When Kyle Rechlicz was named the Head Coach at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2012, she inherited a program that was coming off of four straight losing seasons. Rather than look for a quick fix, Rechlicz has consistently improved the program over each of her first four seasons through placing an emphasis on recruiting student-athletes who are focused on the team above all else. This mindset resulted in Rechlicz leading her 2015-16 team to the program’s most single-season wins (19), Horizon League wins (12), and first post-season berth (WNIT) in 10 seasons. For Milwaukee’s success in 2015-16, Rechlicz was recognized as the Horizon League Coach of the Year.
After taking over a program that had four straight losing seasons prior to your arrival, what have been some of your keys to rebuilding the Milwaukee program?
My first focus when I took the job at Milwaukee was hiring a great staff. I wanted to personally be around people that shared that same value system as I do and also wanted to enjoy going to work every day. I accomplished that and have continued to achieve it as I have had some assistants move on. Finding people you trust, that will be loyal and go to battle with and for you, is imperative. My top assistant and now Associate Head Coach, Frank Goldsberry, has been with me from the start and another one of my assistants, Dan Carey, has been with me for four seasons.
I also took a lot of time during my first four seasons building a “family” versus a “team”. I recruited players whose focus was on the team and not on individual accolades. Building trust is key but it is not easy, especially when you are not winning. We spend time together learning about each other, players and coaches, including the the positives and the negatives. The more vulnerable you are willing to be with your team, the more they will respect you and respond.
The last piece to our rebuild has been the commitment to focusing on culture, not on winning. I’ve watched a lot of coaches’ struggle during their first few seasons and then change who they are and how they coach. Take pride and have confidence in your system and who you are. If you stay the course and make it about “family”, the winning will take care of itself.
In addition to it being a Big Ten program, as an alum and former Assistant Coach at Wisconsin, what did it mean to you and your program when you defeated the Badgers earlier this season?
Honestly, within our team, we treat all games the same. We talk a lot about playing Milwaukee Basketball game in and out and not being focused on the name on our opponent’s jersey. We want to play consistent and give the same effort no matter who we are playing against. However, I do think, outside of our team, winning “big” games helps in recruiting. We always set goals to “win the State” because that will make a statement to the players we are looking at to be the next great Panther.
What are your goals for your program during the rest of this season?
As a staff, our goal is to continue to grow both on and off the court individually and collectively. This is an immeasurable goal, but one we communicate with our team through progress meetings. We have off court meetings with our players once a week to talk about life and academics and we sit down with them quarterly to talk through their on-the-court goals and expectations. Another goal we have is to play consistent every game and within a game. We started off the season with a few mid-game lulls and since we have put a focus towards consistency, we have seen vast improvements in this area.
We make our team goals private. The reason for this is that it builds trust and cohesiveness within our family to know that we are fighting for something that no one else knows about. We talk about them daily though. Our mindset is to speak them into existence.
With your student-athletes spending so much time on the court and in the classroom, what are some team-building activities you do with your team to allow them to have some fun away from basketball and school?
I could write pages on this topic alone. We don’t just preach the word family, we act like a family. Which means you truly have to invest in one another.This summer we took our team on a 4-hour canoe trip down the Wolf River. It was quite an experience. It started very casual until the rapids picked up and that is when the fun started. It was rewarding watching our team work together as boats tipped and oars, shirts, and shoes floated down the river. It took a true team effort to get everyone and everything to the finish line.
During the season, we usually try and surprise our team with a few “fun” practices. We have had our own version of Milwaukee Olympics with volleyball, dodgeball, kickball, and spud. Last year, we surprised them with a day of Laser Tag at a local facility. Just recently, I allowed our team to have a Wish / Need Practice, where they picked five drills they wished they could do and five drills they know they need to do. Those are the only drills, I allow in practice for the day. I must admit that they got quite creative and even wished that they could have “post-practice Taco Bell.” Of course, in order to build that trust that we all desire, I let them have it.
We also like to get out in the community and build relationships with those in need or who are less fortunate than us. I left our team pick events or groups that are close to their heart. Last year, we adopted two families for Christmas. Everyone on our team and staff donated money for it. In the end, we had raised $1,500. I took the captains shopping with me for the gifts and then we had a wrapping party as a team. Afterwards, we delivered the presents in Santa hats. It was very rewarding for our team to see the looks on the families, especially the kid’s faces.
Now that you’re in your fifth year as a Division I Head Coach, what advice do you have for someone who wants to make the transition from Assistant Coach to Head Coach?
The first piece of advice I would give is to be great at the job you are currently doing and stop over-marketing yourself for the one you don’t have yet. I’ve watched assistants on the road recruiting at times, networking more than they are actually working. Prove you are great at the actual job by building your resume with achievements like signing ranked recruits or earning big wins. Your reference list should not take priority while you are working. Don’t get me wrong, networking is important, just remember there is a time and place to do it.
The second piece of advice I would give is to continue to build your knowledge of leadership skills and the game on a daily basis. Read books, watch YouTube videos, join Toastmasters Speaking Club, and go to professional development workshops. The more you can learn, the better you will be when the opportunity to step up presents itself.
Written originally for CollegeInsider.com on December 21, 2016.