Lisa Bluder is to the Iowa women’s basketball program what Tom Davis was to the Iowa men’s basketball program. And that is meant as praise.
Over 13 seasons, Bluder has established a level of success that is easy to take for granted.
She has conducted herself with class and dignity while leading Iowa to six consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and 10 overall.
Bluder’s success falls short of matching what former Iowa women’s basketball coach Vivian Stringer accomplished while building the Hawkeyes into a national power in the 1980s and early 1990s.
It’s enough, though, to satisfy Bluder’s boss, as it should be.
“If you draw what you want a coach to be in terms of win, graduate and do it the right way, that’s sort of our mantra, she represents all of that,” Iowa Director of Athletics Gary Barta said at the team’s annual media day event Thursday. “The reason there is stability is because she’s good at all those things, which then creates a situation where she is here for a long time.”
Support from the athletic director is one area where Bluder’s situation is different from what Davis went through near the end of his run at Iowa.
Davis didn’t match Lute Olson’s success at Iowa and it ultimately cost Davis his job after the 1998-99 season when his contract wasn’t renewed.
Davis was forced out even though he made making the NCAA Tournament almost seem routine with nine appearances in 13 seasons. His teams also never lost in the first round. But Davis struggled to take it beyond that and some fans grew tired of the pattern.
Former Iowa Athletics Director Bob Bowlsby without question grew tired of Davis because it was Bowlsby who forced him out and then hired Steve Alford in what was described as an attempt to lift Iowa to the next level.
But instead, the hiring of Alford and then replacing him with Todd Lickliter eight years later sunk Iowa into one of the darkest and most controversial stretches in the history of the program.
Current coach Fran McCaffery finally has the program moving back in the right direction, with the 2013-14 squad poised to end Iowa’s NCAA Tournament drought, which dates back to 2006.
But let this brief history lesson be a reminder that things could always be much worse. Bluder hasn’t turned Iowa into a national power or won many NCAA Tournament games. But she has kept the program in the upper half of the conference on a regular basis. Iowa is the only Big Ten team, and one of just 13 in NCAA Division I women’s basketball, to qualify for the NCAA Tournament in each of the past six seasons.
You don’t make the NCAA Tournament six times in a row and 10 out of 13 times by accident. You do so by recruiting talented players and by developing them in a stable and nurturing environment.
Bluder also excels in other parts of her job.
It’s incredible to think that all the student-athletes who have played under Bluder at Iowa and completed their eligibility have not only graduated, but also have 100 percent job placement following their careers.
“Around the country every year you see some coach that is let go and the discussion is try and get us to the next level,” Barta said. “Well, if you have the right person in place, like Lisa, she’s the one who is best suited to get us to the next level because she graduates her student-athletes, she has won championships, she’s gotten us into six straight NCAA Tournaments, which no other coach in the Big Ten has done.
“She has a formula that works very well at Iowa. She has a staff that understands it. And every year we’re knocking on the door to win a championship or go deeper. And we’re just going to keep knocking and we’re going to keep pushing.”
Bluder also gets points for being a nice person. She grew up in Marion, so she understands the pace and the landscape around here.
She is also married and has two daughters ages 16 and 13, and an 11-year old son. Family means a great deal to Bluder, but so does winning.
Bluder started Thursday’s news conference by embracing the challenge of trying to make the NCAA Tournament for the seventh consecutive season despite having little depth. There is added incentive with Iowa scheduled to host an NCAA Tournament site for the second year in a row.
But with hosting also comes the pressure of trying to make the tournament.
“You can look at it that way, but we certainly try to avoid that at all cost because I don’t think we need the negative fears of having to get back there,” Bluder said. “We want to use it as a positive motivation that we’re hosting.”
Bluder’s resume still has room for improvement. She has struggled over the years to recruit athletic players and her teams at Iowa have failed to advance past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The good still far outweighs the bad where Bluder is concerned, though. Iowa might do better with a different coach, or the program could unravel without Bluder leading the way.
It happened to the Iowa men’s basketball program, so it could easily happen to the women.
Fortunately, for Bluder, her boss treats her fairly.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball