Lindsay Gottlieb might have been the happiest person in Berkeley.
In front of a crowd of just over 500, the new Cal women’s basketball coach and her team put on a spectacular debut, thrashing Vanguard in a 99-58 exhibition beatdown.
During the post-game conference, the excited Gottlieb was doing the most of the talking. But the quote of the night belonged to guard Brittany Boyd, whose five-word quip captured the personality of Gottlieb.
“Coach G, she got swag.”
Those simple words also encapsulated the newly transformed Cal program this season. After a string of disappointing seasons under coach Joanne Boyle, Gottlieb brought back a winning attitude to the program.
Now, the Bears are 17-6 and in second place in the Pac-12. They play aggressive, fast-paced basketball. The players, tight like a band of sisters, carry a collective attitude of confidence and camaraderie.
Gottlieb did not know what “swag” meant until she came back to Cal. But she had it in her all her life.
Coach G is now showing off that swag on the sidelines, and the rest of college basketball has taken notice.
Swag can be misinterpreted as arrogance, cockiness and disrespect, but Gottlieb reads it as something completely different.
It means confidence, enthusiasm and industriousness. After all, the great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden named these values within his Pyramid of Success.
Swag is just a 21st-century hip-hop slang word that her players use to identify these principles. But there is no doubt that Gottlieb personifies the definition.
For all the swagger, Gottlieb doesn’t look the part. On a regular day, she wears a Cal shirt over long sleeve thermals with gym pants and sneakers. Hardly the attire that fits the image.
But Gottlieb doesn’t need appearance to show off the attitude. She’s a person of action, not impression. Charisma and confidence are all she needs.
For someone who embodies an urban slang, Gottlieb grew up in the small, affluent town of Scarsdale, N.Y., in a family full of law practitioners. Sitting around the dinner table, the Gottliebs either talked legal cases or sports.
Nonetheless, it was her father, a former judge in the Bronx, who was the biggest influence for Gottlieb, always advising his daughter to pursue her passion.
For her, the passion was basketball. Gottlieb was a standout in her high school squad, landing a spot at the Brown basketball team under coach Jean Marie Burr. But Gottlieb’s collegiate career never took off due to a knee injury, limiting her contributions on the court.
But what never left her, despite limited action on court, was the love of basketball and her contagious charm. She was a born leader who connected with the players around her.
“Her nickname throughout college was ‘Coach,’” Burr says. “She is old-fashioned in her social skills with people. She was articulate, humble, and definitely walked her talk.”
But Gottlieb did not go to Brown to become a basketball coach. She was going to follow her family’s footsteps of working in a law firm. It was not until junior year that she decided to become a coach.
“I am a basketball nerd. I think the game is beautiful, and I can watch film and analyze it 24 hours a day,” Gottlieb says. “What hit me was that I love basketball, but this opportunity to influence 18-to-22-year-olds — the age where people find out who they want to be — was a dream job.”
Gottlieb set her first steps into coaching with gusto. During her senior year, she became a player-assistant coach under Burr, trying to get her feet wet in the sport. Gottlieb began to establish connections with coaches around college basketball.
Then Gottlieb met Joanne Boyle, an assistant coach at Duke. The two aspiring coaches sat in the stands of Cameron Indoor Stadium, talking about the art and philosophy of coaching and the life of being a coach.
“There was a light about her when she talked,” Boyle says. “For such a young person, she was so gregarious about coaching.”
Boyle never forgot that first impression of Gottlieb. Three years later, she invited the 24-year-old Gottlieb to become her top assistant coach at Richmond — and later, at Cal. With three consecutive trips to March Madness under Boyle, Gottlieb’s reputation as a young, up-and-coming coach continued to grow.
In 2008, she left Cal to become the head coach at UCSB. In her three years in Santa Barbara, Gottlieb led the Gauchos to two Big West conference titles.
At the time of Boyle’s departure last April, Gottlieb seemed a natural pick to succeed her previous mentor.
Gottlieb did not hesitate when the offer to return to Cal came. She had a great foundation to implement her basketball philosophy while providing Cal’s elite education to her players.
Gottlieb sees her young, college self when she sees them. She wants nothing but success for them and the program.
“I want to hit a home run while at Cal,” Gottlieb says. “I want to make this a Final Four program.”
Coach Gottlieb’s office is always left open for any players and coaches to come in.
One day, you will see players perusing the web or the game tapes in her MacBook. Another day, you will see Gottlieb and a player having a heartfelt conversation.
She is no different on Twitter. She chronicles the season with tweets and pictures. Leave her a comment, and you can bet Gottlieb will reply in a matter of hours.
“In women’s basketball, coaches have an obligation to help get people interested,” Gottlieb says. “If we want to be an elite program, it’s my job to engage the community.”
Gottlieb has preached transparency since coming to Cal. Over the summer, the program launched the website, thisiscalbasketball.com, to give fans behind-the-scene access of everything happening within the team.
There is a video of Gottlieb and the assistant coaches covering the ‘90s hit song “This Is How We Do It” amidst the chants of Cal players. Can you imagine Geno Auriemma or Tara VanDerveer doing the same and posting it on the web?
Gottlieb has something they don’t have: a youthful combination of confidence, enthusiasm and fun.
Coach G, she got swag.