named Interim Head Coach of the Butler Men’s Basketball team in 2014, he and his wife Lori hosted the team and coaching staff for dinner at their home. The lead-up to the evening was a media circus surrounding the circumstances of Miller’s leave of absence. The subject of Miller’s health was and will remain respectful of his family’s privacy, yet the future of the men’s basketball team and their leadership remained questionable.
“A lot of things can go south and take a bad turn when named ‘interim’ head coach. I was certainly nervous,” admits Coach Holtmann of the speculation he and the team faced. “And as a head coach, I would now be speaking to my players a little differently than I did as an assistant.”
So that night at dinner, concerns, questions and commitments were openly discussed. The bottom line was that no one questioned their loyalty to Coach Holtmann or to the Butler University basketball program. The team and coaches were “all in” and strategized their plan for the rest of the season.
“I can’t say enough of how accepting they (players and coaches) all were,” says Coach Holtmann. “The buy-in was 110%.”
“When Coach Holtmann became head coach, we all just went to work,” shares Assistant Coach Terry Johnson. “Expectations are always high, regardless of circumstances. We just follow Coach Holtmann’s lead.”
Coming off a tough 2013-2014 season in the Big East, the team was ready to prove themselves. It didn’t take long. Butler fans had their faith restored with a big win against UNC. The game was a defining moment for Butler basketball and for Coach Holtmann.
“A lot of credit goes to our team leadership. It is the belief of what we can do. Our juniors and senior players had come off a year of struggling, and that struggle gave them an edge,” says Coach Holtmann. “That fueled us to a great start that year.”
Before the start of the 2014-2015 season, the coaching staff huddled up in a conference room to discuss the question: How can we make this the very best year for our players?
This is the question Holtmann and his staff asked again this year and will continue to ask. It’s their preseason mantra. The players want to work extremely hard to be the best they can be, and the coaches want the players to become the best they can be on and off the court.
“We create an atmosphere that is player-friendly and want to work with the team to build relationships,” states Holtmann.
“My values align with those of this University. Butler fits me. It fits all of us on the staff. We treat others how we wish to be treated, and we encourage our players and one another to be the best people we can be,” says Assistant Coach Terry Johnson. “We stay positive, and these are the type of kids we recruit. But don’t get me wrong, we are fierce competitors. When we step onto the court, we want to win.”
Now at the start of his third season as head coach, Coach Holtmann is ready for business as usual. Butler made it into the postseason the last two years with Coach Holtmann and aspire to do it again with the highest-ranked recruiting class in school history to support the seasoned upperclassmen.
Holtmann shared his favorite Ralph W. Emerson quote, “Trust men, and they will be true to you.
Treat them greatly, and they will show themselves great.” And adds, “I might have heard Brad say that once.”
For tickets, visit butlersports.com and follow them on Twitter @ButlerMBB.