Jeff Walz is having the time of his life.
The sixth-year head women’s basketball coach at the University of Louisville has been the talk of the women’s college basketball world this week.
”He’s the hottest coach in the game,” ESPN said earlier in the week.
The joke-telling, sideline ranting, fun-loving Walz has been called the “mad scientist” with game plans after directing the Cardinals to the biggest upset in the history of women’s college basketball last week – over No. 1 Baylor – and then doing it again on Tuesday night against eight-time national champion Tennessee.
”He’s an unbelievable coach,” U of L men’s coach Rick Pitino said. “He’s one of the top coaches in the game, men’s or women’s basketball.”
Walz is proving it on the sidelines this season, guiding the Cardinals to their second Final Four appearance despite missing three starters because of injuries. The Cardinals will play California on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.
”I’m having fun,” Walz said. “I let kids play. Some coaches think I am crazy, but I want them to go out there and have fun. It’s a game and I think it should be enjoyable. We work really hard in practice.
”But when it comes to the game, I just let them have fun.”
Walz, who signed a seven-year contract extension before the season, is using the fun and mad genius combined to make an incredible run.
The Cardinals were the No. 5 seed in the Oklahoma City Region but have “crashed the party,” as Walz likes to put it.
Along the way, Walz and U of L have gained a ridiculous amount of national attention. He said after the Baylor game he stole an inbounds play from Robert Morris – in an NIT win over Kentucky – to help win that game.
In the Tennessee game, U of L built a large lead and then held on. After the game, Walz on national TV ran into an interview with Shoni Schimmel picked her up and jumped up and down like a little kid.
Walz then called his team the “ugly ducklings.”
”He likes to have fun and wants to make sure we have fun,” Schimmel said. “He’s hard on us, but he knows what gets us going.”
The program was solid before Walz arrived from Maryland where he was an assistant when the Terrapins won the NCAA title.
But it’s been one of the nations best since his arrival.
Angel McCoughtry led the team to the 2009 title game and some suggested it was only because she was there and not the program.
In recent years, Walz kept reminding folks “it’s a program and we want to be one of the elite programs.” Just before the NCAA Tournament started, Walz said he was hoping to make a run despite all of the injuries.
And now here he is. The coach is getting much of the national attention, along with Schimmel, but as he put it “it’s about this program.”
”It’s hard to believe how it’s happened,” Walz said. “I really believed coming into the stadium we had a chance to compete for a spot in the Final Four and once you get there you are playing for a national title. But we lost Asia Taylor and then Tia Gibbs and Shawnta’ Dyer went down and it didn’t look good.
”It was starting to get tough. But we played well and the kids just kept fighting. These kids never stopped fighting. Nobody expected us to be here but we are and I think that speaks volumes for the program we have built.”