Q&A: Basketball, Volleyball Coaches Discuss Successes

Men's Basketball Team is Headed to the American Southwest Conference Tournament Friday

Feb. 22, 2012

In the last decade, UT Dallas Comets basketball coach Terry Butterfield and volleyball coach Marci Sanders have led their programs toward national prominence.

Butterfield’s men’s basketball team (now 21-4) tied a school record this season for wins in a regular season, with the longest winning streak in program history. The team opens the American Southwest Conference Tournament Friday at 12 p.m. against Schreiner in Belton.

UT Dallas Magazine - Spring 2012

The full version of the coaches' interviews appears in the Winter 2012 edition of UT Dallas Magazine. The edition is available online.

The  team has a pair of ASC championship trophies, and finished each of the last three seasons with 20 or more wins and a berth in the NCAA Division III national playoffs. Twice during that span, the Comets advanced deep into the tournament, finishing among the nation’s elite and coming within a narrow overtime loss of representing UT Dallas at the national “Final Four” in 2009.

Sanders’ volleyball teams have won more than 20 games six years in a row, earned back-to-back American Southwest Conference (ASC) titles in 2008 and 2009, and were the only NCAA Division III team in the country to finish a regular season undefeated when they went 25-0 in 2009. In the 2011 season, the team finished the season in November with a 24-8 mark, one win shy of matching a school record as the Comets claimed yet another American Southwest Conference East Division crown. At the ASC Tournament, the team fell short of a third trip to the NCAA Division III National Tournament.

Sanders and Butterfield recently discussed their backgrounds, the intricacies of coaching young men and women and what it takes to build a successful program.

How did you get into coaching? How do you define your role as coach?

UT Dallas basketball coach Terry Butterfield

Coach Terry Butterfield said he tailors his coaching to the needs of individual players.

Butterfield: I really didn’t have a choice. I grew up wanting to be like my dad (National Football Hall of Fame Coach Jim Butterfield, who won three national titles in 30 years at Ithaca College in New York). I was the kid who rode my bike to the college each day after school just so I could be around it. The competition and the instruction part of it appealed to me, but so did the camaraderie—seeing a group of guys, all working together and pulling for the common good.

Each and every student-athlete is different. Some need a kick in the pants. Others can’t handle a kick in the pants. Some need a pat on the back. Some need to be challenged. It’s my job to try to figure out what makes each kid tick and what it takes to get the very best out of each one of them.

Sanders: I’ve been playing sports all my life. As a kid, I didn’t really like volleyball because it wasn’t a contact sport. Once I started playing, though, I started having some success and getting recognition. What kind of kid doesn’t like that? After college, I planned to go to physical therapy school, but my college coach had an opening on her staff and asked me if I’d like to give it a try. Throughout my career, I learned more and more about the dynamics of the sport and discovered I had a pretty good IQ for it. Sports is where I had the most success in life, so I decided to stay with it. And here we are 10 years later.

As a coach, the most important thing I’ve learned is that you have to develop a good relationship with your players, listen and communicate with them. You have to figure out what it will take to motivate them to do what you need them to do in order to be successful. Motivation comes when they realize they’re getting out of it what they’re putting in. You’re managing people, not players. The game comes second.

To what do you attribute your team's level of success in recent years?

Butterfield: The key for us has been finding a group of good players who also happened to be exceptional guys - smart students with good heads on their shoulders. That has allowed us to run some pretty involved offensive and defensive schemes on the court that our kids have really bought into. We’re rarely the most athletic team on the floor, but we’re very structured in what we do, and we do it well.

UT Dallas volleyball coach Marci Sanders

Coach Marci Sanders said listening and communicating with players comes first, the sport itself comes second.

Sanders: Winning is always the measure of success, but I think it begins by developing relationships with the kids you are recruiting. We’ve worked hard finding those kids who are the “whole package” —talent, determination and a willingness to trust us and work hard to meet our goals. When you can put all those pieces together, winning takes care of itself.

What are some of the challenges you face in recruiting and retaining quality student-athletes?

Butterfield: Academics is a huge challenge. We see thousands of players over the course of a year, and I’ll bet we can only recruit less than 1 percent of those. Another challenge is the competition with other great universities who want the same kids. We start off with a very limited pool of players who can meet our standards, and then we have some pretty fierce competition to get those kids here. Also, there’s a culture in this region of the country when it comes to athletic scholarships: Kids in Texas want a scholarship, if they are going to continue to play. We’ve had really good players who fit our profile perfectly just walk away rather than play without any scholarship money. I don’t agree with that kind of thinking, but I understand it.

Sanders: UT Dallas is one of the best academic institutions in the state. We use that as a selling point, but it’s difficult to find players who are able to balance a strenuous academic load with the demands of a championship athletic program. The other issue at Division III is turnover. If kids decide they want to stop playing, they can just walk away. They’re not employees and we don’t have athletic scholarships to keep them here. You can’t ever rest. Recruiting never ends.

Looking ahead, what kinds of goals have you set for your program?

Butterfield: Our goal every year starts with winning a conference championship. With all the talented teams in our conference, that’s a real achievement. Winning a championship puts you in the national scene. Now, winning a national championship is a very, very difficult thing to do. You have to be talented; you have to have tremendous preparation and a lot of luck; everything has to line up just so for that to happen. I’ve seen my father’s teams win titles and I remember just what a unique experience it was. I’d like nothing better than to be able to have a group of our kids accomplish that and bring something like that back to UT Dallas.

Sanders: I want our program to keep heading in the direction it’s been going. I want the kids to feel successful—whether that’s wins and losses, or graduating in four years or whatever it may be. I want them to have good experiences. Hopefully, we’ll keep having winning seasons and keep getting good kids who will work hard for us. The success will come.

Media Contact: Bruce Unrue, UT Dallas, (972) 883-6308, [email protected]
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected]
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Kyle Schleigh

(Photo Credit: Douglas Fejer, douglasfejer.com/UTD)

The men's basketball team is now 21-4, tying a school record for wins in the regular season. UT Dallas sophomore forward Kyle Schleigh, above, was named the American Southwest Conference East Division Player of the Week three times this season.  


Kyle Schleigh

(Photo Credit: Douglas Fejer, douglasfejer.com/UTD)

The UT Dallas volleyball team finished the season one win shy of matching a school record as the Comets claimed yet another American Southwest Conference East Division crown. Freshman volleyball player Hayden Higgins was honored this semester with a spot on the Dean's list.

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June 18, 2018