Coach’s Chair: Gordy Presnell, Boise State University

Gordy Presnell shares a laugh with his players. Photo by Boise State Photographic Services.
Gordy Presnell shares a laugh with his players. Photo by Boise State Photographic Services.

Gordy Presnell is in his twelfth season as head coach at Boise State, and his 30th season of head coaching overall. He has turned the Broncos into consistent conference contenders with a fast-paced brand of basketball that routinely ranks highly in both scoring and rebounding. Presnell guided Boise State to back-to-back Western Athletic Conference titles in 2007 and 2008. The school moved to the Mountain West Conference a few years ago.

Before he returned to his home state of Idaho, Presnell spent 18 years as head coach of Division II Seattle Pacific University. He took the Falcons to 10 NCAA Tournaments, claimed seven conference championships and saw five unbeaten seasons of home court play.

Presnell and his wife are the parents of two adult children.

You were coach at Seattle Pacific for 18 years – that’s a long time. How did you come to stay so long?

I got to work at a school that put a value on athletics and what it could do for a University. It started out as not a very good job and ended up being one of the top DII jobs in the country. I had so many resources, so much financial aide available, and was in a great location. When I started I was a part-time coach and I worked nights doing delivery for Vitamilk Dairy. I had one scholarship and I divided it all up. By the time I left I had the full compliment of scholarships which was 10 at Division II. When I left my equipment budget was bigger than my entire budget had been at first. The administration was very supportive of me, the program and women’s athletics in general.

Describe the athletic atmosphere at Boise State. Is it a fun place to coach women’s basketball?

I have really enjoyed my stay here. There’s a lot of passion here for the blue and orange. The football program sets the bar pretty high, and it’s a landlocked place with four distinct seasons and wonderful facilities. It took a bit of adjusting for us when we moved from the WAC to the Mountain West.

When did you know you wanted to coach?

When I graduated from college I was a school teacher and got into coaching high school football as an assistant. I ended up at SPU as a grad assistant to get my Master’s degree, and I was sold. It’s been a lot of fun. I was on the men’s side when the women’s coach got fired two weeks before season started, so they put me into the job. It was the most fun time I had ever had in coaching with the van trips, and the singing and the teasing that came on those trips. Now those things have been replaced by expectations. A few decades ago, all kids wanted was to play. They all had jobs and $2,500 scholarships for the year.

What do you like about coaching women?

I like the family feel you get. I like the fact that for the most part, they enjoy the game and they want to compete. I remember driving from Davis to Sacramento one trip and I had to pull over because I had tears in my eyes from laughing.

What do you love about coaching?

I love the transition that happens from from age 18 to 22. I have a philosophy that success comes from confidence, chemistry and competitiveness. If they can beleive in themselves and want to work, that will apply in the business world. It’s great to see them develop maturity over the years.

I’m proud of my coaching tree. Lynne Roberts, who coaches Utah, played for me at SPU and then was an assistant coach. (Colorado coach) JR Payne was an assistant coach for me at Boise State. (San Jose State coach) Jamie Craighead was an assistant coach for me for three years at SPU.

How have your teams been so successful over the course of your career?

I’ve been fortunate to have been in two Universities that believe in women’s athletics. At SPU, by the time I left, I don’t know anyone who had more resources at the Division II level than we did. At Boise State, engineering is our top program, and about half of our team are engineering majors. Their major class of the week is on Thursdays, so if we have a Wednesday game we fly charter plane on Wednesday nights to get back quickly. I can’t say charter planes are more fun than van rides, though.

Is it your goal to stay at Boise State?

I’m from Idaho and everyone has their place they like to coach at, and this is where I’ve always wanted to coach.

How do you approach goal-setting with your team?

We go on a retreat and do a lot of this kind of stuff. We set up a pyramid, with the first tier being enthusiasm. The second tier is accountability, and holding each other to standards. The top tiers are maintaining high GPAs and winning a Mountain West Championship. We try to finish everything we set out to do. On one side of the pyramid we write down potential obstacles that might keep us from doing what we endeavor to do, like role identification and injury. We have a rule list: don’t skip class, don’t stay up all night. We have team leaders. We have a song of the year. This year its an old Dire Straits song called “Walk of life.” That’s a great song.

Who has been the most influential on you as a coach?

(Oregon coach) Kelly Graves has helped a lot. I go to Lynne at Utah a lot even though she played for me. I have all the books by Dean Smith and John Wooden.

How would someone describe one of your practices?

We don’t curse anyone, we hold people accountable and we’re not yellers and screamers. We are moving from one thing to another all the time. Before the season, practices start out at two or three hours, and now they’re about an hour and a half.

What are the most important principles to impart to your players by the time they leave your program?

Live life with enthusiasm.

Finish this sentence: basketball is________

Basketball teaches life lessons. If you’re soft in some areas, you’ll be soft in those areas in life when adversity happens. We want people to plow through adversity.

What’s your favorite place to vacation?

I started going to Disneyland at two years old. Since I’ve been coaching I’ve had a dealwith my family that anytime we win 20 games on the season, we go to Disneyland when it’s all over. We went quite a bit when I coached at SPU. Last year we won 19 games, and my wife and daughter went without me.