Becoming a head basketball coach at an institution of higher learning is often a daunting task. Perhaps even more daunting is the task of filling the shoes of a coaching legend. That’s just what Todd Phillips, first year men’s head basketball coach at Salt Lake Community College, has had to do.
Phillips has taken over for Norm Parrish, who coached the team to more victories—more than 400 total—than any other coach in school history. Following more than 20 years at SLCC, Parrish recently was hired as Director of Basketball Operations at the University of Utah. Phillips was an assistant under Parrish for three years before accepting the interim position at SLCC.
“I don’t put pressure on myself, or see myself as an interim coach,” Phillips said. “I feel that I’ve done a lot of things that show what I can do. I’ve put a lot of time in here at SLCC, worked hard and enjoyed being a part of this organization. There is that interim tag out there, but to be honest it very rarely crosses my mind.”
Coach Phillips grew up around the game of basketball. His father played for the College of Southern Idaho (CSI). Like his father, Todd played collegiate basketball, two years at Snow College followed by two more at Lewis-Clark State College (LCSC). Phillips particularly enjoys taking his team on the road to places he knows such as CSI and Snow. Though he admits to feeling some nostalgia at those schools, he has no qualms about beating them out on the floor.
“It’s really a benefit to me that I understand this conference,” he said. “I know how people are going to recruit and I have an understanding of what they like to do. I don’t feel bad at all when we go in there and beat up on Snow or beat CSI.”
Coach Phillips got his start in collegiate coaching as a graduate assistant at LCSC. After a short time there, he moved back to Salt Lake City and was hired as an assistant coach at Westminster College. After eight years working for Westminster College’s athletic department, a full-time assistant coaching opportunity opened at SLCC. Phillips jumped at the opportunity.
Phillips has led the #5-ranked Bruins to a record of 13-4 to start the 2011 season.
“Our goal first and foremost is to win our league,” said Phillips, who grew up in the shadows of one of SLCC’s rivals near CSI in Twin Falls. “If we win this conference and our conference tournament, we’ll be in great shape to chase a national championship.”
The Bruins compete in the Scenic West Athletic Conference (SWAC), a league often considered the best in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). Two of the last three national champions in men’s basketball have come out of the SWAC, a trend that Phillips wouldn’t be surprised to see continue.
“Sometimes it’s more difficult to win this league than it is to win a national championship,” Phillips said. “It’s a great conference and our games are exciting. I enjoy playing good teams and competition. We want to push our guys and be involved in big games.”
A tough conference schedule is only one of the challenges that Phillips faces in his first year as SLCC’s head coach. He has also had to adjust to new responsibilities, routines and personalities to be effective and establish his own philosophies in the program.
“Todd has had to do a lot of things as head coach that have nothing to do with basketball, aspects of the job that have budgeting and other responsibilities,” said SLCC athletic director Norma Carr. “His style of coaching a player and the team’s style of play might be a little bit different than what we’ve had here before. I expect to see a more open and fast-paced style on the floor this year.”
In coaching, managing people can often be as important as knowing all about strategies and tactics. When considering a prospective coach, athletic directors like Norma Carr look for more than just knowledge of the specific sport at hand. At an institution of higher learning a young person’s character development warrants as much attention as their technique or jump shot.
“I love teaching the guys, getting them to understand new concepts, theories and ideas and then putting them in places where they can make the right decisions,” Phillips said. “Whether it’s in life or on the basketball floor, I truly feel that coaching is about teaching, and that’s definitely my favorite aspect of the job.”
Phillips will have his fast-paced Bruins and their 13-4 record tested this weekend as Colorado Northwestern Community College comes to town on Friday night and USU-Eastern visits on Saturday. The Bruins can be followed all season long at slccbruins.com