It is the best of times for Lisa Bluder.
As she navigates through the early half of her 23rd year as the head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes, she is in the prime of her career. She’s guiding the defending national runner ups—currently the No. 4 team in the nation—and witnessing the ascendance of a once-in-a generation talent in Caitlin Clark. All before sold out crowds at home and on the road. And coinciding with a surge in popularity for women’s college basketball.
Currently, the Hawkeyes stand at 10-1, coming off a 87-65 victory over Wisconsin last Sunday that kicked off conference play. Bluder also recently won her 500th game as the Hawkeyes’ head coach during the Gulf Coast Showcase over Thanksgiving weekend. She currently has 863 wins in total.
Her resume includes:
- 3x Big Ten Coach of the Year (2001, 2008, 2010)
- Naismith Coach of the Year (2019)
- 4x Big Ten tournament champion (2001, 2019, 2022, 2023)
- 2x Big Ten regular-season champion (2008, 2022)
- 4x MVC tournament champion (1995, 1997, 1998, 2000)
- 3x MVC regular-season champion (1997, 1998, 2000)
With all the success and the hype surrounding the Hawkeyes, as well as the dynamic shift amongst the roster, Bluder utilizes two of her strongest attributes—confidence and perspective—to describe the current state of affairs.
“Things are going well,” she said in a phone interview to Swish Appeal last Saturday. “We can still get so much better. There is so much optimism. Our defense is so much better. I am happy with the way things are going.”
It’s a far cry from her humble beginnings as a player at Northern Iowa University (1979-83) and as coach at St. Ambrose University (1984-90) and Drake (1990-2000). Whereas she remembers playing and coaching before a couple hundred people in the stands, her Hawkeyes now play before thousands, with games shown on national television. The current circumstance is something that she has desired since growing up in the 1970s and becoming a beneficiary of Title IX, which opened new opportunities in women’s sports.
Bluder often likes to cite the title of a book written by 1970s icon Billie Jean King called Pressure is a Privilege to motivate her players. She takes inspiration from women who were needle movers like King and Dr. Christine Grant, the Iowa athletic director who hired Bluder in 2000 and was a pioneering advocate for women’s sports.
“It would be a disservice to our team to not talk about the history” Bluder said.
As much as the game and women’s sports in general has changed over the years, what hasn’t changed is the family-like atmosphere Bluder cultivates. Many of her players describe the team as a family where everyone feels supported and validated. With a star like Clark garnering much attention, Bluder works to ensure that no one is above all else. She focuses on getting the most out of all her players and redistributing the spotlight. As a result, she told Swish Appeal that she is currently reading Phil Jacksons’ book Mind Games, which highlights the various, and sometimes unorthodox, ways Jackson created a common purpose for Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
In terms of Clark, Bluder highlights how much progress she has made since arriving at Iowa City, which fits in well with those sensibilities of teamwork. “I feel blessed that I have been able to coach her these four years,” Bluder said. “She has grown so much as a team player.”
As expectations haven’t fallen in the slightest, Bluder understands that there is plenty riding on this season, for obvious reasons. The goal remains getting back to the Final Four and potentially winning the national title, whether or not Clark returns for her final year of eligibility.
But as Bluder would put it, she is “where her feet are at,” with an understanding that there is more to coaching than winning games. “To me, we are a winner or a failure if we don’t make it all the way is not the way you judge success,” she said. “I want to get the win, but I want to get better.” She also looks beyond the court to define success. “How are my women when they graduate? Are they productive mentally, physically and taken care of. That is just as important.”
In essence, Lisa Bluder possesses the mindfulness of Phil Jackson, the passion of Pat Summitt, the philosophy of John Wooden and the perseverance of C. Vivian Stringer—all rolled into one.
The results speak for themselves.