Game Change Nation

USC Coach Lindsay Gottlieb Talks Championship Culture

One surefire way to spot the difference between a good coach and a great one is their ability to create a championship culture. USC women’s basketball head coach, Lindsay Gottlieb weighed in on the subject when she joined GameChange co-founders Paul McDonald and Jack Baric on their podcast, “Thru the Tunnel.” She stated, “There’s no way to win championships without a strong culture. It’s impossible.”

As more and more modern players and coaches talk about the need to get the culture right, exactly how to create a good one is an oft-asked question. Gottlieb acknowledged that there is no singular correct answer. She explained, “I don’t think it takes only one form, but it’s one of those things you know when it’s not right. So, it’s really magical when it is right.”

Despite there not being one right answer, there are many ingredients that can help cook up the chemistry that leads to championships. McDonald, who was the starting quarterback on the 1978 USC national championship football team, recalled a few of the key elements that built the culture on that squad. “We had enough leaders on the team that held each other accountable…that respected each other, trusted each other, and that’s why we took it to the heights that we did.”

Interestingly, championship culture isn’t only created during winning seasons. Gottlieb, who was the first NCAA women’s basketball head coach to coach in the NBA, provided a great example that she witnessed when she was an assistant coach under J.B. Bickerstaff at the Cleveland Cavaliers. She said, “He was masterful at building a culture before we were good, a culture of guys wanting to come to work every day. Because it is work in the NBA, it’s a job, which is even harder when you’re not winning.” That works is beginning to bear fruit as the Cavs have begun winning more. Gottlieb explained, “He spent the time, I think, building those cultural pieces that now it can take off.” 

Although there are several different paths to creating championship culture, there is one absolute trait that differentiates coaches – the desire to invest in having relationships with players. Gottlieb stated, “You can spot a transactional coach right away when they stop having a relationship the second that a player can’t do something for them anymore.” She explained why it’s so important. “You can’t hold anyone accountable, really, if they don’t know that you believe in them or care about them more than just their basketball self.”    

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