No detail mattered to Jeff Walz — aside from the most important one — as he sat inside a hotel in downtown Louisville 11 years ago.
With more than a decade’s worth of experience as a women’s basketball assistant coach, most recently at the University of Maryland, the native of Fort Thomas, Kentucky, was searching for a head coaching job and to that point had failed to secure even an in-person interview.
So when Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich offered him the job coaching the Cardinals, Walz didn’t sweat the little things.
“Tom offered me the job, and he asked me, ‘What will it take?’ ” Walz recalled this week. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘What kind of salary?’ I said, ‘I don't care. Are you offering me the job?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I'll take it.’ ”
The ensuing news conference took place without an agreed-upon contract. Walz inherited a program with three NCAA Tournament wins but had never gotten out of the first weekend of the tournament.
Now, as the 46-year-old leads his team to Columbus for Louisville’s third Final Four appearance in his tenure, the man who once couldn’t get an interview now is the winningest coach in school history and presiding over a team that has won at least one tournament game for eight straight seasons.
Admittedly, it’s a little more than Walz was hoping for when he accepted the job.
“To have the opportunity to play in four Elite Eights and now be in three Final Fours in 11 seasons, I wouldn’t say that we thought that was going to happen,” he said. “But as we’ve continued to build this program and recruit some special players and special families, it has been neat to see it develop and grow throughout the years.”
This year’s team boasts junior guard Asia Durr, the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year and a finalist for the Naismith Award, given annually to the top player in the nation. Senior forward Myisha Hines-Allen is a 2,000-point career scorer and first-team all-conference player.
The duo has helped lead the Cardinals to a program-record 36 wins and both an ACC regular-season and conference tournament championship for only the second time in school history. They also have continued a streak that has seen every four-year player during Walz’s tenure reach a Final Four.
“When I came in my freshman year, we had five seniors, so it was basically, if you want to be successful, if you want to keep this program afloat, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Hines-Allen said after Louisville defeated Oregon State in the Elite Eight. “You’ve got to do what the people behind you have already done, and that’s play hard, play Louisville ball. I feel like we’ve done that, and we’ve … bought into what Louisville basketball is and what Coach Walz is wanting.”
Ohio State got a taste of it in mid-November, when the Cardinals came to Nationwide Arena and beat the Buckeyes 95-90 in overtime, as Durr poured in 47 points.
In the NCAA Tournament, Louisville has won by an average of 27.5 points per game while not letting an opponent score more than three consecutive points in their regional semifinal or final game.
Not bad for a coach who just wanted a job.
“They went from making many NCAA Tournaments and they never got past the second round, to (Walz arriving) and they got to the Sweet 16 and it’s kind of been history from there,” said Adrienne Johnson, radio analyst and executive director of player relations for Louisville women’s basketball and a member of Ohio State’s 1992-93 national runner-up team.
“So the expectation has been set high and he has been able to get special talent here on campus and sign some special kids.”