Ready For the Big Dance
LaVall Jordan & the Butler Bulldogs Prepare For March Madness
Photographer / Michael Durr
LaVall Jordan and Butler University basketball go way back.
Long before being named head coach of the school’s men’s basketball team in June of 2017, Jordan played for the Bulldogs from 1998 to 2001, leading the team to their first NCAA tournament victory in 39 years with a 79-63 win over Wake Forest in 2001.
When asked what first drew him to attend the school, Jordan cites many reasons, one being Butler University’s hospitable feel.
“I liked the city and the Butler community,” Jordan says. “I was from a small high school, so the smaller class sizes fit me in terms of the academic piece. It just seemed like there was a lot of personal attention – kind of a family feel.”
Recruited by then-coach Barry Collier, Jordan was also drawn to the basketball program leaders’ collective vision – a vision that has now propelled the men’s program into the national spotlight year after year.
“Back then a lot of people didn’t know where Butler was,” Jordan says. “That was one of the things we said all the time once I did come here. It was like, ‘When we get out of here, people are going to know where Butler is.’”
As the current athletic director at Butler University, Collier sees many similarities between Jordan as a player and as a head coach.
“He was a similar type of player to how he is as a coach,” Collier says. “By that I mean he had a great grasp for the game in terms of knowing where to be, what to do, what to expect and how to approach it.”
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Butler in 2001, Jordan briefly pursued a professional playing career, becoming the first Butler player to participate in the National Basketball Association’s Development League. It wasn’t long, however, until Jordan returned to Butler, where he worked as director of basketball operations for one season before becoming an assistant coach from 2004 to 2007.
After his time as an assistant at Butler, Jordan followed former Butler coach Todd Lickliter to Iowa University, where he worked as an assistant from 2007 to 2010. From there, Jordan went on to work as an assistant under former University of Michigan head coach John Beilein from 2010 to 2016, where he helped Michigan to the national championship game in 2013.
“He wanted to build a program with the same type of people that we would have here at Butler, so there was a huge alignment in how he wanted to do it and who he wanted to do it with,” Jordan says of Beilein. “I learned a ton.”
Jordan then went on to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he got his first year of head coaching experience during the team’s 2016-2017 season. While the Milwaukee Panthers didn’t have a winning record during Jordan’s single season there, Butler University Athletic Director Barry Collier still saw enough in Jordan’s overall resume to bring him back to Butler as head coach of the men’s basketball team in 2017.
“He didn’t just have a good length of experience – it was also high-quality experience both here at Butler and then at the two schools as an assistant coach,” Collier says. “I know he had a losing record at Milwaukee the one year he was there, but I was impressed with the improvement that team showed.”
After several years away from Butler basketball, Jordan had no choice but to return in June of 2017 to become head coach.
“Alignment is so important as a head coach,” Jordan says. “There are a lot of programs in the country, and (I have) belief in what Butler’s capable of. Obviously, there’s a place in my heart for Butler because it’s meant so much to me and has been a part of my life for so long.”
After missing the NCAA Division I basketball tournament in 2019, the Butler Bulldogs look to be well on their way back to the tournament in 2020. In Jordan’s third year as head coach, the team has been ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll throughout most of the season, thanks in large part to the team’s strong group of upperclassmen.
“Obviously, being together now for a third season with Henry, Sean, Kamar, Aaron Thompson and Christian David, our juniors and seniors – they know our staff, they know me, and they know the standard and expectations,” Jordan says. “So now there’s an obligation and responsibility that they have to make sure things happen, and to hold themselves and their teammates accountable. I think that’s where the growth has come.”
Considering that Jordan has been with many of his current players throughout his head coaching tenure at Butler, Collier believes the team has grown stronger through its ups and downs, ultimately making it a formidable squad heading into March Madness.
“I think there were lessons learned by the student-athletes on the team as well as the coaching staff,” Collier says. “So I would point to the fact that (Jordan) led them in that learning process through the off-season, and then has found the strengths of this team and played to those largely. We’ve had a really good year so far because of all that.”
No matter how the team finishes when the final buzzer sounds on Butler’s 2019-2020 season, Jordan ultimately hopes the players on this squad leave having learned life lessons.
“Off the court, hopefully these guys walk away as better men and better leaders,” Jordan says. “I want them to be more ready to go out and take a next step and lead, whether it’s an organization or a playing career or a family.”
To stay up to date on Butler University men’s basketball, be sure to visit ButlerSports.com.