Best Coach St. Louis 2003 - Brad Soderberg
St. Louis University
Readers' Choice: Tony La Russa
Less than a year ago, rookie St. Louis University men's basketball coach Brad Soderberg found himself on the hot seat before he'd coached so much as one game. Perceived out of the chute as a ho-hum hire to replace the departed Lorenzo Romar, the former University of Wisconsin interim head coach was essentially judged guilty until proven innocent, and a crappy 6-6 start to the Billikens' 2002-03 season didn't help matters. Then came the startling February 12 upset of Rick Pitino's University of Louisville squad (ranked second in the nation at the time), which sent Bills fans pouring onto the Savvis Center floor and touched off a scintillating eight-game winning streak that propelled Soderberg's undersized Billikens to an 18-14 record and an unexpected post-season berth in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). A mediocre coach would have struggled to win a dozen games with last year's Bills squad, yet Soderberg's emphasis on tenacious defense and a disciplined motion offense somehow managed to turn hardwood lemons into tasty lemonade. As if that weren't enough, Vashon High star point guard Dwayne Polk's oral commitment to Soderberg's Billikens may reopen a spigot of Public High League talent that hasn't flowed freely to the Jesuit institution since the Rich Grawer era. But beware: While Soderberg says he's perfectly content to stay at SLU, he's sure to be at the top of most major programs' lists, should a game of musical chairs similar to the Roy Williams (Kansas to North Carolina)-Bill Self (Illinois to Kansas)-Bruce Weber (Southern Illinois to Illinois) shuffle occur anytime in the near future. Enjoy him while you can.