At the helm of one of the country’s most respected junior college programs stands Steve Schmidt, Head Coach of the MCC Men’s Basketball team for more than three decades. This spring, he was nominated for induction into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame – the only Junior College representative on a ballot.
Much has been written about Coach Schmidt’s vast record of success. Coaching over 1,000 games for MCC, he has led the Bears to four NJCAA Division II National Championships and has appeared in eleven National Tournaments. He is a member of the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan Hall of Fame, Greater Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame, NJCAA Men’s Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and this summer, he will be inducted into the Greater Lansing Area Sports Hall of Fame. Schmidt is the winningest coach in Mott history and in the history of Michigan Collegiate Coaches (at all levels).
The four-time NJCAA National Coach of the Year is most at home pacing the sideline in the Schmidt House – the gym in Ballenger Field House officially named “Steve Schmidt Gymnasium” in 2009. But, there is much more to the Lansing native who nearly turned down the offer to coach Mott Basketball in 1991 … read on!
1. What’s something people wouldn’t guess about you?
There are three things I think would surprise people who don’t know me. 1) I am an avid reader of fiction. The first book that hooked me was A Time To Kill by John Grisham which was published in 1989 – from that point on, I read everything he wrote. I have read literally hundreds of books by various authors since that time and get them as soon as they are published. I try new authors and have held onto the hard-covered books for years. Just recently, I gave books away to co-workers, family, friends and senior living homes that have libraries. I still have around 200 that I will donate as soon as I can. 2) I love barbecuing and cooking! I’ve read about cooking and watched endless shows about cooking. I have always volunteered to BBQ when there is a big event for Mott or my friends. I have even won a handful of rib contests competing against “professionals.” 3) I have a pretty good sense of humor. Someone who comes to a Bears game for the first time might see my intensity and think I’m mean. I’m intense and passionate about coaching, but I can get along with most anyone. I gravitate toward people who have a good sense of humor and are positive influences.
2. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I don’t think there was ever a doubt that I would pursue a career in sports. I couldn’t get away from learning, playing and competing all day until it was time to come in the house at night!
3. What is the most beautiful place you’ve visited?
When I graduated from CMU in 1986, I had the opportunity to continue playing basketball on a touring professional team. After a two-week training camp in Los Angeles, we spent five weeks playing and traveling all over Australia. It is a beautiful country and I would love to visit again. Around ten years ago, I traveled to Greece for the wedding of one of my best friends (and former teammate) Pete Lambropolous. We flew to Athens, took a bus to a mountain village for the ceremony, and then went to Mykonos where we all spent time together. Before flying home, we toured the Acropolis and the Parthenon in Athens. It was an amazing two weeks with unbelievable food, friends and good times.
4. What is your favorite thing about coaching at Mott?
I love what I do! Over my 32-year career, no two days have been the same. I feel really good about positively impacting many of the players I have recruited to Mott. There have been tough times to go with the great times; I believe handling adversity is a great test of character. Early in my coaching career, I developed a philosophy that is simply “NO EXCUSES.” I have lived by it, and try to run the program with that philosophy in mind.
5. Who is your hero?
While I lost my hero in 2008, I realize that she is still with me every day. She made me the person I am. She was selfless, giving me unconditional support and love. Apparently, I was quite a handful growing up. (I know. It’s hard for me to believe that, too.) Not a day goes by that I don’t think of all of the wisdom and sacrifice she demonstrated throughout the time we were able to spend together. We didn’t have much growing up, but I thought I was one of the richest kids in Lansing as we moved from apartment to apartment. What I wouldn’t give to be able to spend a little more time with her … My Hero – my mother, Marilyn Dunn. I know she is proud of what we have accomplished at Mott CC and how we have done it.
6. Who influenced your career path most, and how?
This is a tough question because so many people had an influence, including the countless coaches of teams I played for beginning in elementary school. I think being challenged during my high school career influenced me. I was told I wasn’t good enough to play Division 1 Basketball. I didn’t want to hear that – it was my goal from an early age. I did something that most people wouldn’t do at that time; I asked people I respected (Michigan State Coach Jud Heathcote was one) why they said I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t get offended or angry, I got motivated. It took two additional years, but I finally earned a scholarship to play NCAA Division 1 Basketball at Central Michigan University. The journey took me from Lansing Waverly High School to West Valley College in Saratoga, CA. I was homesick and on my own. A demanding coach, Bob Burton, really influenced me by being disciplined, intense and no-nonsense. I met a few of my best friends (teammates) while at CMU, and they also influenced my career path. Pete Lambropoulos was one – in the spring of 1991, he invited me to Flint to meet a friend of his, the Honorable Thomas Yeotis. Judge Yeotis put his trial in recess and talked to Pete and me in his chambers for over an hour about Flint, the great athletes who had come through Flint, and about Mott Community College. He had hoped I would consider being Mott’s new basketball coach. His passion and pride impressed me. I ultimately took over the Mott program in the fall, my first head coaching opportunity. Of course, my 32 years of coaching student-athletes at Mott have influenced me. They have taught me so much and together, we have had great success – and not just championships. Success as the first in their family to go to college and earn a degree. Success by being recruited out of Mott to pursue their dreams and goals. Success by becoming great husbands and fathers and prosperous people. I have learned so much from my players, from the failures as well as the successes.
7. How would your friends describe you?
This is an interesting question. Rather than assume or guess how my friends would describe me, I asked a few of them directly. The first one laughed uncontrollably before collecting his composure and answering; the second person did the same. I took that to mean they think I’m really funny, but apparently there is more to it. These are the responses I got from the people who know me best: I’m intense, but not all of the time. I am loyal, dedicated and persistent; opinionated, a jokester, a sore loser and again, loyal. One friend described me as an overachiever, which at first I didn’t like but now think it’s okay. Another friend said I’m a good person who cares about Flint, is proud of Mott and is a great friend. Last but not least, I was told that I’m passionate about sports but compassionate in the way I live my life – I care.