Interviews with coaches: Tyler Slipp

It's the beginning of a new feature, a series of interviews with coaches, as you might have guessed. Today, a conversation with the women's basketball coach at Waterloo.

Generally, when a team goes 4-18 and misses the playoffs, you don't rush to interview the coach. Unless he's a former assistant coach with NEDA who kept a blog to organize his thoughts on the game (see here or here). Or unless he brings to the interview a mix of new-to-this earnestness and the plain speech of a Maritimer, resulting in a few interesting answers. Tyler Slipp falls into both categories, and we sat down back in April.

For background on Slipp, see the news release from when he joined Waterloo, or read his old blog. And for the most part, I'll let his answers stand alone. If it's warranted, I'll comment, but to keep the flow of his answers, I'll respond in footnotes.

On the need to keep new ideas coming into CIS ball, and avoiding a "giant recycling system" like he feels exists in the NBA: "That was my biggest worry about taking a head coaching job at my age -- and there's a lot of worries out there because there's a lot of things I don't know how to do. But one of the biggest ones, in a basketball sense, was where am I going to keep learning and getting new ideas? [...] I mean, it's hard. It's friggin' hard to get new ideas out there."

Later, he expanded on this: "I like to switch things up. I like to think of different ways to do things. We haven't really shown that a lot yet. There have been little glimpses of us doing some neat different things offensively. I'd like to fully take credit for everyone in Ontario doing a dribble handoff into a ball screen. I think we started that, I think everybody does it now."

On his coaching influences or on whose philosophy he closely follows: "I tried to steal as much as I could from everybody. So out east, it was my mother, that was like a basketball education growing up. [...] I took a ton from her on the technical side of things. [And] NEDA was good, with Christine [Stapleton]." [1]

On NEDA: "Basically, the two of us had to get the program off our feet. So we get there and there's an empty office. We don't have pens. [...] We had one laptop, shared between the two of us. We're only allowed from six to eight in the morning for gym time. We don't have money to book the gym. We don't have money to book classrooms. We're sneaking into the dance studio to do our full-body workout. It was fun. It was a lot of fun. But it was tough."

He continued later: "You would think that a program like that, which is a great idea, and is so necessary, you'd think that they'd have some great funding. Make it like a top-notch world-class idea. Basketball Canada, god bless 'em, they just have no money to do anything. [...] It's too bad, because they did really good things for a bunch of players. You can kind of see it in our results with the age-group stuff, on the girls' side for sure."

His thoughts on being the third CIS coach for many of his players at Waterloo: "It was a nightmare, it was very difficult for them. Who knows if they would have wanted to come play for me? [...] It was hard for them to buy into everything, and just with the way the coach before me left, to go through that, it didn't exactly make for a team-building experience on the floor."

On graduating players who surprised him in his two years coaching them: "Reanne Holden and Steph Shea got miles better." By way of explanation, he asked me if I ran the numbers on turnover rate and said, "I think [Holden] led the country last year [2008-09] in turnovers per minute. Pretty sure she was up there." [2]

On the OUA West next year: "[The Mustangs are] going to be a powerhouse for years now. From what he [Western coach Steph Barrie] has done, the success they're having now is just going to turn into more success. He's got to be licking his chops for nationals next year. [...] Windsor-Western's going to be a dogfight. [The Lancers] return just about everybody, so they're going to be solid."

On recruiting: "I'm still adjusting to how to recruit in Ontario. It's very, very different from anywhere else in the country."

I asked how much "the scholarship thing" affected that, to which he said, it did at first, but now, "it's become a cultural and almost a pride thing [to go to the NCAA]. Your mom wants to be able to say 'my kid's got a full ride' to wherever. And then if you told your friends, 'I'm going to Waterloo,' you'd probably have to explain yourself." He then pointed out the geography: "From Hamilton, how many D1 schools within a five-hour drive? A shitload."

Moving more broadly to CIS issues...his response when I asked, in relation to Matteke Hutzler moving to Western, how a coach could successfully recruit someone from another CIS school like that: "I have no idea. The only official way to do it is the kid has to contact you, and then you have to tell your athletic director that this player from another school has contacted you, they tell that athletic director, that athletic director tells the coach. That whole process. But I mean, those kids, she's on Facebook, right? So I just send her a message, 'hey, how's the season going? How's this going?' with a couple of them just to see how they're doing." [3]

On the quality of CIS statistics: "It drives me nuts. [...] We have our coaches' meeting and I bring [the OUA website] up all the time, 'Our stats are terrible.' " [4]

On SFU's move (at one point, I said, "speaking of SFU," and he didn't even wait to hear the question): "Stupidest decision in the world for them to go D2. Just stupid. [...] I was there when they were having meetings about it, when they first started talking about it. [...] It was just weird. It was bizarre. The coaches in the room didn't want to be in CIS, really. Langford was the only guy who really wanted to stay in Canada. But I think it's bad, I think it just hurts basketball in Canada. I think it hurts the CIS big-time." We returned to the topic shortly after: "But I understand they're frustrated with the CIS. Honestly, the CIS does some frustrating things. There's this view that Canada West ... wants to have the kind of sports system that's close to [the U.S. system]. 'Let's just put money on the table and try and be good.' There's this view that Ontario specifically is always holding that back and saying no, we can't do scholarships."
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  1. [1] Christine Stapleton, then the women's head coach at NEDA, is now his boss at Waterloo. I was somewhat surprised that Bruce Langford's name didn't come up in this context, because of the success SFU had in CIS under his watch.

    [2] He's right. Turnovers per 40 for Holden in 08-09: 7.0, good for 8th in CIS and third in the OUA. This past year, she was down to 5 per 40, or 38th in the country. Still higher than average, but certainly an improvement.

    [3] The "she" is Hutzler. And later on, Slipp said that he talked to the SFU players early about their plans for their fifth year of eligibility--which makes him one of many coaches who did so, but probably one of few to admit to it on the record.

    [4] We discussed this much more, but it was back-and-forth, not easily quotable, and a topic I've brought up enough already. He used to calculate advanced stats for every player, for the last three or four years, but couldn't find the time to slog through it this year. He's displeased with the situation, and in particular with how the OUA presents itself through its website.

  2. Are you kidding me,dribble handoff into a ball screen, was certainly done before Tyler Slipp came to Waterloo and it was done by many teams. Also it is not hard to get new ideas if you surround yourself with people who will challange you and have experience at this level.

  3. I think he was being more facetious than serious here...

  4. I tried to type this earlier but I must not have done it right it because it didn't go up.

    I am surprised that Langford's name didn't come up either, I must gotten side tracked during that response, because he has been one of the biggest influences on my life, let alone my coaching career. During the time I spent coaching with him I learned the most important thing, that you don't need to try to be like anyone else to be a great coach. He is unfailingly himself at all times and breaks a lot of the stereotypes you think are coaching rules, but I have never seen players that had more fun, worked as hard and improved as much as that group.

    And yes, I was being facetious, sadly, I did not invent or popularize the dribble handoff ball screen.

    It's hard to get a feel for these quotes out of the context of the back and forth whole converstation, I'm sure I'll be getting some more questions on a few things!