Todd Lickliter has led teams to Top 25 rankings and two Sweet Sixteen appearances and now he’s back coaching Division 1 basketball in the state of Indiana. This could be Lickliter’s last chance to dance, but he’s glad to be back singing the song.
The 64-year-old Lickliter was the third of four highly successful Butler coaches during a 15-year run of 11 NCAA appearances when the Bulldogs played in the Horizon League. The Butler graduate and former assistant coach took over from Thad Matta and led the Bulldogs to a pair of Sweet Sixteen appearances.
Lickliter parlayed that run into a job at Iowa where the ‘Butler Way’ wasn’t quite as successful. After winning 68% of his games at Butler, Lickliter’s Hawkeyes went 38-58. He was released and two years later returned to coaching at the NAIA level.
After three years at Marian University, Lickliter became a scout for the Boston Celtics.
He started missing the dance. He missed being around the players, games that mattered and being a part of an organization. So, when Walter McCarty invited him to join his Evansville staff, he jumped at the chance.
“It’s kind of lonely [as a scout],” he said. “You miss being in the gym and teaching and competing and being a part of young peoples’ lives. It made a lot of sense. I knew a lot about Evansville, but I learned a lot more and fell in love with the people during my year [as an assistant].”
Energy was high at Evansville and McCarty, Lickliter and others had a promising and talented group of returners and transfers poised for success this season.
A ladder got in the way
While doing offseason work on his home, his ladder slipped and Lickliter sustained a concussion, which caused him to be unable to continue his job as McCarty’s assistant. After McCarty’s midseason firing, Evansville Athletic Director Mark Spencer, knowing Lickliter had healed up, called on the man that knew the current players and mid major, private school, Indiana-based basketball.
He was hired on Jan. 26, coached a game that night and six more since. He has had to take over a program, get better acquainted with his players and coach games against talented Division 1 teams. He says it’s been a very unique situation.
“It’s very unique and something you don’t anticipate in coaching,” Lickliter said. “But it’s a great place here, so I’m very grateful to be here.”
Lickliter is back doing what he loves. He has said repeatedly that he has the job he wants, but not the way he wanted it.
“They were looking for leadership and I am thankful I was here,” Lickliter said. “I got to know the Evansville community, the university and I loved it.”
He says there are great similarities between Butler in the early 2000s and Evansville in 2020.
“I thought it was an ideal situation for coaching,” Lickliter said. “It is very similar to what I had at Butler, not exactly, but very similar. When they were in need for leadership, I’m grateful that they turned to me.”
The success he had at Butler has created a hunger to do it all over again.
Evansville is improving
Five games prior to McCarty’s dismissal, leading scorer DeAndre Williams went down with an injury. Suddenly the Purple Aces, who defeated then-number one Kentucky earlier in the season, were without their coach and their best player. UE is 0-14 in Missouri Valley play.
The Purple Aces are improving. Despite losing their first seven under Lickliter, they’re getting closer. Turnovers are down, assists are up and the losing deficits are getting smaller. Three of their last four losses are by single digits and one occurred in overtime.
“We can see where we’re making progress,” the veteran coach said. “It gives us the incentive to keep pushing forward and keep doing the things that helped us make progress. One of the nice things about college basketball is that at the end you have a new season with the conference tournament.”
Lickliter doesn’t want his team caught up in wins and losses, but in enjoying the game they love. Lickliter says you don’t sing a song to get it to end.
“Sometimes you miss the real fun of what you’re doing,” he shared. “I told our players, you don’t sing to get to the end of the song, you sing because you like to sing. So don’t get so caught up in the overall record, but understand that winning is a byproduct of how you’re preparing and the enjoyment you have in the experience of competing in a great game.”
Evansville appears to be the perfect fit for the upbeat Lickliter. He enjoys the community and the university administration. Prior to Williams’ injury the Aces were 9-4 with wins over Murray State, Ball State and Green Bay along with that win over Kentucky. The explosive Williams (16.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game) has resumed some basketball activities.
There are four games left in this verse of Lickliter’s song. With Williams on the way back and the Valley tournament before them, the Aces could still finish that song with a great crescendo.