When men's head basketball coach Tim Buckley came to Muncie last season to take over the Cardinal program following a one-year stint as an assistant coach at Marquette University, it was a return of sorts.
Buckley had served as an assistant coach at Ball State from 1994-1999 under Ray McCallum, now head coach at Houston University. When Ball State offered Buckley the head coaching job, he took it, not only to be a head coach, but to come home.
"I think everybody in this business wants to be a head coach but Ball State shares my philosophy that the student comes before the athlete," Buckley said. "This place has been home for us in the basketball nomadic life, and it was nice to come back home."
Buckley made an immediate splash on his return home, leading the Cardinals into the semi-finals of the Mid-American Conference tournament and to a 18-12 finish last season. The 18-wins were the second most by a first-year head coach in Ball State history, and the 11 MAC victories were the second most by any coach in school history. But Buckley doesn't feel that the win and loss ledger is a proper indicator of his team's success.
"I gauge our success by our growth as people, not by our final record," Buckley said.
Not only is growth as people important, but growth as student athletes. To accomplish that means, Buckley stresses that having passion in all their pursuits should be his players' first priority.
"We like to be enthusiastic and energetic and be competitive in whatever we do, both athletically and academically," Buckley said. "I tell the guys that they compete with other guys on the court; why wouldn't you want to compete with them in the classroom as well?"
The pillar of Buckley's coaching approach is discipline. He says that doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, as well as taking pride in all that they do, is what will see his team through hard times. And although the phrases "disciplinarian" and "players' coach" can be viewed as opposite ends of the coaching spectrum, Buckley feels they can go hand-in-hand.
"It all depends on how you define players' coach," Buckley said. "If you mean someone who is honest, trustworthy and has the players' best interests at heart, than I'm a players' coach. I was that age once, and I'm thankful that I had people there to help me make the right decisions."
Through discipline, pride and passion, Buckley says the Cardinals can improve on last season's success by following a simple formula.
"Myself, our staff and our program will give you an honest day's work every day," he said. "We'll play every game like it's our last."