Eight years after its basketball golden era ended with the departure of Mike Montgomery, Stanford has brought back one of its former coach's most beloved players to try to help recapture that success.
Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins hired Mark Madsen as an assistant this week to replace newly retired Dick Davey on his staff. Madsen's Stanford teams compiled a 105-24 record from 1997 to 2000, making the Final Four in 1998 and winning a pair of Pac-10 titles the next two seasons.
The arrival of Madsen comes at a time when Stanford's program appears to be on the upswing again with the core of last year's NIT championship team returning and a strong recruiting class on its way. Madsen chatted with me Wednesday about what he hopes to bring to Stanford, why he wants to coach and why he's a better dancer than everyone else seems to think.
JE: When did you decide you were interested in pursuing coaching?
MM: It's always been in the back of my mind. In fact it was such a strong thought that immediately after finishing with the Clippers, I just started looking for a coaching job. I turned down an offer in Greece and an offer to try out with a team in the Eastern Conference to start my coaching career. I coached the Utah Flash for one year as an assistant and loved it, but there was something inside me that always wanted to go back for a master's degree. I was excited about the chance to go to Stanford again once I got in, so I decided to go. It also worked out that Johnny Dawkins and (assistant) Mike Schrage reached out to me and said, 'Hey, you can be involved as a graduate manager.' Johnny and I had a lot more conversations after their season was over, and the more I talked to him and the more I thought about it, the more I thought it was a perfect fit.
JE: Take me through the time table of how you got this job. When did Coach Dawkins offer the position to you?
MM: Johnny knew I wanted to coach in the longterm, so he was a great mentor. He shared with the pros and cons, the desirable parts of the business and the challenges of being an assistant coach. In terms of the timing of it, Johnny sat down with his staff and they had a group of candidates for the position. I went through the interview process with Johnny and other members of the staff and the formalized offer really came in the last week or two.
JE: What's the most difficult transition regarding getting into college coaching? Do you think it's recruiting?
MM: Recruiting is one of the things I'm most excited about. I look forward to contributing in recruiting under the direction of Johnny Dawkins and frankly I'm also very excited about it. I think there's a lot of student-athletes out there who'd find a perfect fit at Stanford. It's a chance to challenge yourself. Look, Stanford was a challenge for me. There were times after my first year where I felt a little bogged down academically and a little overwhelmed basketball-wise. I had second thoughts. I wondered if I made the right decision. But I stuck with it and I'm really grateful I stuck with it. I want to let our current players know and the people we eventually do recruit that, hey, whether it's Stanford or any other school, there are going to be rough patches but you have to realize that those tough times are going to pass.
JE: How much credibility does it give you among current and future Stanford players that you were in their shoes not long ago?
MM: I hope the players can understand and see I was in their shoes a few years ago and I understand their desires to play in the NBA, to win a Pac-12 championship and to win a national championship, which is something we came close to but never attained. I know that's the goal Johnny Dawkins has and I know that's the goal of the current players at Stanford. I feel privileged to come into a program where that is the goal and I had hope to contribute in whatever way I can.
JE: How long do you think it will be before you're in a recruit's living room, and he or his family brings up your infamous dancing after the Lakers won the title a few years ago?
MM: I think the dancing may come up. It's something that happened in LA, and I'm really glad it happened. Earvin Johnson — not Magic but of Minnesota — he was just a great mentor of mine. He had a great quote. He used to say, '365 days a year is too many days not to have a good time.' You can be professional, you can be a hard worker, but you can also enjoy life and have fun.