Sports & Health

Leadership

Running point: Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few on driving his team toward success

September 12, 2022

Running point: Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few on driving his team toward success

Mark Few

Head Basketball Coach, Gonzaga University

Head Basketball Coach of Gonzaga University, Mark Few, on how he took his team from mid-major obscurity to consistent NCAA contenders.

On a special edition of the Walker Webcast, we shared Willy’s interview with Head Basketball Coach of Gonzaga University from the Walker & Dunlop Summer Conference. He and Willy discussed how he took his team from mid-major obscurity to consistent NCAA contenders, his leadership style, the importance of team building, recruiting the right talent, and much more.

Coach Few has had an incredible journey, from playing basketball at Linfield College to an assistant coaching role at Gonzaga that turned into much more when the head coach left. He assumed that role and took the team back to the NCAA tournament for 23 consecutive years

But making it to Elite Eight was not all fun and games. Coach Few talks about his early days at Gonzaga. Beyond the pressures of coaching, the team’s president had a vision for the team, school, facilities and enrollment. All of the sudden, expectations were put on the program which were never there before, he says

How did the program live up to such lofty expectations? Everything Gonzaga basketball does goes back to “two backbones:” chemistry and team culture, Coach Few explains. When Kevin Pangos joined, for example, the culture of the team as a whole changed and blossomed. He also talks about Travis Knight, the team’s strength and conditioning coach and mental development coordinator, and how this work has changed over the years.

For the first 14 years, mental toughness was the focus, according to Coach Few. Think “toughening up” and “being a man.” Today by contrast, he estimates that 25-30% of an athlete’s time is spent on what he calls mental work, teamwork and personal growth. Players take Sundays off and start their weeks with PGMs, or Personal Growth Mondays. Openness and vulnerability are a priority, with traditions like post-practice huddles to share fun, personal things. This fosters an environment where players and coaches can help each other work through things they may be going through

Some of the things to work through over the past year include recruiting and moving on from a loss. Coach Few says he’s proud to watch assistant coaches move on to bigger and better things, even after he’s invested in them and even though it’s hard to see them go. He also talks about what it was like to exit the NCA early this year. It was an “immensely shallow and empty feeling,” but the players seemed to get over the loss quickly—unlike some of the fans, Coach Few notes

Willy and Coach Few spend a fair amount of time talking about the business of the sport: the increase in student transfers, the economics of the program, analytics, and even competition with the Texas A&M booster club. Gonzaga basketball has one of the most profitable basketball programs in the country, ranking #18 in terms of total revenue for the basketball program. Coach Few attributes this to investing in the right things out of eagerness and a healthy dose of paranoia, the school’s willingness to grow alongside the basketball team over the past 25 years, and—first and foremost—the players.

Coach Few has a personal connection to one of these players. His middle son currently plays on the Gonzaga team and “has actually become a crowd-pleasing guy.” What’s it like to coach one of your children? Like most parents with college-aged kids, he says, he feels honored just to share a little bit of extra time with him before and after practice

Coach Few wraps up with questions from the audience, sharing his take on Title IX, living in the COVID-19 bubble, and the future.


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