December 4, 2020

Back to the homeland

Webster men’s basketball assistant coach Landon Kurz prepares to coach against alma mater

Webster University men’s basketball assistant coach Landon Kurz uses a second-half timeout to talk to his team during its game at Blackburn College on Jan. 28. Kurz will try to help the Gorloks beat his alma mater, Westminster College, on Feb. 1 in Fulton, Mo. PHOTO BY BRITTANY RUESS.

To Landon Kurz, Westminster College feels like home. He played basketball at Westminster for four years and was an assistant coach there for a year. On Feb. 1, Kurz will be in the same familiar gymnasium, participating in a Westminster home basketball game for the first time in three years.

Only this time, Kurz will be on the opposing side as an assistant coach for Webster University.

Kurz ended up at Webster by coincidence. After graduating from Westminster in 2008 with a degree in finance, Kurz accepted a full-time job in St. Louis at Wells Fargo.

“I worked in an office for a couple of months,” Kurz said. “It kind of hit me. I wanted to coach basketball. I had a finance degree and wanted to coach basketball, funny how that worked out.”

Kurz quit his job at Wells Fargo, and returned to Westminster as an assistant coach under his former coach Matt Mitchell for the 2008-09 season. Mitchell advised Kurz to get a master’s degree if he wanted to stay in coaching.

Kurz listened to Mitchell’s advice. He left Westminster and attended the University of Central Missouri to earn a master’s. Kurz took part in a graduate assistantship program, where the university pays for the master’s degree while the student is a graduate assistant. For his graduate assistant position, Kurz was the assistant basketball coach under head coach Kim Anderson.

After completing his master’s degree in athletic and sports business administration in 2011, Kurz could no longer be the assistant basketball coach because he was no longer a graduate assistant.

“Once I was done with that, I couldn’t stick around and do it again,” Kurz said. “They’d bring in another person. I was forced to find another job somewhere. I was looking for coaching jobs really all over the country.”

Kurz found a job opening for an assistant basketball coach at Maryville College in Tennessee. Maryville was the previous home for Webster head basketball coach Chris Bunch, who was an assistant coach at Maryville.

Kurz had known Bunch from playing against Webster while at Westminster, and Mitchell and Bunch are also good friends. Kurz called Bunch about the Maryville opening, but received a job offer as an assistant coach at Webster instead.

“I was very interested in him because I knew what he was doing,” Bunch said. “It was just him calling me about another position somewhere else. It made me think, ‘If you’re looking for a job, I have one.’”

Kurz accepted the Webster coaching position, a team he played against for four years in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

“After not living (in St. Louis) for seven years, it was nice to kind of have the opportunity to come back,” Kurz said.

Kurz, a Lafayette High School graduate, lived in St. Louis his whole life before attending Westminster. As a four-year player for the Blue Jays, Kurz and five other players helped turn around the Westminster basketball program.

“Landon came in with a group of guys who all came in as freshmen,” Mitchell said. “They really changed the culture of our program. We were just floundering as a program. I wasn’t sure if we could really get it turned around and get it headed in the right direction.

“Ever since they’ve gotten on campus, it’s made my job a whole lot easier. The impact is still felt today. We’re .500 right now (as of Jan. 25). People within the program are disappointed. Before Landon and those guys got here, a .500 season would be a miraculous season. I credit those group of guys for changing the expectations.”

Kurz is now helping a program he competed against for five years.

“It’s a little different,” Kurz said. “It’s a little weird.”

As an assistant coach, Kurz helps with recruiting, scouting Webster’s opponents and tracking players’ academics. He also assists with in-game strategies for Bunch.

“There are a lot of things he’ll bring to my attention (that) I’m not even thinking about at a particular time,” Bunch said. “He’s another pair of eyes to see things on the floor. He’s given me a lot of suggestions this year in games as far as game adjustments, personnel adjustments and all different types of things. He understands how to be an assistant. Sometimes it’s good to have someone there who thinks a little differently to give you a perspective.”

Kurz’s success as a coach comes as no surprise to Mitchell.

“We always felt that was a great additive for Landon to pursue,” Mitchell said. “He had a really high basketball IQ as a player. It came across in his coaching as well. It was a natural fit for him to become a coach.”

Bunch said he is glad to have Kurz as a part of his coaching staff, but nobody is happier for Kurz than Mitchell.

“I think it’s great,” Mitchell said. “I told Landon when the job came open at Webster how much I respect and like coach Bunch and like the Webster athletics model. We’ve always felt it’s very similar to what we try to achieve within our athletic department and basketball program.

“There’s never been hard feelings. I like Landon so much and I like Chris so much. Landon is always going to be one of my guys. If it’s the best thing for Landon, then that’s what I want.”

Westminster traveled to Webster on Nov. 30. The Gorloks defeated the Blue Jays 73-52. Before and after the game, Mitchell joined Kurz and Bunch in Bunch’s office.

“We sat down and talked for a while before the game,” Kurz said. “After we won, he still came in. I don’t think a lot of people have that type of relationship.”

On Feb. 1, Kurz and the first-place Gorloks (9-9 overall, 9-0 in the SLIAC) will travel to Westminster (10-9, 6-4) as the opposition.

“I don’t know how it’ll be, but I’m sure it’ll be fun,” Kurz said. “That will be different. The thing I’m most looking forward to is being in the visiting locker room and sitting on the bench looking down at Coach Mitchell. I’m excited and I think it’ll be fun.”

Mitchell said he’s coached against former coaches and players before, so he understands what Kurz might feel.

“That will be interesting for him,” Mitchell said. “It probably won’t even cross my mind until maybe when he walks in the gym because it’ll be a good to see him. Pregame in a different locker room, working out on the floor he played on and in an environment he really helped create, I can see where that would be a good but unusual experience for him.”

Kurz will help Webster try to defeat a team he spent five years of his life competing for.

“I tell people I root for (Westminster) every game they play except for when they play us,” Kurz said.

Kurz is happy where he’s at with Webster, but hopes to become a head coach someday.

“Ever since I quit my job at Wells Fargo and started back in coaching, my ultimate goal was to be a head coach,” Kurz said. “It might be next year, 10 years from now or 15 from now. When that day will come, who knows? I’ll keep working hard and keep my fingers crossed. Hopefully the right opportunity will present itself. I’m not in a rush. I know I have a lot to learn as a coach, but when that day comes I’ll be ready and excited for it.”

 

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