The greatest team Steve Wojciechowski has ever been a part of has never won a basketball game.
They don’t wear jerseys. They never play in front of one of the nation’s most rabid fan bases or inside one of the most iconic home courts in the country. They don’t fight for conference titles, cut down nets or hoist trophies at season’s end. And up until yesterday, when Wojciechowski was introduced as the 17th head men’s basketball coach in Marquette history, none of us had ever heard of this iconic team of which he was a member. But it’s the foundation of what the former Duke assistant will try and accomplish in building his new program.
“I’ve been fortunate to be on a lot of great teams,” he said, “and the best team I’ve ever been on is the Wojciechowski team.”
During his 30-minute introductory press conference Tuesday afternoon at the Al McGuire Center, Wojciechowski spoke openly about his decision to become the Golden Eagles head coach. Gratitude, excitement, humility and the occasional anecdotal joke described much of his introduction and following Q+A, perhaps no different from any other coach who has accepted a head coaching position at a new institution.
But where Wojciechowski revealed ultimate transparency was in speaking about his family, and how it has shaped who he is and where he is. With his wife, Lindsay, and two young boys, Jack and Charlie, sitting in the first row of seats in front of him, the 37-year-old Wojciechowski admitted that, despite the overwhelming number of reasons there were on why Marquette was the right destination for him after 19 seasons at Duke, the deal wasn’t done until it was also right for Team Wojciechowski.
“This decision for me felt right for a lot of obvious reasons from a basketball standpoint, and from the standpoint of being part of a great university and a great university community,” he said, fighting to hold back his emotions as his voice cracked. “The thing that put it over the top was the support of my wife and two boys.”
Wojciechowski was born and raised in Severna Park, Md., the son of a longshoreman and homemaker, when Wojciechowski earned a scholarship to play basketball and attend Duke University, he became the first in his family to attend college, let alone one of the more prestigious universities in the entire country.
And despite the perceived negative connotation he understands can sometimes follow Duke student-athletes, he’ll never forget where he came from, and how those on Team Wojciechowski made it possible for him, thanks for a friendly reminder he sees every day before leaving the house.
“One of the things I have in my house is my dad’s hard hat that he used to wear to work every day,” he said, “because he showed up to work every day. And that’s what I’m going to do, and that’s what I’m going to expect the people around me to do.”
It’s what he did at Duke, and it’s what he’ll do at Marquette. As Krzyzewski’s right-hand man the last decade, Wojciechowski was one of the more decorated and passionate assistants in the nation. It’s a trait he’s always had and one that he’s proud of — “I am who I am,” he said — and one that places great responsibility on him to follow through with the promise he made to himself, to work every day, and the one he expects back from his team.
That team stood behind Wojciechowski on Tuesday, and later in the day spoke of their excitement of a new coach with new philosophies who will bring a pedigree of winning championships to the locker room. That same passion was shared by Wojciechowski, who said his No. 1 priority was fostering relationships with his new group. He did that Tuesday morning, when he walked into the Marquette locker room for the first time, introduced himself and gave each player on the team a hug.
And in that moment, one he said he’ll never forget, he shared one piece of information with his new team.
“I think trust is built by telling the truth and doing your best every day. And that was my promise to them, that I will always tell them the truth, that they will get my best every day,” he said. “And the deal is I will expect them to give me their best. And if we can do that one simple thing, then some really special things can happen for all of us.”
It’s a philosophy that has propelled him to this point in his career, or as president-elect Dr. Michael Lovell put it, “a winner in every aspect of life.” After a successful four-year career at Duke he joined Krzyzewski’s staff in 1999 and has been a part of numerous top-ranked recruiting classes, five ACC regular-season championships and two national championships.
He didn’t do it alone, just like he won’t do it alone at Marquette. Wojciechowski admitted that Krzyzewski has been his biggest mentor along the way. And after jokingly asking if Coach K would come on board as his associate head coach (“You couldn’t afford me,” Krzyzewski apparently joked back at Wojciechowski), Wojciechowski shared the piece of wisdom he’ll remember from his time in Durham.
“What I’ve learned from him, both as a player and coach, has been invaluable. And he’s allowed me to understand just how fun and incredible the game of basketball is, but when used the right way how it can change your life,” he recalled. “I hope to do that here at Marquette. I want our guys and our players to try to win every day. I want to win every day and I want to win every day as basketball players, I want to win every day as students and I want to win every day most importantly, as people. And I think we can all get behind that.”
As interim athletic director Bill Cords put it before introducing him, Steve Wojciechowski has “been to the top,” a quality the administration was looking for when they ultimately offered him the job. And despite all his accomplishments both as a player and assistant coach, Wojciechowski said Tuesday was “the most proud day in my basketball life.”
And now he knows it’s time to get to work. While he assembles his coaching staff, he’ll continue to build upon the relationships with his current team while contacting Marquette’s nationally ranked 2014 recruiting class. He wants to play aggressive defense that leads to offense, and furthermore a “fun and attacking-style of offense,” much like the ones that made the Blue Devils national champions.
But deeper than that, Wojciechowski wants to build relationships and hard working habits. He wants the student body and basketball team to be one, and he wants the basketball program to represent Marquette University as, in his words, a source of pride, growth and excitement. Though he accumulated plenty of them at Duke, Steve Wojciechowski wants to be about more than just wins and championships. To him, those are just as important as the relationships he build and the work ethic he instills in those around him. And with his own philosophies in hand and the support of the Marquette community behind him, he’s confident he can do just that.
“If we’re going to try to do things big we have to make big investments,” he said. “And the investment is not just the physical investment; it’s an emotional investment, it’s an investment of your heart.”