Matt Grahn

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Twitter – @CoachMattGrahn

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Matt Grahn is in his first year as the head coach of the University of Dallas men’s basketball program.  He became the program’s 17th head coach on July 16, 2021 after working for 10 seasons as a volunteer assistant by the side of former coach Jarred Samples who became the school’s AD this summer. His main duties included coordination of recruiting and post player development.

Grahn was also the recruiting coordinator for the University of Dallas Athletics Department for the past nine years. He assisted in recruiting efforts for all 15 of the NCAA Division III varsity athletic programs.

Grahn previously spent time in various coaching roles at Concordia University, Texas Lutheran University, McNeese State University, Seminole State College, Eastern Washington University Moscow (Idaho) High School and Washington State University under head coach Kevin Eastman. 

In 2011, Grahn became a certified trainer for the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA). PCA is a nonprofit organization founded at Stanford University with the mission to transform youth sports so sports can transform youth.

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Take some notes as you listen to this episode with Matt Grahn,  Men’s Basketball Head Coach at the University of Dallas.

What We Discuss with Matt Grahn

  • The interview where he found out Jarred Samples would not return as the Head Coach at the University of Dallas after taking over as AD
  • Feeling like he had a lot of input while working for Coach Samples for 9 seasons
  • “If you can’t tell people the truth, you can’t get any better.”
  • Looking for input and feedback from Coach Samples as he begins his first year
  • Making it through last year’s Covid season
  • Why the support of his college president, Dr. JJ Sanford, is so important in building a great program
  • Hosting student theme nights to build connections with the campus community
  • Getting his team involved in projects like campus clean-up
  • Feeling the love and support from his players when he was officially named as the Head Coach
  • Spending this fall hitting the recruiting trail hard
  • Why speeding up the pace of practice was an important change he instituted
  • “If we’re going to be in the gym, we’re going to get work done.”
  • Don’t be afraid to cut drills short if your players “get it”
  • Why he feels 20 is the ideal roster size for D3
  • Having brutally honest conversations with players about their role on the team
  • “I’ve got to make decisions based on what’s going to win us ball games. And at the end of the day, we all have to live with that.”
  • Why putting together your schedule is no fun.
  • Dealing with player academics and program budgets
  • “Our upperclassmen are really taking these younger guys underwing and becoming coaches themselves.”
  • His excitement in adding a strength and conditioning coach
  • The working relationships he builds with his staff
  • Why he enjoys being able to “float” and oversee what is happening during practice
  • “Invest in your guys and invest in getting to know them, get to know their families. It really pays dividends in the long run.”
  • Defining roles and managing minutes
  • Understand your basketball philosophy when you take over a new program

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[00:00:00] Mike Klinzing: Hello, and welcome to the Hoop Heads Podcast. It’s Mike Klinzing here with my co-host Jason Sunkle tonight, and we are pleased to welcome back to the Hoop Heads Pod for his second appearance, in a new position since the last time we talked to him, the head coach at the University of Dallas, Matt Grahn, Matt, welcome back to the Hoop Heads Pod.

[00:00:17] Matt Grahn: Mike, Jason, thanks for having me. It is quite an honor to be on your show again. I joined an elite group there Alan Stein, for sure. I know he was he’s been on a couple of times and of course my good friend Greg White he’s on quite frequently. So it is an honor to be back on the show again.  Thanks.

[00:00:34] Mike Klinzing: We appreciate that. And we are excited to have you on and we probably, I think Jason did, we figured out how many people we had on, when you’re putting this, you’re putting me in. You don’t, you don’t have to recalculate it. But we, it, I think it was somewhere about 23, 24, something like that. And like that includes a few people that we’ve had on for like our NBA shows.

We had a few people on for NBA shows a few times. And yeah, I want to say it’s [00:01:00] somewhere. You’re like number 25. It’s a repeat guest. That, so that would be, if you were number 25, Matt.

[00:01:05] Matt Grahn: That’s pretty special. It’s humbling.

[00:01:08] Mike Klinzing: Well, I wouldn’t be too humble about it if we can’t,

[00:01:13] Jason Sunkle: If you count the number of times you’ve done the round table, you’ve done the round table a few times.

[00:01:16] Mike Klinzing: So you’ve been on other times too,

[00:01:19] Matt Grahn: So I want to make sure I throw that in the ring too there, Mike.

[00:01:22] Mike Klinzing: Absolutely. Well, again, Matt, we can’t thank you enough for being a part of it. And jumping back out with us, we are excited to talk to you because since the last time we talked to you, you have taken over the head coaching position at the University of Dallas from your previous head coach, Jarred Samples, who became the athletic director at the University of Dallas. So tell us a little bit about how that came to be. When did the two of you start having discussions about him leaving you taking over? Was that something that you did talk about beforehand? Was it something that he sprung on you just kind [00:02:00] of give us the Genesis of how this all came to pass?

[00:02:02] Matt Grahn: So the previous athletic director originally was he would plan on retiring July 1 of 2020. And we obviously we’re in the middle of a pandemic and the then president at the University of Dallas asked the AD to stay on because he didn’t want to do an athletic director search in the middle of the pandemic.

So he delayed his retirement for another year. So originally when we found out the athletic director was going to retire in spring of 2020 Jarred and I sat down and talked and I said, Hey, are you going to put your name in? I think you’d be really good at that. I think he’d be really good for us as a department.

And he said, yeah, I think I will. And I said okay, let’s play devil’s advocate here. And, and if you got the job, would you continue coaching? And he said, yeah, I’d probably give it a go for a year. [00:03:00] And at the end of the first year of doing it, I’d reevaluate and see if it was feasible or not.

And I said, that’s great good for you. I think that’s a great position to be in and kind of left it at that. So then fast forward a year later the interview process is going on and I I’m, I’m also. SAC committee, student athlete, advisory council is mine. I’m the sponsor of that for our department and during the athletic director interviews this summer they gave SAC a portion of the interview.

They gave the, the SAC committee about an hour with each candidate. And I asked the kids, I said, Hey I don’t want to be you know, that, that middle-aged guy in the middle of the room. If you don’t want me there, please I’ll stay away. But if you want me there, I’ll be there for you. And they said, yeah, coach, we want you in there.

So in Jarred’s interview one of the, [00:04:00] the SAC committee members of volleyball players said well you’re coaching, men’s basketball right now. What are your plans? If you get the job. And he said I, in all fairness to the other sports, I don’t think it would be fair for me to continue coaching men’s basketball anymore.

And my jaw hit the floor. I was like, this is the first time I heard this cause we’d had that conversation a year before. And of course all the kids looked at me and I I’m just in shock. And I was like, Hey, coach, I just want you to know, I did not ask them to ask that question.

You know, I was worried, like he was thinking I was prompting them to do it. And so then they followed up with, well, what would you do with the men’s basketball position? And he laid it out there. He says, I think it’s just a natural fit that coach brown has been with me 10 out of the last 11 years.

He’s recruited these guys and he’s earned it. The position would be. And again, I about fell out of my chair.

[00:04:57] Mike Klinzing: I thought this was for your interview, not mine. Right,

[00:04:59] Matt Grahn: [00:05:00] Right, right. And it was just, I got goosebumps. I got the hair on my arms stood up. And at the end of his interview, I pulled him aside and said, Hey, look, I just want to make sure you understand, like, I did not ask them to do this.

And I’m completely honored and humbled and flattered and all that you think I’m ready for this position. And so you know, fast forward to July, well, just the end of June it was the Monday before the 1st of July. And I can’t remember the exact date, but the committee called Jarred on a Monday and offered him the job. And on Tuesday he called me in his office and he said, I’m giving you the keys to the car. As soon as I can, as soon as we can make an official. And he started his official start date was July 2nd. And then we had to sit on it for about two and a half weeks. What’s crazy.

Mike is, and Jason is that [00:06:00] the HR policy at the University of Dallas, it would have gone quicker to announce me as the head men’s basketball coach. If I had resigned my previous position and they rehired me as the men’s basketball coach, then to just transfer me into. My new role. So I don’t know, I, I don’t know all the inner workings of it.

The HR director, she was very apologetic about it. It’s probably nepotism Matt, maybe. I don’t know what it is. But she was very apologetic through the process. And the day I got hired she was really excited. She gave me a big hug and congratulated me. And so that’s kinda how that went down.

[00:06:40] Mike Klinzing: So there was no need to go through like the formal let’s bring in some outside candidates and interview. It was pretty much. This is what we want to do. We just have to go through the official process of human resources, as opposed to we’ve kind of got to go through and make it look like we’re interviewing [00:07:00] people.

So it was pretty much just the job was yours once Jarred took over as the AD.

[00:07:06] Matt Grahn: That’s correct? Yeah.

[00:07:06] Mike Klinzing: Got it. Got it. Okay. So my first question to you is you’ve worked with someone for 10 years closely and you’re taking over the program. So there’s a fine line to walk there between saying they’re probably things that as an assistant coach, you’ve thought to yourself over the years, boy, if I was the head coach, I might’ve handled that or done that a little bit differently.

And yet at the same time, your former boss is now your current boss and a different role. And so you have to I’m sure. Tread lightly on, Hey, we’re going to come in and we’re going to totally revamp this thing and do a whole bunch of different things. So how did you think about or approach that particular?

I don’t know if it’s a problem, but that particular [00:08:00] aspect of  thinking about the job.

[00:08:01] Matt Grahn: Yeah. It’s the good part about it is you know, Jared and I had an outstanding working relationship and he gave me a lot of ownership into what we did you know, tactically off the court you know, culturally, all that stuff.

So I really felt that even in my position, as his assistant coach, that I had a lot of input on what we did.

Yeah, there, there are certain things that I’m going to have my little personality and put my mark on things. But I the great part about it is I can go into Jared and still bounce ideas off him and say, Hey, what do you think? And you know, he might wince at it and go, eh, I don’t know.

But he says flat out, I’m going to support you, whatever you decide. And that’s the great thing about where I’m at is this is my first collegiate head coaching job. I was a high school head coach 22 [00:09:00] years ago. But my first collegiate head coaching job, my AD is not only a guy I worked with sat on his bench, 10 out of 11.

I have 11 year a working relationship and a 17 year friendship with I think it’s just set up perfectly.  I have no fear. In fact, I’d want Jarred to be involved. I can’t say this for sure, but we just started practice five days ago. He’s poked his head in, I think for all of two minutes, I think part of that is he’sbusier and a one legged man in a bucket and contest.

But the other part is, I think he’s trying to give me space and I want him actually to be observing and, and in the gym and, and let me know all the things I’m doing wrong. I do. I want that feedback. I mean, that’s how you grow, right. That’s it. I mean, if, if you can’t tell people the truth, you can’t get any better.

[00:09:53] Mike Klinzing: What was the challenge for you? Division three head coach, a first [00:10:00] time head coach and your players come back to school back on campus. What’s your guys’ situation? COVID wise, I guess before I ask my next question.

[00:10:09] Matt Grahn: Yeah. Good question. So last year we ended our semester, our first semester at Thanksgiving.

We, we started school a little earlier and so first semester ended it Thanksgiving. We sent the guys home. We didn’t have them back until January 6th. So you talk about white knuckles holding on for dear life, hoping that they’re staying in shape and remembering all the stuff we taught them.

We were scheduled for 10 or sorry, 12 regular season games, all conference games. We played back the back the same team Friday, Saturday. And that was for testing purposes. Keep the costs down that kind of. We got 10 of those games in, because as you probably recall in February, we had that big freeze here in Texas that shut everything down.

And then there was no national tournament [00:11:00] at the end of last year. So they extended out instead of the conference tournament over three days, it was over three weeks, each round on a Saturday. And unfortunately we lost by six in the first round of the conference tournament. So got 11 games in last year.

We had to mask up during practice. And of the 19 guys we had on roster last year, three of them played in all 11 games. Like it was just wild. Like we went into one week and Monday we’re Jarred and I were looking at each other and we’re like, we have six guys for practice today. It was just unreal.

So fast forward. Everything right now is back to normal. We don’t have to mask up during practice testing if kids choose not to get vaccinated, they have to test. And yeah, it’s like I said, it’s relatively normal for us right now.

[00:11:57] Mike Klinzing: Campus everybody’s back in class?

[00:11:58] Matt Grahn: Everybody’s back in [00:12:00] class.

We did have to shut down the after the first week of school we, we had a record incoming freshmen class atUuniversity of Dallas. We had 500 students come in and biggest class in UD history. And the first week of school on a Thursday night, they, we have programming every Thursday night called, TIGIT thank God it’s Thursday.

And of course every freshman on campus wants to go see all the other freshmen on campus. And. It just kind of went nuts and we had to shut things down for a week and a half, but since then it’s been, it’s been good. You know, we, we also have a new president, Mike and Jason, the he took over in January of this past year JJ Sanford and Dr. Sanford is a former student athlete himself. He was a collegiate rower and he gets it. He he’s very supportive of what we do in athletics. He wants to expand athletics. He, he gets those intangible things that, that athletics provides [00:13:00] to the student athlete experience and the greater campus experience as well.

You know, what I figured out is a lot of times that when you have administrators who say they, they back athletics, they are typically academia ones and they don’t know how to communicate. The things that athletics provide student athletes, when you’ve got a student athlete in that position who was also into academia, they can communicate that a lot better to the academic types and, and, and make it make sense.

And so what I’ve seen since January is a lot of growth in our department, a lot more willingness to collaborate and work together and integrate athletics into the greater campus community. So it’s really neat to see that happen. And [00:14:00] it’s just going to make our department grow and I can’t remember exactly where I was going with this…

[00:14:06] Mike Klinzing: What does that look like? So when you say that you’re going to do a better job of integrating the athletic department with the campus at large, what’s something boots on the ground. What does that look like?

[00:14:19] Matt Grahn: So one of the things that we’re doing with the men’s basketball program is first of all, I want to maintain the fun factor of college athletics.

Not only for my players, but the entire community. So we’re doing a theme games. Every game, every home game is going to have a theme. And some of them are really stupid and goofy. You know, like that’s what I want. I want it to be stupid and goofy for these kids to come out and enjoy themselves and have a good time.

So the star wars night and the Aloha night and get dressed up in your superhero costume. One I’m actually really looking forward to in Mike. You’ll appreciate this. You’re about my same age. I [00:15:00] am is we play Centenary at home the Wednesday before Reading day, which is a day off before finals.

So finals start on Friday. We’re theming that one, like rock your finals. And it’s going to be like all eighties hair metal. Like our playlist

[00:15:16] Mike Klinzing: Little twisted sister, that’s it.

[00:15:18] Matt Grahn: Yeah. Twisted sister Motley Crue.

[00:15:24] Jason Sunkle: The two bald guys are talking about hair metal.

[00:15:30] Matt Grahn: Too much Aquanet back in the day.

[00:15:31] Mike Klinzing: I don’t think I ever had, I don’t have, I never had any of those problems.

[00:15:38] Matt Grahn: Simple things like that. The other thing that we’re doing with my SAC group is we created a position in our leadership group within SAC, as a community outreach executive and that person’s in charge of finding projects for our sac group to participate in and then try and, [00:16:00] you know, get our SAC reps to get their team members to come back and help out with the projects too.

So one we’re looking at doing is just a campus cleanup where you wear, you wear your team gear on a Saturday and we just go pick up trash all around campus and try and beautify the campus a little bit. So little things like that right now. But that’s the immediate boots on the ground stuff that you’re talking about.

Long-term. With Dr. Sanford’s talking about is you know, building a new facility as far as health and wellness for the entire community and for the entire campus community, as well as new locker room spaces, office spaces, practice floors, that kind of stuff for athletics,

[00:16:47] Mike Klinzing:  Obviously, as you said, if you have a supportive administration, then it’s much more likely somebody who has the experience in athletics, that they’re going to see the greater value in that where somebody who doesn’t [00:17:00] have that athletic background might not see it in the same way.

[00:17:04] Matt Grahn: Yeah, that’s exactly right.

I mean, Jarred told me at one time, one of the campus presidents at UD I mean, I think it was before he got here in the mid nineties. So it had it was early, early nineties, maybe late eighties. One of the previous presidents didn’t even have an idea that there was a gym on campus.

[00:17:25] Mike Klinzing: Yeah, that could be a problem. It could be a problem. All right. So when you get that job, what’s the first conversation like with your team? Are you reaching out to guys individually? Do you get a chance to meet with the division three rules and the contact and all that kind of thing? And how does that first conversation go either with individual players or with the team as a whole?

[00:17:47] Matt Grahn: Well, okay. So it’s funny reflecting back on that before Jarred got announced as the athletic director, he said you know, I want to have a team zoom meeting, cause the guys were at home, they’d gone home for the summer. [00:18:00] He says, I want to have a team zoom meeting. And I want to tell him that I’m taking the athletic director job and I want to let them know that I’m naming you the head coach.

And I was like, great, let’s do it. And you know, I’m, I’m ready for it. And, and I was excited that he was going to be a part of that. So we arranged to have the zoom meeting with our team. And, and 15 minutes before we get on the zoom call he texted me, says, Hey, call me ASAP. And I was like, okay, this is not, this can’t be good.

I call him and he says, Hey, I just want you to know, I talked to the president’s right-hand man, his chief of staff. And he said, yeah, you probably shouldn’t say anything about coach Grahn getting the job until it’s official. And Jarred’s like, are you okay with that? And I was like, Hey, I mean, if that’s the rules, that’s what we gotta do.

And so we hop on this zoom call and Jarred greets all the guys and everybody’s laughing and kind of joking. And [00:19:00] Jared says Hey just want to let you guys know that I accepted the athletic director job and I will not be coaching the men’s basketball team any longer. And then just stopped and it was like, you could hear a pin drop and you know how it is on zoom.

You get everybody’s picture on there. It looked like that Brady bunch scene where everyone’s like looking around,

[00:19:20] Mike Klinzing: See what everyone’s reaction was. Right.

[00:19:22] Matt Grahn: And they’re like, and, and I know they’re waiting for me to chime in and I just had to sit there and I’d sit on it. And it was just awkward and weird.

And so we get done with that zoom call. And of course my phone just starts blowing up. Guys are texting me, what’s going on, what’s happening? You know, are you going to be the guy? And I’m just like, I can’t tell you, like, I don’t want to get in trouble. I don’t want to jeopardize this. You know?

I know I’m sitting on it, but I don’t want to say anything and ruin it. And the good thing was that a couple of the upperclassmen had been in Jarred’s office earlier that day. And [00:20:00] Jarred already let the cat out of the bag. All of a sudden the phone starts going, oh, I just talked to so-and-so he told me what’s up and I was like, all right.

So when I officially got named, we actually jumped on the zoom and of course it’s two and a half weeks later. And they’re all breathing a sigh of relief. They were very excited and the fact that they already had a relationship with me they they had a feel for who I was on the court.

And I reassured them. I said, look stylistically, we’re going to do things very, very similar because I had a heavy hand in what we, we did as far as X’s and O’s and you know, I just see it being the successful thing for us to continue doing what we’ve been doing and it was humbling when the guys all were responding, how excited they were that I was the guy like they were pumped and they were, they, they didn’t [00:21:00] want to go through a search and to have somebody that they didn’t know and trust.

And so I’m not going to lie to you, there were a lot of tears shed, happy tears as, as guys threw their support behind me.

[00:21:13] Mike Klinzing: How difficult was it this fall to be on campus, be ready to go, be excited to be the head coach and with the division three rules that you have with them, right, limited ability to interact with your guys at all. What was that like? And what were you doing with your time while you’re just sitting around waiting for practice?

[00:21:39] Matt Grahn: Yeah. It’s it was surprisingly easier than I thought. Simply because we had really thrown ourselves into recruiting even before Jared got the job and, and once I took over man, we, we put the throttle down full speed ahead.

This is not a [00:22:00] knock on Jarred. I think it’s one of his finer qualities. He is humble to a fault. And I, I’m not afraid to be you know, out there and sell myself a little bit and kind of do some goofy stuff. So when I got the job, man, we put the throttle down. Recruiting wise and that’s what we focused on.

And so to be honest with you while it was in the back of my mind, like, yeah, man, I’m ready to hit the floor with these guys. It didn’t, it didn’t cross my mind nearly as much as I thought, because we were just recruiting our butts off. And I’ll tell you we’ve we averaged since the first day of classes, we average about five visits a week.

Up until October 8th, I gave the guys a week off before practice, like, Hey, I get it. You guys need a break because we’ve been, we’ve been hitting this thing hard. So you know, five visits a week. I didn’t get a lot done other than entertaining 17, 18 year old dudes on campus. So that, that kept me [00:23:00] pretty busy.

And that week before practice that’s when it really kicked in, Mike was just trying to figure out, all right, how are we going to break this down? What am I going to do differently? Oh what is a practice plan gonna look like? What is the you know, what do we need to get in?

How are we going to break things down? It, it really became intensive basketball at that point.

[00:23:21] Mike Klinzing: From a pacing standpoint and trying to figure out all right, here’s when we start, here’s when the first game is trying to gauge out what we need to get in, how we need to get in whatever changes you’re going to make to what you’ve done in the past, whether that’s from the actual basketball philosophy and the things you’re actually going to put in with the players to, how are we going to structure practice?

What was the biggest, what was the biggest challenge in that process of just figuring out what was Matt grinds program going to look like versus the previous program?

[00:23:57] Matt Grahn: Yeah. You know, the, the biggest change I [00:24:00] made was the pace of our practice. Again, this is not a knock on Jarred. I love him to death and I’d lay across train tracks for the guy.

But I felt like we just, we took too many breaks and there was too much downtime and that’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. And he, and I’ve talked about it numerous times and we’ve argued about it. And ultimately the record went next to his name and, and that’s what we did. Now it goes next to my name and man, the guys have already said, even after these first five days of practice the pace of practices much faster.

And, and that’s Kevin, Kevin Eastman influence is that a lot of our drills are There’s just a lot of moving parts and there’s a lot of balls flying all over the place and you know, there’s confusion and there’s a movement and, and you, you gotta navigate things and keep your head up.

Otherwise you might catch one in the ear. But [00:25:00] that’s the way I like to do things. And I think that if we’re going to be in the gym, we’re going to get work done. And there’s no sense in resting if, if we can be doing something and get out earlier, you know the other thing too is I’m not afraid to cut drills.

I I’ve already found myself a couple of times going, alright, Hey, you guys got a grasp on it. And you know, it was a 10 minute drill. You guys got it in six minutes, like let’s move on. Let’s chop those four minutes off and get onto the next thing. And the guys are all looking at her around. What are you doing?

Like, you know and at the end of practice, the guys were like, Hey, thanks, coach. And I was like, what? They’re like, we got four extra minutes. You know what I mean? Like I told him, I said, I want to do that, but that’s on you guys. You guys have to tell me and show me that you can do these things and I’ll, I’ll, I’ll start chopping chopping drills.

So those have been two, I think, really, really major changes. [00:26:00] And the guys feel it, they they see the change. We would, as far as like X and O stuff, we’re pretty much on pace with, with what we’ve done in the past, as far as putting our offense and defensive schemes and that kind of stuff.

So as far as that goes, I feel good about where we are.

[00:26:21] Mike Klinzing: How many guys do you have on the practice floor right now?

[00:26:23] Matt Grahn: We’ve got 18. I have 16 recruited and I took to walk on guys. Now I, I do have a basketball class. I teach a basketball fundamentals class and you can only take it once you can’t repeat it.

So all the incoming freshmen on the team, they sign up for it. And then it’s open to the general student populace and the guys that want to try out that that’s, that’s kinda why I use it as a trial. It was like sign up for the class and we’ll see you know, see what you’re all about. In fact, funny story about this.

Let me, let me take a little [00:27:00] bunny trail here. My few years ago Jarred had that, that basketball fundamentals class and we have seminary next. To campus Catholic seminary and we had six seminarians sign up for the class and these guys were great, man. They, they came in and first of all they’re, they’re smoking cigarettes right outside the gym before they come in.

And so Jerry and I asked her, we said you know, Hey, how, how hard and heavy do you want to get after this? And they were like, Hey, we want to see what it’s like to be a varsity basketball player. And we’re like, okay. And after about the first two weeks, the all six of them came to me and they’re like, Hey, Hey coach.

Do you mind if like we slow it down a little bit great. But they wanted to be really good in their intermural stuff and, and they wanted to learn. And so I actually took all these six kids six seminary and guys down to one end of the floor. And we actually worked on some things so that they could do in their intermural games.

[00:28:00] And it was actually a really fun time to, to work with those guys. They’d come back and they’d, they’d be like, Hey, I just watched the Lakers last night and these guys do. And I’m like, yeah, that’s what it’s all about. Right.

[00:28:12] Mike Klinzing: Cool. Cool.

[00:28:14] Matt Grahn: So anyway yeah, the roster this year, like I said, we, we had two guys try out and they were really good guys.

They, they work really, really hard and, and our guys seem to like them. So I took them and actually found a manager out of that class. Yeah. Yeah. So 18 guys ideally I’d like to be at 20 just in my experiences at division three, I’ve been a D3 guy since 2003, all but one year.

And. My first D3 experience we had we treated it like a division one thing we had like 13 guys on the roster and that was it. And if we lost a point guard in a, a wing to graduation, that’s all we recruited was point guards and wings. And the, the issue that I saw with that [00:29:00] was that the returning guys felt safe.

And I don’t think that they put in the same amount of time that was or I shouldn’t say that I should say they didn’t put in the time necessary to get better over the summer and in the off season, because they knew nobody was coming in behind them. And rather thing that happened was my last year there, we had two guys quit.

One kid couldn’t afford to come back second semester. And two guys had season ending injuries. So we had eight guys at practice. And so obviously that’s not a good situation. The next D3school I went to, we had 45, 50 guys in the gym at the beginning of the year for 18 roster spots. Like we literally cut over half of the guys that were recruited to come to play there.

And I didn’t think that was fair to those kids. You know what I mean? Like it just, I don’t know, morally, ethically it grinded on [00:30:00] me big time. And so you know, I think 20 is the sweet spot where you can still have some attrition and end the year being able to play five on five with at least 10 healthy bodies.

[00:30:16] Mike Klinzing: How do you balance the reps with, let’s say you have 20, how do you balance the reps in practice and how do you communicate. To the players with the guys, maybe who aren’t going to get as many reps, how do you communicate that to them? What are those conversations?

[00:30:31] Matt Grahn: Yeah, I, you gotta be honest and, and it it goes back to what I said earlier.

If, if he can’t be honest, she can’t get any better. And you know, specifically is to walk on kids. I had individual meetings with both of them. I said, look, man, I I’m going to give you your shot. However, understand that in practice you probably really need to take one out of every four reps available to you and make the best out of the, [00:31:00] that one.

And if you want to continue to get better than then it’s post practice pre-practice throughout the day and even in basketball class. So I just, I think it’s not, there’s not any magic formula to it. It’s just, you’ve got, gotta be honest with, with everybody and say, Hey, this is your role.

This is where I see you. It’s not easy. It breaks my heart a lot of times to look at a kid who’s just really busting his ass and he works his tail off and say Hey, you’re not where you need to be right now. I’ve got other guys that, that need those reps.

[00:31:37] Mike Klinzing: When you take over. And it’s obviously a new voice that your returning players have heard before, but heard it in a different capacity.

Right. So how do you. Make sure A, that the players are looking at you as the head coach, and obviously you had a good relationship with them and they were supportive and all those kinds of things, but there still a transition when you [00:32:00] go from being an assistant to being a head coach where you’re a voice over here on the side, versus you’re the voice over here that’s making decisions about who plays and who doesn’t. So how did you handle that transition? How have you seen the players handling it? And just talk a little bit about that?

[00:32:16] Matt Grahn: Well, again, I’m completely transparent and honest with them. I’ve had individual meetings with our guys. One of the things I did in that first zoom meeting after I got named is I told them, I said, look, I want to re recruit you in a way.

So I offered to do individual meetings with the players and their families and get their families on board as well. And that was usually beneficial. And I told them in those meetings, I said, look I get it. We have a relationship. It’s going to be a little different in the fact that what used to be suggestions are now decisions on my part.

And [00:33:00] it’s not personal. It’s I got to do what’s best for the team. And I’ve got to make decisions based on what’s gonna, what’s going to win us ball games. And at the end of the day, we all got to live with that. And we all got to understand we were all in it for a common goal.

And I’d want to say that in front of their parents. And I wanted their parents to hear that too, so that there was some, I guess eyewitnesses some supportive voices behind it. And, and most of the parents, I shouldn’t even say most all of the parents were very, very supportive of that.

And you know, what’s scary is now I’m reflecting on this Mike and it’s like, it was almost too easy, you know what I mean? Like it was just we’re coming from.

[00:33:50] Mike Klinzing: I think it comes when there’s an actual game at a kid, doesn’t play as many minutes as he thinks he’s going to, I bought that. I’d say that’s probably where the wrench comes in.

[00:33:59] Matt Grahn: Yeah. Yeah. [00:34:00] I mean come November 13th. It could change drastically. You’re right.

[00:34:05] Mike Klinzing: What is in your day to day, what’s different that you’re doing a lot more of as the head coach that you may be did very little of, or didn’t do at all as an assistant coach.

[00:34:21] Matt Grahn: Can I say crap that I don’t want to do?

[00:34:25] Mike Klinzing: And then, and then just expound on that a little bit and give us, give us an example of some of the crap that you have to do that you don’t really want to do.

[00:34:31] Matt Grahn: Oh gosh. I mean, it’s true what they say. You just don’t know what it’s like until you’re in that position. The first thing is I used to do scheduling when I was at McNeese, that was one of my jobs as the assistant was to do scheduling and I hated it then. And I always thought the head coach should be the one doing the scheduling, like you live and die by your schedule. And then I never did [00:35:00] scheduling until this year and I hate it.

It’s the. Necessary evil in college basketball. It’s miserable to line up dates and times and the

[00:35:13] Mike Klinzing: What’s the process like, so you’re just calling up. Are you calling other coaches? Are you calling athletic directors? What’s the process actually like for trying to get a team on your schedule?

[00:35:23] Matt Grahn: D3, you basically deal directly with the head coaches.

And, and some schools, the assistant coach does it, but mostly it’s, you’re, you’re dealing with just other head coaches. And you know, Jared had worked out some things for scheduling for next year and I’m talking 22, 23 season we’ve got to return some games. Some guys got to return games with us.

But yeah, I it’s essentially. It’s like pick a school when you give them a call and you go, Hey, you want to play? I mean, it’s, it’s on creating a play date [00:36:00] for your kids, right? I mean, it’s, it’s the same idea. And it’s, it’s grueling. I think I, other coaches probably would disagree with me, but I, I think it’s one of the worst things I have to do.

Other things that are just like ridiculous. I mean, it’s the dealing with you, again, it’s a necessary evil it’s I, I’ve got a great support system with our, our academic support staff guy by the name of Joe Cole. He’s fantastic. On tracking our kids But when he comes around the corner in my office and says, Hey, I got a kid, you know what’s coming.

Yeah. You know, and then I gotta deal with that. And that takes me away from doing things that I want to get done. And you know, and ultimately that falls on me as a, as an assistant coach. It was great. It was like, yeah, Jared, take care of it. You know what I mean? So it’s, it’s [00:37:00] wild. Oh, th the other thing too is obviously with the budget you know, like I’m, I’m using the corporate credit card considerably more, or I’m ordering gear.

Now I have to do check voucher requests and all this. I mean, the paperwork is just how rages. And I say that laughingly, but I mean, it it’s, I mean, there’s a lot of paperwork to get done. So

[00:37:26] Mike Klinzing: Were those all things that you anticipated or were any of them surprise? You knew, you knew you had to do them, but maybe not how much time?

[00:37:34] Matt Grahn: Yeah. Yeah. That’s, that’s probably more accurate.

[00:37:38] Mike Klinzing: All right. So where are you with your team right now in this moment, you said you feel like you’re kind of on pace to get the things in that you need to get in in order to prepare for your first game. How do you feel like the kids have taken to what you’re trying to do philosophically X’s and O wise with them out on the floor?

Where, where are you? [00:38:00] Where are you in that respect?

[00:38:00] Matt Grahn: I think again, because not a lot has changed and we only have three recruiting freshmen and the two walk on freshmen. So a significant amount of, of guys back from last season I was surprised at where we were. Yeah. Even after day one, I thought we wouldn’t be getting up and down the floor very much in these early practices simply because one of the things I tell my guys is you’re not responsible for anything you haven’t been taught.

And the, the curse of that is I have to teach everything. Right. And so the first day, I mean, we just did defensive breakdown stuff left and right. And again, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the guys were picking things up. I mean, I was chopping time off of drills and I was going, yeah, let’s go, let’s move on.[00:39:00]

And that changed what I originally had planned for practices after they won. We started getting up and down the floor a little bit and I day two, I was like, I got to teach some transition stuff, not only defensively, but what are we going to do often simply so that we can get up and down and the guys are picking this stuff up quick.

I I’m really, really proud of them. They’ve done a great job of not only paying attention and listening for those little changes and, and details that are mine. But they’re also doing a great job with those five freshmen guys teaching those guys and keeping them up to speed as well. So that’s been I think the biggest I guess proud moment for me is that our upperclassmen are really taking these younger guys underwing and and becoming coaches themselves.

[00:39:55] Mike Klinzing: I’m assuming that when. And the off season as well, that if you have good leadership [00:40:00] on the floor right now, as you’re returning to official practice that in the off season, that some of your returning upperclassmen were keeping your guys playing and keeping them engaged and making sure that they are ready come the first day of practice.

So I’m assuming you’ve had conversations with those kids, even when you were an assistant coach over the course of time, what are some of the things that you try to hope that they’re going to do during their time away from the coaching staff to have themselves ready for the first day of practice?

[00:40:28] Matt Grahn: Yeah.And they have been really good about that. One of the big things for me was I actually got a strength and conditioning coach. Within the, the first five days I was on the job got ahold of a guy that had worked with us in the past. And and for whatever reason for the last six years, he hasn’t worked with.

He was so excited. He was like, why didn’t you ask for me back? And I don’t know, I wasn’t the boss then and, and I’m not trying to throw Jared under the bus, but I was like, I don’t know. And he’s [00:41:00] so excited to be working with our guys. He comes in he’s been coming in three times a week and, and work in strength and conditioning with our guys.

He’s a guy, his name’s Matt Brown and he works out of south lake, which I don’t know if you’re familiar with south lake, Texas, but it’s a football hot. And he works with a ton of NFL guys in the off season and high school football prospects, and the guy was a a competitive bodybuilder.

And so when he worked with our guys before man, he had like zero neck and like, his biceps were as big as my thighs. And I mean, it was just this massive dude. And apparently he had some, some medical issues and his doctor was like, all right, you gotta change your, your training regimen or you’re going to kill yourself.

And so I reached back out to him and he, he was so hyped. He was like, he, he just wants to be a part of a team. I think like I told him to when we take our team picture, like he’s going to be in the team picture [00:42:00] and he lit up like a Christmas tree. I mean, it, you should’ve seen his face, my game, me, he’s just smiling ear to ear.

Like that was the best thing you’ve ever heard. But. When he came to the first team meeting, like he’s no bigger around than, than my pinky finger. And he’s a triathlete now. I, I hardly recognized the guy. Wow. Yeah. And so like, our guys found video of him squatting like 900 plus pounds parts of bars, like bending on his back.

And he’s a complete legend on our team now because they see and they’re bought in because they see how fit he is now. And he he knows how to do that safely. And, and so so that’s been big. That’s been absolutely monstrous. Our guys came in way more in shape this year, then than the past five.

And then the guys they played open gym three times a week and they got in the gym and you know, the three rules, [00:43:00] you know, I can’t be in there to observe. I can’t require them to do things and check back with me. Now if they volunteer that information, that’s on them and most of the time they don’t and I just kind of hold on for dear life and you know what I mean?

I know exactly. Yeah. So but I feel like they’ve done a good job prepping, especially the newcomers. They’ve, they’ve prepped them very, very well for what’s to be expected as a college basketball player, once practice starts.

[00:43:30] Mike Klinzing: How do you put together the guys that are part of your staff? So you bring in strength and conditioning, you got a couple other guys that are part of your coaching staff.

How do you bring, how do you bring those guys in what’s the working relationship been like with them so far?

[00:43:45] Matt Grahn: First of all, the working relationships. Fantastic. You know, we did talk about Matt Brown or strength and conditioning coach. He’s he’s phenomenal. And the guys love him. I mean, he works with.

And the guys love him to death. They’ll, they’ll run through a brick wall for him.[00:44:00] We had a grad assistant last year in his first year, Kevin Owens and, and Kevin stayed with me. So he will graduate at the end of the spring. And I’ll be looking for another grad assistant here for 22, 23 season. Kevin’s been great.

He, you know he’s jumped in head first and, and been on board with me. He’s a great story too, Mike, he actually played at Trinity down in San Antonio. Who’s in our conference and he’s great on recruiting trips because kids will come in and, and you know, our gym doesn’t pass the eye test. It’s it’s old and we got bleachers on one side of the gym, but he’ll tell him.

Mighty Trinity with all the whistles and bells and shiny things they have down there. They were all in for, in our gym during his time at, at Trinity. So that’s been really great for, like I said, recruiting purposes. And then we hired in my former position as the athletics department [00:45:00] recruiting coordinator our previous grad assistant, Chris Kennedy and Chris, his background.

He was an undergrad grad at TCU, and he had worked in the athletic department helping to do football recruiting as an undergrad. And then he was also coaching basketball at a, a very high academic private school in excuse me, Fort worth. While he was an undergrad. And then he actually volunteered before.

For a year before he got the GA spot with us. So he was, he was on board with Jared for three years. And then last year he was a, an assistant high school coach at a private school here in Dallas Fort worth. And you know, it just made sense to hire him in that spot because he had recruited at the university of Dallas before.

You know, he did have that recruiting background with TCU and especially in the, in the football area. And you know, I, it was a guy that I knew and trusted, so he’s been great too. He’s [00:46:00] constantly poking his head in throwing ideas. I mean, he’s just, he gets it, you know? And, and he’s very understanding about the fact that he might throw something at me and I’m gonna like, eh, I don’t like it, but he, he gets it and he’s coming back with more.

And that’s what I love about him. And then also I got contacted by an alum. Who had played at university of Dallas before before Jarred. And he said Hey, you need to get ahold of Tim Carter, the former head coach at UTASA. And I said, really what’s that? And he’s doing this thing with nations of coaches to provide character coaches to college basketball teams.

And I said, all right, well so I connected with Tim and Tim was at UTASA when I was at McNeese. And so we went to lunch one day and we talked about the old Southland conference days. And you know, he liked to talk a little bit more about when we played him at [00:47:00] home and they, they beat us by 25.

Then when he played in lake Charles and we got them by six. So but he found us a character coach and, and it was a guy that actually was a senior at UT Arlington. The year I was at McNeese and it was Tim’s last year. You, you TSA use a point guard on that team Jerry Howell. And so George jumped on and he’s been really, really great about you know, providing our guys and outlet to talk about things away from basketball and, and, or life lessons and, and those types of things.

But he’s also great because he was a fantastic point guard. And I told our guys, I said, look, when I was at McNeese and we’re playing UT Arlington, it was my scout. And I had one thing on my scout. It was stop gr how that was it like that, that was all we had to do. The guy could play and he played seven years [00:48:00] overseas, professionally.

And so he’s got a little clout there. And so he, he jumps on board in practice. I give him some freedom to, to coach our guys up because he knows what he’s talking about. And so it’s been fun. You know, it’s been really neat to see you know, the staff come together and it’s been really phenomenal for me to have guys that I know and trust and I believe in.

[00:48:29] Mike Klinzing: What’s been the coolest thing about becoming the head coach. What’s something that you just mad. This is what, this is what being a head coach is all about. Does any one thing stand out to you that you really, really have enjoyed about being the head coach versus your previous role as an assistant?

[00:48:50] Matt Grahn: There’s there’s one, a really funny one. And there’s one like in all seriousness.

[00:48:59] Mike Klinzing: Give us both.

[00:48:59] Matt Grahn: [00:49:00] So the legit one is I really enjoy the fact that I can now you know, send a group down to one end with coach Kennedy. I can send a group down to one end with coach Owens and I can float. Like that is awesome to me being able to see both sides because in previous years I was one of those guys.

I was down at one end and that’s all I was doing. I didn’t get to see what was going on at the other end. So that for me is, is it was pretty cool. The first day we didn’t break down drill. And I was like, yeah, this is real man. Like I’m, I’m the guy now, you know?

[00:49:37] Mike Klinzing: Absolutely.

[00:49:38] Matt Grahn: The second more funny one is when I got the job My local home, home newspaper reached out to me and said, Hey, we want to do an article on you getting, getting a job.

And I was like, all right, great. You know, that, I’m all for it. And you know, I, I shared with you when I was previously on the podcast that I was not a good player in high school. I [00:50:00] was, I mean, I was not a very good basketball player. So they write this article about me and they put it in the local newspaper.

Well fast forward two weeks later I’m recruiting a young man out of my local hometown area. Well, he commits the day after his visit and of course they want to do a article in the local newspaper. Right. And so my name got mentioned in the sun sports page more time. In the last two months than my whole entire life combined.  Like that was pretty cool too.

[00:50:36] Mike Klinzing: That’s very cool. It’s funny. It’s funny how things that you don’t necessarily think are going to happen or be on the radar. End up being things that you remember, and I’m sure you’re going to probably have a lot of those moments as you go through the year. Is there anything else so far that stood out to you that you want to share that you think is relevant, maybe to coaches who are taking over a program, [00:51:00] either transitioning from an assistant in their own program, into a head coaching position or.

Coming as an assistant coach into their first head coaching position, some piece of advice that you could share with coaches who are in that position.

[00:51:14] Matt Grahn: Yeah. Well, if you can, if you can transition from an assistant to a head coach in the same program you’ve been in and have the same boss and have a great relationship with the president of that school, I highly recommend it.

I I’m really fortunate that way. But I I would just say that you know, you hear it all the time that relationships are everything and it’s, it really has rung true as I transitioned that, that one seat up the bench. I’m so glad that I spent time getting to know our guys.

I’m so glad. That  I met with those guys individually and spent time away from [00:52:00] basketball with those guys because it just made things so much easier when they want to practice, I’m going, Hey, this is going to be intense. It’s going to be fast. It’s going to be furious. Like let’s get after it.

And they’re like, yeah, I’m on board. You know, like it was just natural. It just felt right. So invest in your guys and invest in, in getting to know them, get to know their families. It really pays dividends in the long run.

[00:52:26] Mike Klinzing: All right. Last question. Two parter. Okay. When you look ahead over the next year or so, what’s the biggest challenge that you have in front of you, and then.

What is the biggest joy? What puts a smile on your face when you get up in the morning and you think about what you’re getting to do every day now as the head coach at the university of Dallas. So your biggest challenge and your biggest joy.

[00:52:50] Matt Grahn: Doggone it, Mike, I should’ve known that that question was coming because that’s the standard Hoop Heads Podcast wrap up [00:53:00] here.

You know, I think for me the biggest challenge would be I, well, let’s start with a, really, a minor one right now is being able to pace myself. You know, I shared with you and I spoke yesterday and I lost my voice halfway through my first practice as a, as a collegiate head coach. And my Doc Rivers impression is on point right now.

I’m sucking on a Ludens throat lozenges as we speak. And I, in fact, I talked to coach Eastman today and coach. He’s like, man, you got to pace yourself, man, like five days in brother. And I’m like, I know I get it, but that’s just me. I, and, and the thing that everybody’s told me is like, stay authentic to yourself and that’s who I am.

I like being excited in the gym and if I catch somebody doing something right, I want everybody in the gym to know it. So I get excited anyway. But I think that the, the biggest challenge for me is going to be you know, defining roles [00:54:00] for our guys and then trying to manage minutes.

It’s been a while since I’ve had to do that, obviously it’s 22 years since I’ve, I was a head coach you know, how do I, how do I make my substitution patterns? How do I how do I deal with a kid? Like we mentioned earlier that thinks he should be playing more minutes than, than what he should So I think that’s probably the biggest challenge I’ve got ahead of me right now.

The biggest joy for me is man, I get to do it. I mean, I’m living my dream, right? I mean, this is what I’ve worked my butt off to do. And I do get excited when I wake up and I’m ready to tackle the day. And I, I sit in plan practice, and it’s fun. I coach a game for a living for crying out loud.

Like this is, can it get any better? You know, even when I’m doing scheduling, which I mentioned, I hate, like I still just enjoy the [00:55:00] hell out of it. I mean, it’s just everything about it. It’s awesome.

[00:55:03] Mike Klinzing: Great answers. I really think that what you’ve shared with us tonight, Matt is going to be really valuable for coaches who are in the process of transitioning from an assistant coach to head coach in their first year.

Just like you would. Or for coaches that are going to have that opportunity moving forward in the future. So we thank you for that. We obviously wish you good luck in your first season. And before we get out, I want to give you a chance to share how people can get in touch with you, social media website.

How can they find out more about what you guys are doing there at the university of Dallas? And then after you do that, I’ll jump back in and wrap things up.

[00:55:36] Matt Grahn: I appreciate it, Mike. Yeah, it was all my social media is @CoachMattGrahn and our team social media stuff is @UDallasMBB.

All of our social media is all the same. Hey, let me just say thank you to you guys as well. The, the series you guys did [00:56:00] with, with Coach Killings was extremely valuable to me as I transitioned in, I was obviously listening. Before I got the head coaching job and once I got the head coaching job, I went back and relistened to them, and thank you Dwayne for doing that. And I don’t know if Dwayne’s listening to this one, but I really appreciated his insights in this. Can I drop a little more advice on guys? Absolutely. For sure. I would say, you know think about your philosophy and have a firm grasp on things.

I’m fortunate that what we’ve been doing here philosophically matches all very, very close to what I want to do and what basketball looks like. But I’ve reached out to some coaches that slid up that one seat and they weren’t successful. And I think the biggest pitfall that.

Communicated to me was they didn’t [00:57:00] know, and they weren’t firm on what their basketball philosophy was. And so I would say that I, like I said, I’m very fortunate that what we did before I had a hand in big time. But I’ve heard that’s a pitfall.

[00:57:18] Mike Klinzing: That’s really good advice.

And definitely appreciate your kind words, Matt, about the series with Dwayne killings from you all, man, we are, we are hopeful that Dwayne and I have been working really hard back and forth to try to find a time that works for him. And that also works for me. So I tend to be late at night and Dwayne understandably wants to be able to get some sleep and actually see his family in addition to try to cover.

Be a division one head coach for the first time. So we’re hopeful that sometime here in the next week that we’re going to get another episode recorded and kind of catch up on where he’s been. His practices started and head towards their first game as well. So hopefully that episode will be coming out relatively [00:58:00] soon.

Once we wants to weigh in and I can connect on and figuring out a time that works and we’re going to continue that series hopefully through the remainder of his entire first year. So please keep a lookout for that people who are out there in the audience. And hopefully there are other coaches out there besides you, Matt, that are finding value in that.

And I think you provided a tremendous amount of value and insight with some of the things that you share tonight as well. So once more, thank you for taking the time. We really do appreciate it. And we appreciate you being part of the hoop heads, pod family. We appreciate you being a two-time guests, which puts you as we circle back to the beginning of the podcast as a very exclusive.

I don’t know how valuable it is or impressive it is to be part of that exclusive club, but, but we’ll take it. It’s exclusive, at least in our world. So again, thank you, Matt. Really appreciate it. And to everyone out there, thanks for listening.

And we will catch you on our next episode. Thanks!