Commentary

Gottlieb carves own path of success

Updated: March 29, 2013, 8:43 PM ET
By Michelle Smith

Lindsay GottliebAP Photo/Ted S. WarrenCoach Lindsay Gottlieb hopes to lead Cal to its first Elite Eight.

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Lindsay Gottlieb jokes that she is the "black sheep in her family." Except that nobody brags this much about the "black sheep."

In her father's courtroom in New York, the court reporters, officers, clerks, they all knew about Judge Stephen Gottlieb's daughter, the successful basketball coach.

In the hallways of New York University where Chris Gottlieb is a law professor, people always stop to ask how the Bears are doing.

"I'm sure anyone who has ever met my father knows what Lindsay does and how proud he is," Chris Gottlieb said of her little sister.

Law is the Gottlieb family business. Stephen Gottlieb is now retired after 19 years on the bench in Queens County. Chris Gottlieb is an adjunct professor of clinical law at NYU. Older brother Peter Gottlieb is a lawyer in New York. Sister Suzy broke the mold and became a veterinarian.

But youngest child Lindsay, the second-year Cal head coach, was always about basketball, even as she pulled the grades for an Ivy League education and talked as a kid about being a senator or a Supreme Court justice.

"Her sports obsession was always evident," Chris Gottlieb said. "She was smart and thoughtful and I think we all knew she would be successful, but it didn't occur to me, anyway, that it would be in sports. But maybe that's because I don't know anything about sports."

[+] EnlargeLindsay Gottlieb
AP Photo/Dino VournasCal coach Lindsay Gottlieb got her first home win over a ranked team.

At 35, Lindsay Gottlieb qualifies as one of the best young coaches in the game after leading the Bears to their first share of the Pac-12 title, earning conference coach of the year honors along the way. No. 2 seed Cal earned its highest seed in the NCAA tournament and the Bears are preparing for Saturday night's match against LSU (ESPN2, 11:30 p.m. ET) in the Spokane Regional semifinals. A win would send Cal to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.

Cal is an experienced, balanced team led by a cerebral head coach who admits she is a "basketball nerd," stresses strong personal connections with her players and can't help but analyze everything to within an inch of its life.

She has been doing it since before she ever got her first coaching job.

Gottlieb would watch games as an 18-year-old college player at Brown, picturing when she might call timeout in a crucial situation, or when it would be time to score quickly and then foul to stop the clock.

She even did a few mock interviews to practice how she might address the media after the game.

"I put myself in situations in my head," Gottlieb said. "These moments that have happened to me, I visualized them for years. In game moments I experience now, I'd be lying if I said I hadn't already imagined them in some way."

Gottlieb's path to Berkeley came via Cal's former coach, Joanne Boyle. Gottlieb's chlidhood friend, Hillary Howard, played at Duke when Boyle was an assistant coach under Gail Goestenkors. Howard introduced Gottlieb to Boyle.

Boyle hired Gottlieb as an assistant at Richmond and then brought her west to California when Boyle took over in 2005. Gottlieb was Boyle's right hand for three seasons until she was offered the head coaching job at UC Santa Barbara in 2008.

Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour told Gottlieb on the way out the door, "I hope it's a long time, but I hope you are coming back."

So when Barbour had a chance to bring Gottlieb back two years ago when Boyle left for Virginia, she jumped at it.

"From the very beginning it was clear that she's very bright, and she always had a vision about how to create a program," Barbour said. "She knows her basketball and she's a great recruiter. She essentially had a three-year tryout."

Gottlieb led the Bears to a 25-10 record last year and the second round of the NCAA tournament, where Cal fell to eventual runner-up Notre Dame. This year, Cal is breaking new ground. Sharing the Pac-12 title with Stanford was a first for the Cal program, as was a 30-win season.

"I don't think I could be enjoying this any more than I am," Gottlieb said. "That includes everything, the stresses and the lows -- and there have been some -- nothing is perfect. This is better than I could have imagined."

Gottlieb's strength as a coach has been creating strong relationships with her players and giving heavy doses of responsibility to her coaching staff. Senior guard Eliza Pierre said Gottlieb has created a "family" atmosphere in the program in which the players feel valued.

"We are in the middle of a game, in a situation like South Florida and she's asking, 'What do you guys want to run?'" Pierre said. "I think that she does a great job of making us feel like players as well as adults. And I think that helps us, because you see our team mature and you see greater and better things. And she knows her X's and O's."

Gottlieb was one of those kids who played a little bit of everything before settling into basketball. Even now, she sheepishly admits she is an avid fantasy football player ("but not for money," she added).

She was in about the fourth grade when she asked her mother, Carol, who died when Gottlieb was a college sophomore, if she could play football. Eight years earlier, Carol Gottlieb had told her son Peter no. She didn't want him to get hurt.

But she didn't know what to say to her youngest daughter.

"She didn't want it to think it was because I was a girl and I couldn't do it," Lindsay Gottlieb said. "So she let me play."

Gottlieb ended up as the quarterback and her brother, Peter, a little bitter.

But now all of the Gottliebs comprise her most dedicated fan base. When they do get to gather for holidays, after some perfunctory shop talk, basketball dominates the conversation.

"Her job is much more interesting than the rest of ours," Chris Gottlieb said.

Chris Gottlieb jokes that she a closet full of Cal gear, things she never would have owned in a life without her sister. Her young sons are adorned in blue and gold in the middle of their Brooklyn neighborhood.

Lindsay Gottlieb concedes that she probably wouldn't have been a lawyer, even if she hadn't gone into coaching.

"I think I would be running a foundation or something having to do with social justice," Gottlieb said. "Clearly, law school would have been the thing that made the most sense, but …"

Being the black sheep works just fine for her instead.

Michelle Smith

Contributor, espnW.com

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.