Head coach Tod Kowalczyk's transformation of the University of Toledo men's basketball program is nearly complete as he enters his fourth season at the helm of the Rockets.
Upon his arrival in 2010, Kowalczyk began to institute a culture of discipline and accountability for a Toledo program that had endured three straight losing seasons following its 2006-07 Mid-American Conference title.
That new culture started to produce on-court results in 2011-12 when the Rockets registered the second-best turnaround in the country. Featuring a senior-less roster, UT posted a 15-win improvement with its 19-17 win-loss mark following a 4-28 ledger in Kowalczyk's first year on the Toledo bench.
Sophomore G Rian Pearson received second-team All-MAC honors after averaging a league-best 16.4 ppg and 8.3 rpg, while guard Julius Brown tallied 11.9 ppg and 4.9 apg to earn MAC Freshman of the Year laurels.
"We certainly have had a quick turnaround from what we inherited and feel that our program is headed in the right direction," Kowalczyk said. "I'm proud of what our guys have done over the last two years, but at the same time we know we have a long way to go. Our goal is to be able to compete for a conference title on a yearly basis. I think this year's team is on that track and look forward to building on the progress we've made."
Taking Over in Green Bay
Turning around a program is something Kowalczyk is familiar with after taking over the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s program in 2002 under similar circumstances that he faced at Toledo.
Kowalczyk was named the fifth head coach in the history of Phoenix men’s basketball in 2002, taking over a program that was coming off three consecutive losing seasons and possessed an RPI rating over 270. It didn’t take long for the De Pere, WI native to put his signature on UWGB basketball both on and off the court.
In his first season, the Phoenix soared from consecutive years as the seventh-ranked rebounding team in the Horizon League to the league leader by following Kowalczyk’s mantra of toughness and sound fundamental play. Also in 2002-03, the team posted a grade-point average above 3.0 in the classroom for the first time in four years.
During the 2003-04 campaign, Kowalczyk orchestrated one of the nation’s top single-season turnarounds. The rise of the Phoenix to a 17-11 record was among the top 10 improvements in the NCAA that year. Despite being picked to finish seventh in the preseason league poll, Kowalczyk and the Phoenix vaulted to third in the standings, posting the team’s best finish in five seasons and the most wins in conference play in eight years.
Green Bay’s second-place showing in the 2004-05 conference race was the team’s best in nearly a decade, since an undefeated 1995-96 league championship season. With a 12-1 record in single-digit games, Kowalczyk’s Phoenix earned a reputation for poise under pressure. The 2004-05 team placed two Kowalczyk products on the All-Horizon League teams, first-team pick Javier Mendiburu and second-team choice Benito Flores. The selections marked the first time a pair of Phoenix players earned all-league honors since 2000.
The 2005-06 campaign saw a freshman-dominated squad finish in a third-place tie in the Horizon League with an 8-8 mark after being tabbed to place seventh in the pre-season poll. That year continued a four-year stretch where the Phoenix finished higher in the Horizon League standings than the preseason polls had predicted.
In 2006-07, Green Bay posted 18 wins, the most by a Phoenix team since finishing 20-11 in 1998-99. Green Bay freshmen and sophomores played an average of 132 minutes out of a possible 200, easily the most of any team in the league. Despite facing the toughest schedule in school history and sustaining injuries to several key players, the Phoenix tallied a 15-15 record in 2007-08 and tied for fourth place in the Horizon League standings at 9-9.
Postseason Play in Titletown
The fruits of Kowalczyk’s labors at the Phoenix helm were realized when Green Bay reached postseason play for the first time in 13 years. UWGB capped off an outstanding 2008-09 campaign with an appearance in the College Basketball Invitational, marking the first postseason contest ever played in Titletown. Kowalczyk’s squad earned its bid after notching a runner-up finish in the Horizon League with a 13-5 ledger. The Phoenix’s 22-11 mark was the program’s highest victory total since the 1995-96 season and included a 75-66 victory over No. 11 Butler before nearly 7,000 fans at the Resch Center.
Green Bay proved to be one of the nation’s most prolific shooting teams in 2008-09 as well. The Phoenix finished the season ranked second nationally in free-throw shooting percentage (78.7) and fifth in three-point shooting percentage (41.0). UWGB was the only team in the country to rate among the top five in both categories.
In Kowalczyk’s final year at UWGB, his squad posted a 22-13 mark and won the program’s first post-season game since 1994 when it registered a first-round victory at Akron in the College Basketball Invitational. Another major highlight came when the Phoenix knocked off No. 20 Wisconsin, 88-84, at home in an overtime thriller. The Phoenix’s 88 points were 17 more than any other school scored against the Badgers, who ranked fourth nationally in scoring defense.
Summing Up the Green Bay Years
Kowalczyk’s tenure in Green Bay produced an eight-year run of success that saw the Phoenix post a 136-112 (.548) win-loss mark, including a pair of 22-win campaigns in his final two seasons. That period of prosperity also enabled UWGB to become one of just 18 teams in the nation to place among the top four in its conference for seven straight seasons.
Under Kowalczyk’s direction, Green Bay restored its strong basketball tradition while playing in a league that ranked among the nation’s top 12 in RPI. The Phoenix were particularly strong at home, amassing a 76-28 record (.731) at the Resch Center.
On an individual basis, Kowalczyk coached 10 all-conference and four all-newcomer honorees during his UWGB tenure, in addition to 2007-08 Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year Terry Evans, 2008-09 Horizon League Sixth Man of the Year Ryan Tillema and three-time Capital One/CoSIDA Academic All-American Mike Schachtner. Evans, Schachtner and Tillema each scored 1,000 points in their career marking the first time three players from one recruiting class had done so in school history.
In the classroom, the Phoenix were just as impressive as every student-athlete who completed his eligibility with the program graduated. The men’s basketball program’s five-year APR rating under Kowalczyk was an impressive 964, the highest figure in the state.
Learning his Craft as An Assistant
Kowalczyk prepared for his decade-long time as a head coach with 13 years as an assistant at five different institutions with his final stint coming at Marquette under current Indiana Head Coach Tom Crean.
While with the Golden Eagles, Kowalczyk coordinated efforts that outfitted consecutive top-25 recruiting classes in Marquette uniforms.
In 2001-02, the Golden Eagles finished Kowalczyk’s last season ranked in the top 10 nationally, tallied a 26-7 overall record, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Marquette followed up that season with a Final Four appearance and a 27-6 mark in 2002-03.
“Coach Kowalczyk worked with me every day,” said Marquette All-American and 2006 NBA Finals MVP Dwyane Wade. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for him.”
Kowalczyk embarked on his coaching journey as a student assistant at the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 1988 on the heels of a prosperous collegiate playing career with the Bulldogs. While playing under former Phoenix assistant Dale Race, Kowalczyk was part of squads that posted a 95-29 (.766) win-loss mark, earning Team MVP honors and leading UMD to four consecutive national tournament berths.
Kowalczyk graduated from UMD in 1989 with a bachelor of applied sciences degree in health education and physical education.
Two seasons on the coaching staff at the University of New Hampshire (1989-91) were followed by a two-year stint at St. Anselm College (1991-93), where Kowalczyk and the Hawks advanced to the NCAA Division II Tournament.
Kowalczyk returned to the Division I ranks with Rider University in 1993. The Broncs played in an NCAA Tournament and posted a 72-45 record (49-23 in conference play) during Kowalczyk’s four years in Lawrenceville, NJ. He earned his master’s degree in education administration in 1997 while at Rider.
Kowalczyk then spent three years (1997-2000) coaching in the Big East Conference at Rutgers, including one season as associate head coach. Kowalczyk helped land two recruiting classes ranked among the top 15 nationally that led the Scarlet Knights to consecutive NIT appearances as well as four wins over Top 25 teams, two coming vs. Syracuse.
Well-respected among his coaching peers, Kowalczyk was named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches Ethics Committee in 2005.
Kowalczyk and his wife, Julie, reside in Ottawa Hills and have two children, Race (5) and Rose (4).
A standout prep star at De Pere (WI) High School for coach Jake Orlowski, Kowalczyk still holds the school record with 53 points scored in a single game for the Redbirds. He is the son of Rod Kowalczyk, longtime coach and athletics director at De Pere.
|The Tod Kowalczyk File|
|Born:||June 19, 1966 in DePere, WI|
|Education:||B.S. in health education and physical education,
Univ. of Minnesota-Duluth ('89)
M.A. in education administration,
Rider Univ. ('97)
|Coaching Experience:||2010-pr. Head Basketball Coach, University of Toledo
2002-10 Head Basketball Coach, UW-Green Bay
2000-02 Assistant Coach, Marquette Univ.
1997-00 Assistant coach, Rutgers Univ.
1993-97 Assistant coach, Rider Univ.
1991-93 Assistant coach, St. Anselm College
1989-91 Assistant coach, New Hampshire
|Playing Experience:||1984-88 University of Minn.-Duluth|
|Family:||Wife, Julie; Son, Race (5); Daughter, Rose (4).|
|Year||School||Overall W-L||Conference W-L||Conf. Place||Notes|
|02-03||UW-Green Bay||10-20 (.333)||4-12 (.250)||Horizon - T6th|
|03-04||UW-Green Bay||17-11 (.607)||11-5 (.688)||Horizon - 3rd|
|04-05||UW-Green Bay||17-11 (.607)||10-6 (.625)||Horizon - 2nd||Best Horizon finish since 1995-96|
|05-06||UW-Green Bay||15-16 (.484)||8-8 (.500)||Horizon - T3rd|
|06-07||UW-Green Bay||18-15 (.545)||7-9 (.438)||Horizon - T4th||Most wins since 1998-99|
|07-08||UW-Green Bay||15-15 (.500)||9-9 (.500)||Horizon - T4th|
|08-09||UW-Green Bay||22-11 (.667)||13-5 (.722)||Horizon - 2nd||CBI Tournament; most wins since 1995-96; beat No. 11 Butler|
|09-10||UW-Green Bay||22-13 (.629)||11-7 (.611)||Horizon - 3rd||Consecutive 20-win seasons for first time in 14 years; CBI second round|
|10-11||Toledo||4-28 (.125)||1-15 (.063)||MAC - 6th/West|
|11-12||Toledo||19-17 (.528)||7-9 (.438)||MAC - 2nd/West||CIT second round; 2nd-largest win improvement in nation|
|12-13||Toledo||15-13 (.536)||10-6 (.625)||MAC - 1st/West||Toledo's first MAC West Division title since 2007.|
|Totals||11 years||174-170 (.506)||91-91 (.500)|