Chris Lowery knows his role today: “My name isn’t on the letterhead any more.”
For the last eight years, Lowery’s name was atop the men’s basketball letterhead at Southern Illinois where he served as head coach of his alma mater posting a record of 145-116.
Today, he’s reunited with Bruce Weber as Kansas State’s associate head basketball coach, and thrilled to have the position.
“I’m not taking the position lightly, and I know coach Weber isn’t,” said Lowery. “This is not a rebound job. It’s an opportunity to win at a high level. Coach is a winner, and I’m a winner.”
Lowery first worked as an assistant to Weber from 2001-2003 at Southern Illinois, and again at the University of Illinois in 2003-2004. It was a three-year period when their teams went a collective 78-22, which included making three trips to NCAA tournaments, and advancing to the Sweet 16 round in 2002 with the Salukis and 2004 with the Illini.
“I couldn’t have teamed with a better individual,” said the 40-year-old Lowery. “He could have treated me as an assistant, but it’s been so much more than that. You may see us argue, but that’s what he wants. He wants you to bounce ideas off of him. He wants you to have a creative mind.”
Laughing, Lowery added, “As a young coach you think you know everything, but he had a way about him that wouldn’t crush your ego.”
The two were so close that when Weber was leading the Illini, and Lowery the Southern Illinois program, that they went on vacations together for eight straight years.
“He’s not just another guy to me,” said Lowery, who has a salary of $210,000. “This past year was a time that I needed him because we were having a tough year, and he needed me because he was on his way out at Illinois. This opportunity at K-State has worked out perfectly for both of us.”
Of his hire, Lowery said, “We had been talking every day, but then I get this call at 1 or 2 in the morning when he was at the Final Four. He just said, ‘I got the K-State job. Are you coming?’ I said, ‘Yeah, but…’ and he hung up. He left me wondering what was going on, but he had to get on a plane. I had a lot of questions, but it was an easy decision for me.”
Lowery, who has also coached at Rend Lake College in Illinois, Missouri Southern and Southeast Missouri State, says he has no ties to K-State other than knowing Frank Martin through a Nike trip, and former assistant Brad Underwood through life on the recruiting trail.
His immediate impression with the Wildcat players had to do with “… their toughness, which is an art that is hard to find in today’s game.
Kids like to be overly skilled and get away from the glue that helps you win and holds teams together. It’s the stuff that doesn’t get written about, but is the substance to who we are.”
Of the Wildcat team that returns from last year heading into Big 12 play, Lowery says, “The maturity will be a huge plus. We have guys who have been through this league and they know how teams play. If these guys buy in, he (Weber) can coach the game. When they buy into the system and let him coach them, special things can happen.”
Of Weber’s motion offense, Lowery laughed as he said, “It’s organized chaos. When we’re really into the offense you never know where the pass is going to come from, or who’s going to get it, but everybody will be happy.”
Having coached in the Big Ten and then the Missouri Valley, Lowery, the two-time Missouri Valley Coach of the Year, says, “The Valley was a baby Big Ten. It was a fist fight. You have guys who have played together for four or five years because guys don’t come out early in the Valley. In the power leagues those MVP players come and then go. In our league you had a chance to develop players. You don’t get that many stars, so you develop players.”
Lowery played at Southern Illinois from 1990-1994 helping his team to a pair of NCAA tourney appearances and two Missouri Valley titles.
“I just love basketball,” he said. “When I was done playing, the next best thing was to coach the game. I just had to be around it. It’s very addictive to have a kid do well when you’ve asked him to do something and he does it. That’s very rewarding.”
Lowery laughs at his early thoughts of playing beyond college: “I thought I was as good as the pros, but was I? No. But at that time you couldn’t tell me anything to convince me otherwise. I thought I was 6-6, but I wasn’t; I thought I was pretty good, but I wasn’t.”
In comparing the two jobs of player and as coach in basketball, Lowery said, “Coaching is much more fulfilling. As a player, you don’t realize the preparation that goes into winning. You just show up, look at a scouting report, and go play the game. As a coach you understand what all goes into it.”