The Best Kept Secret

by Micah McDaniel ’99

Compile a list of the greatest coaches in college basketball and names like John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith, and Roy Williams will be there. You might even find the likes of Rick Pitino, Lute Olson, and Pete Newell. But, there is a name you will not find that belongs there as much as those mentioned – Bill Odell.

Away from the multimillion dollar contracts, national television exposure, and the accompanying glitz and glamour, Odell continues to etch his name among college basketball coaching elites. For nearly 1,500 minutes a year, Odell appears as intense as any coach in the country, but it is the remaining minutes that set him apart from most others in his profession. Introverted by nature, Odell is humorous yet reserved, which could best explain why he has called little-known Azusa Pacific home for the past 13 years. “Bill doesn’t get too high or too low for anything. He’s very even-keeled,” said current assistant coach Justin Leslie, who has been associated with Odell both as a player and coach since 1996. “His consistency over the years goes back to the fact that he takes every game the same. He doesn’t deviate in his preparation whether we’re playing Biola or a lesser team, and he expects his team to do the same. He gets his game-face on every night, no matter the opponent.” Since putting on his game face at Azusa Pacific for the first time in 1992, Odell’s 366 wins are best among all active men’s college basketball coaches, including NCAA Division I, II, III and NAIA. His .804 winning percentage makes him the winningest active coach in all of men’s college basketball with at least 10 years as a head coach at a four-year program, bettering the likes of Krzyzewski, Williams, Olson, and Pitino. In fact, he stands as the only coach in men’s college basketball with at least 10 seasons as a head coach that wins 80 percent of his games. Including his 23 seasons on the high school level, Odell has been on the winning side of 768 games the past 36 seasons. At some point this season, he could very well win the 800th game of his career as well as his 400th at Azusa Pacific. “Playing for coach was the best thing that ever happened to me,” said two-time Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) Player of the Year T. J. Walker, who starred on two of the Cougars Fab Four seasons in 1998 and 1999 and now plays professionally in England. “He has so much confidence in himself that it just permeates the rest of the team. He can adapt to whatever type of team he has. He has been by far the best coach I have played for. I knew every night he had prepared us during practice that week, and he left it up to us to perform and get the win.” And win is all Azusa Pacific has done. In nine seasons prior to his arrival, the Cougars enjoyed just one winning season going 114-176 (.393) in the process. Since then, he has averaged 28 wins a season, never suffered a losing campaign, won a record 11 of the past 12 GSAC titles, and been to 9 straight NAIA Tournaments and 3 NAIA Fabulous Fours (1998, 1999, and 2002). “He does a good job of putting his players in positions where they can be successful,” said Leslie. “He learns his players’ limitations in the first month of practice before games start and then for the rest of the season he knows how to use them. He tweaks his system to match his personnel. While most coaches try to get their players to adapt to their system, he adapts his system to his players.” That approach that has made Azusa Pacific the winningest four-year program in California, eclipsing the likes of Biola, Cal State Bakersfield, UCLA, and Stanford. Aside from a 17-14 campaign in his first season, he has never won fewer than 23 games in any season and has lost no more than 8 games in 11 of 13 seasons. The success is astounding. “He creates good chemistry on the court – better than anyone I’ve been around,” said assistant coach Jeff Rutter, who played and coached against, and now coaches with Odell. “But he does it without screaming, yelling, or being overly controlling. It is unique to his personality. He molds the teams that he wants, but does it in a way that lets them find it in their own way.” Even his peers recognize his success. His teams have been a fixture in the NAIA Top 25 since 1993, appearing in 74 of the past 75 NAIA Coaches’ Polls, and ranking in the Top 10 in 56 of the past 66 polls, including last year’s final poll, which had the Cougars ranked No. 2 in the nation. Five times (1995, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2004), he has earned GSAC Coach of the Year. “He’s consistent and stable, but he’s also very competitive, which enables his teams to feed off that,” said former NAIA Coach of the Year Ken Ammann, who coached with Odell in 2000 and 2001 before leading Concordia-Irvine to the 2003 NAIA National Championship. “Having consistent success is very difficult work, but he’s made it look easy. When it comes to coaching, he’s the complete package.”

Micah McDaniel '99 is the assistant sports information director in the Athletics Department,