By: Matthew Lood
IU South Bend is still very new in its development as an athletic powerhouse, and one man who was influential in the growth of the department was Steve Bruce, the veteran IU South Bend athletics director who is passing the torch this year.
Now, while still relatively small, IU South Bend boasts a variety of successful teams and a long history of club and intramural sports. But in 2014, Bruce was handed the keys to the campus’s athletics department when it had six sports. Three of the sports had full-time coaches, while the other three had part-time coaches.
“One of the things we ran into was, with the part-time coaches it was hard for them to put in what they needed to put in order to get the program the way it needs to be,” Bruce said.
During that time, IU South Bend underwent a change in leadership, and when Chancellor Terry Allison took over in 2013, six more sports were added, with only one being given a full-time coaching position. It was at this point, he said, that Bruce would begin to reevaluate the athletics department.
Bruce thought that the department needed to go back to what it was doing well. With both women’s and men’s basketball having full-time coaches, the results on the court reflected the time that coaches were able to have with their players. So, they went back to the drawing board and decided the goal of the athletics department was to have full-time coaches for every sport.
“What we discovered was that it’s hard for part-time coaches to have the impact that they need to have, which led to a flip – regression – back into a strategy of, let’s get full-time coaches for all the sports,” Bruce said.
So the decision was easy, and something that Bruce remembers fondly when discussing his tenure as IU South Bend’s athletics director. However, in order to get full-time coaches for every sport, they first needed to find a number that was obtainable.
Bruce determined that six sports was obtainable for his vision. While some may think that cutting newly created sports would be a bad look for a growing athletics department, the opposite happened. As coaches were given the tools and time to be with their student athletes, many of the sports began to see an increase in on-the-court, on-the-field success.
This success can be credited to Bruce’s “Character-First Coaches” strategy: if the athletics department is able to hire high-character coaches, they will be able to foster high-character student athletes, which should continue the ripple effect down to the non-athlete student population by creating a campus of high-character people. In other words, when athletic mentors are strong, athletics flourishes and everyone – not just athletes – wins.
This strategy seemed to have payed off in a big way, as both basketball teams received bids to the national tournament, the baseball team reached the conference tournament final for the first time in program history, volleyball finished second in their league, softball made their conference tournament and women’s soccer is off to its best start in program history and remain undefeated to start the 2024 campaign.
This summer, Bruce decided that he wanted to get back to his passion: being a basketball coach. While he has stepped away from the helm, Scott Cooper, IU South Bend men’s basketball coach has stepped up as the interim athletic director, and is sure to keep the ship heading down the right path while honoring the legacy of Steve Bruce.