Jeff Mittie is currently in his third season as head coach at Kansas State, and his 25th coaching season overall. He has averaged 21 wins and 10 losses per season and has had only one losing year in his career. Seventeen times, he has advanced his teams to either the NCAA Tournament or WNIT. He has led teams to nine conference titles and has been named conference coach of the year five times, in four difference leagues.
Last week Kansas State was ranked 24th in the AP women’s basketball poll – their first appearance in the rankings since Jan. 2012. The Wildcats are 10-2.
Mittie was head coach at Missouri Western from 1992-1995; head coach at Arkansas State from 1995-1999; and head coach at TCU from 1999-2014. He has both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in sports management. Mittie and his wife Shannon have three adult children – one of whom is a director of basketball operations, and two who are collegiate athletes.
The Wildcats have started out this season so strong. Are they where you thought they’d be, or are they surpassing your expectations?
I’d hoped we would be in this position at this point. I felt like we had a good nucleus and a talented recruiting class that could add to that. We’ve had our challenges with banged-up players in and out of practice, but all in all we’re pretty resilient. We’ve found a way to play resilient basketball.
Did your preconference schedule adequately prepare you for Big 12 play?
We play Baylor and West Virginia, and that will be our most challenging stretch in the near future. We’re trying to get better and correct some things, as offensively, we haven’t had a flow like we did earlier. Since Thanksgiving, we haven’t had three practices where we haven’t been in game mode, preparing for the next match up. Losing that practice time has caused us some slippage. When we get to conference play, we better be in rhythm. Right now we’re not in class, so we’ve got a great chance to make an impact and help players get better through the stretch.
You have two degrees in sports management. Was your original intention to coach? How has sports management helped you in your coaching career?
Initially I was thinking, ‘how do I get a job in sports? How do I work in basketball?’ I was looking at all of those avenues and then got the chance to coach at Missouri Western. Immediately, I loved everything about coaching: I loved recruiting, I loved practice preparation, I loved being around a team, I loved taking a team from point A to however far they could go in reaching their potential.
Of the classes I took, I think back to the personnel classes, learning about the interview process, and all those things have been very beneficial. During my career, I have been fortunate to have great people on my staff.
What has changed in basketball operations since you began coaching?
One thing that has changed so much is how many staff members you have to work with now. When I was coaching Division II, the staff meetings included myself, and there were no issues there. Now I have so many talented people on my staff who are all intelligent in their areas. Now I have to decide how I can best utilize those people in their jobs. It’s fun to have a staff like that.
Did you play basketball?
I played baseball and basketball at Missouri Western. I’ve seen great players be great players and not-so-great players be great coaches. I fall into the latter category. I was a grinder of a player, limited in what I could do, but I loved competing. I loved the challenge of practice every day, and the challenge of figuring out how I could get better.
Not too many coaches begin in the head position without being an assistant first. How did your first job come about?
I began as an assistant coach at Missouri Western, and at end of the year the head coach had a family situation, and she resigned. The AD at the time asked me to take the job as an interim head coach, and honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. I had other interests and I wasn’t sure what path I wanted to take. Halfway through the year, I realized I wanted the job. We were having so much fun and we were winning games and getting better every day. I really enjoyed the challenge of doing that. At the end of the year, I was made permanent head coach.
What is your approach when you take a new coaching position? What is the first thing you do?
The first thing I’ve done everywhere I’ve been is to get with the team I inherit and let them know we’re working together. That they’re not the other coach’s recruits, that they play for this team, and we’re working together. Here at K State we created a culture, an players bought in right away. They have worked really hard.
You’ve had only one losing season since 1992. How do you do that?
I’ve had tremendous players and very good staffs. I’ve tried to identify competitive players who want to come to practice every day to get better and work hard. That team attitude is hard to beat. You’ve got to put all the pieces together; you can’t win at the power five level without talent, players that get it, players who can deal with the grind of the season, and who want to do special things. You can’t win with just hard workers or talent that doesn’t get it. You have to have a coaching staff all going the same direction.
You coached at TCU for 15 years. What inspired you to take the Kansas State job, and how hard was it to leave the Horned Frogs?
It was hard. My oldest daughter graduated from TCU and played for me there, and my wife was teaching there. TCU has a lot of great people and players. I was there during the school’s early transition to the Big 12, and I felt a part of that. We were moving the school school back to a power five league. But this is home for both Shannon and I. My wife grew up 15 minutes from here, and I grew up two hours away in Kansas City. I had appreciation for how K State had done things under Bill Schneider. I was really attracted to the fan base here and I knew fans were passionate about women’s basketball. We sold our arena out nine days before the UConn game. During big 12 play we’ll regularly have crowds of 7,000-10,000.
Walking out of that tunnel is very special. It was hard to leave TCU, but all those factors added up, and it'[s been great. This has been the happiest two and a half years of coaching of my life, but a lot of that has to do with how hard our team works.
What do you consider the greatest achievement of your coaching career so far?
I don’t know if there’s one singular thing, as I’ve had special moments at every school I’ve been at. I don’t ever really look at it like, this is the best achievement; I look at every experience, and I include my wife in this because she’s a part of the team. Every place we’ve been has been very special to us.
How is your wife part of the team?
She’s a great host when we have the team over to the house, when we take them to football games. We just had our Christmas party Sunday night. She’s very involved with every aspect with the team, and is such a part of the family atmosphere with the team. We’re an athletic family – it’s a lifestyle for us more than a job.
What do you want athletes to take away after playing for you?
I hope they do a couple of things: not only get a degree they know is important, but always realize there’s something bigger than yourself out there. If you commit to helping other people, perform your job well and take care of your family, you will be successful. Our team motto is HYT: help your teammate. We want our group to constantly have that giving attitude. We hppe they take away those lessons to have a better experience in life.
What’s your secret talent?
I’m pretty simple in regards to what I like to do: I like to coach basketball, to spend time with my family, and baseball is my hobby. I like to go to Royals games occasionally. My team has proven to me twice already this year that I cannot dance.
But I was excited this year because I did excel in the mannequin challenge.