BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
INDIANAPOLIS –- Brian Smith was not necessarily looking for a basketball coaching job in the spring of 2015.
He had spent six years as the boys basketball coach at Shoals High School, but he never had a winning record there.
He saw that the Loogootee girls coaching job was open, and he was intrigued by Loogootee’s basketball tradition.
On the other hand, he had never coached girls before.
After mentioning the job to his wife DeAnna, she brought clarity to the situation.
“I got out for awhile and really missed it and wanted to coach again,” Smith admitted. “I had no intentions of coaching girls basketball. And then I got a phone call from a friend, and he said, ‘Are you interested?’
“And I talked to my wife, and she was like, ‘Why not? Why not? You want to coach.’ So I did it, and that’s the story to leave doors open and don’t all the close doors just because you’re not sure.”
Smith applied for the job and he was hired.
The Loogootee girls basketball program and Brian Smith’s life were about to change forever.
The year before he became coach, Loogootee won three games. In his first year, they won 10 games. In his second year, they won 13. In his third year, they won 19. In his fourth year, they won 21 games. In his fifth year, they won 27 games and the Class 1A state championship.
And in his sixth year, he has guided the Lady Lions back to the Class 1A state title game, where they will play Pioneer at 11 a.m. Saturday in a rematch of last year’s title game.
Loogootee is 20-4. They have gone 18-2 since a 2-2 start.
Since Jan. 3, Loogootee’s only loss was to Linton-Stockton, who is 26-1 and who played in the Class 2A state title game Friday night.
Smith was asked if the team has made consistent progress this year or if the team had had peaks and valleys.
“We’ve had more valleys than peaks this year with injuries and COVID and at times looked disinterested in playing the game,” Smith said. “Maybe lack of motivation at times. But as the season went on and things got closer down the stretch, we were able to right the ship and got people healthy and got people mentally prepared and we started clicking there right before the state tournament.
“We maybe have played as well as we have any time last year these last handful of games.”
While the Linton-Stockton game ended in a loss, Smith said it might have been a turning point in the season. With Loogootee down by 21 points, Smith called timeout.
“Sooner or later, we’re going to have to turn this thing around,” Smith told them in the huddle.
Loogootee would cut the 21-point deficit down to five points. They wound up losing 53-41 to a Linton-Stockton team that wins games by an average margin of 31 points per game.
“I think that game said, ‘Hey, it’s time to go. It’s to get serious. If we want to make another run, we've got to start playing a lot better basketball,’” Smith said.
Of the seven players who played in last year’s state game against Pioneer, six of them are back this year. When so many players return from a state championship team, expectations tend to be high.
Smith said there are no books as to how to coach a team the year after winning a state championship. So he said he used more of a “trial and error” style of coaching.
“I think I tried about every motivational technique,” Smith said. “I yelled and screamed and we ran. I was silent and quiet. Maybe we took a day off that we normally didn’t do. But, you know, as we got closer … they realized what was ahead, and we kind of flipped that switch. I hate teams that think they can turn it on and turn it off when they want, we appeared to flip that switch late in the year.”
Loogootee girls basketball coach Brian Smith