Chris Holtmann joined Butler men’s basketball coach Brandon Miller’s staff as an assistant coach in July. It is the latest stop in a winding journey for the basketball lifer.
Holtmann grew up in Lexington, Ky., and was raised a University of Kentucky basketball fan. That was the beginning of his love affair with the sport.
Holtmann said he has loved the sport of basketball for as long as he can remember.
“I loved playing and I loved competing. I loved all sports, but I grew up in Lexington. If you grow up in Lexington, there’s really one sport that you love the most.”
Holtmann attended Taylor University in Upland, Ind. It was there where he met the man who has had the biggest influence on his career—his coach.
Holtmann had nothing but praise for Paul Patterson, who coached at Taylor for 34 years and retired at the end of last season.
“Coach Patterson was the reason I went to Taylor University, and he is the reason that I am coaching today,” Holtmann said in an interview with Taylor’s athletics website. “As a Division I coach, there is not a decision I make that is not in some way influenced by playing and working for coach Patterson.”
Holtmann said Patterson’s desire for winning fueled his own competitiveness as a coach.
“He shaped a lot of the way I thought and went about things,” Holtmann said. “He was demanding, he was a perfectionist, he was really tough minded and really competent in every area. He was a great influence.”
Holtmann took over a struggling Gardner-Webb squad in 2009 that had won 13 games the previous season and finished fifth in the Big South Conference.
It took some time to build as a coach, and Holtmann experienced some growing pains. His team won just eight games during the 2009-2010 season and 11 games the following year.
However, Holtmann did not quit and kept his nose to the grindstone. The results showed up last season, as he led the Runnin’ Bulldogs to a school-best 21 victories as a Division I team. The team won 10 of its final 11 games, and finished one game shy of winning the conference.
Holtmann received numerous accolades for his success, including Big South Conference Coach of the Year and NABC District Three Coach of the Year.
Marc Rabb, Gardner-Webb’s assistant athletic director and director of media relations, said Holtmann’s success was a result of his diligence.
“He just kept plugging away. He and his staff kept preaching that to the kids, and they eventually caught some breaks and had a very fun, entertaining season,” Rabb said.
When Rabb thinks of Holtmann, he said he is reminded of some of the same qualities Patterson instilled in Holtmann during the latter’s college days—hard work and determination.
Rabb said those qualities were evident in the progress of Gardner-Webb with Holtmann at the helm, and it turned the program from a cellar-dweller to a contender.
“It’s nothing magic. It takes hard work to get to where you’re successful in any business, particularly in the coaching business,” Rabb said. “He’s a hard worker, tough guy and a smart basketball coach.”
Holtmann said his team at Gardner-Webb opened his eyes to the work it takes to rebuild a program successfully.
“My biggest takeaway is how hard it is to rebuild a program,” Holtmann said. “It was a daily grind. You had to attack every day with great optimism and positivity. It was a grind to get it turned around.”
Holtmann said the decision to leave was a tough one because he had a talented team returning the following year. But in the end, the mystique and opportunities Butler presented were too good to pass up.
“Butler is Butler. It’s a special place with special people, and it was now playing in one of the best conferences in college basketball,” Holtmann said. “That made it attractive, quite honestly more attractive, than if Butler was in the Horizon League.”
Holtmann said his main responsibilities on Miller’s staff are focusing on position groups, recruiting and scouting.
He said recruiting is especially crucial, as it is a year-round process that becomes all the more important with the move to the Big East.
“If you’re not spending every day on recruiting, then it’s easy to get behind in that area,” Holtmann said.
Freshman forward Andrew Chrabascz said that, despite not being in the spotlight, Holtmann and the other assistant coaches do the little things to help the team day in and day out.
“They do a lot of stuff that goes unnoticed,” Chrabascz said. “They do a lot of stuff behind the scenes, and they don’t mind that. They don’t want to be applauded for what they do.”
The tasks vary, but the mission for Holtmann is always the same—improvement every day.
“He always goes the extra mile to help out players,” Chrabascz said. “After practice, he’ll pull people aside to put extra shots up. He just wants to keep improving the team.”
Holtmann acknowledged that the struggles Butler has experienced to start conference play this season have been frustrating. However, he said the goal remains the same—progressing day in and day out.
“At the end of the day, our goal is, ‘Can we be better in February than we were in January, and can we be better in March than we were in February?’” Holtmann said. “It comes down to winning each day, putting a deposit in each day. Out of that deposit comes growth, and out of growth comes results.”
Regardless of how Butler fares the rest of this season, one of its newest assistants seems poised and waiting to help lead the Bulldogs to greater heights.