When Steve Lutz began his coaching career in 1995, “Toy Story” premiered in theaters, DVDs were invented, and Michael Jordan returned from his brief stint as a professional baseball player. More than a quarter of a century later, the 49-year old earned his first head coaching job at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
“It’s a dream come true,” Lutz said. “When I started in 1995, I wanted to be a head coach from day one. It took 26 years and it’s a sense of pride and accomplishment..”
Lutz took over for the retiring Willis Wilson, the school’s all-time winningest coach at the Division-I level.
Prior to landing the head coaching gig in the Lone Star State, Lutz had been a lifelong assistant with stops at Incarnate Word, Garden City Community College, Stephen F. Austin, SMU, Creighton and Purdue.
During his time in Omaha, Neb., Lutz helped develop one of college basketball’s greatest scorers in Doug McDermott, while guiding the Blue Jays to four NCAA Tournament appearances and two conference tournament titles.
After leaving Greg McDermott’s staff for a position in West Lafayette, Ind., Lutz coached the Boilermakers to three NCAA Tournaments and Carsen Edwards to All-American honors.
Despite his experience at the Power Five level, Lutz is thankful for and believes his experience at the lower level will help him be a successful coach.
“Working at Incarnate Word, Garden City Community College and Stephen F. Austin helped prepare me more than Creighton and Purdue,” he said. “You don’t have private planes, 20 managers or all the academic support. You’re doing a lot more than just coaching and recruiting.”
Picked to finish sixth in the Southland Conference, the Islanders (19-10, 6-6 Southland) have surpassed preseason expectations in Lutz’s first season at the helm. With two games remaining in the regular season, Corpus Christi sits at fourth in the conference and is riding a three game winning streak.
The Islanders soared out to an impressive 13-4 start in the non-conference schedule, dropping contests to Power 5 opponents Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Minnesota. Prior to Southland play, Coach Lutz’s squad ranked in the top-10 in the country in forced turnovers.
After starting conference play with a 3-1 record, including a win at Southeastern Louisiana, the Islanders dropped five consecutive contests, dropping to a 16-9 record.
“One of the hardest things to do is handle success,” Lutz said. “We fell into the abyss of having success and getting away from what got us there.”
The Islanders have since hit their stride, winning their last three contests. Corpus Christi is powered by the transfer duo of Isaac Mushila (14.4 points per game) and Trevian Tennyson (12.4 points per game).
Mushilla leads the Southland and ranks 15th in the nation in rebounding (9.9 rebounds per contest), while guard Terrion Murdix leads the conference in assists with 3.7 per game. Lutz’s squad leads the Southland in scoring defense (70.2) and turnover margin (3.07).
“Ultimately, I feel that when people buy a ticket to watch us play, I want them to feel like they got their money’s worth,” Lutz said. “I want them to leave the arena and know the guys played their hearts out.”
One way he looks to ensure his roster is filled with this type of player is through recruiting.
“Don’t recruit players into the locker room that you wouldn’t want playing with your son,” he siad. “You have to make sure you can lose with the guys in your program before you can win with them.”
While the Islanders suffered a five-game losing streak earlier in Southland play, the program has the chance to amass the 20-win mark to close out the regular season. Mushila and company will host Nicholls State on Wednesday and travel to San Antonio, Texas, on Saturday to face Incarnate Word in the regular season finale.
“Twenty wins is an exciting benchmark, but it isn’t where we want to stop,” Lutz said. “Our goal is to win the Southland Conference.”