Stan Gouard '99 didn't expect to be on the sidelines that summer.
It was 2000 and he wanted distance—from basketball and its disappointment. Instead, over the next few months, in a medley of Midwest gyms, he led his first team (a group of middle schoolers from Carbondale, Illinois) to an undefeated season. A season that changed his life.
Coaching was supposed to be a backup: a career shift when his real dream ended. But it never began.
Despite dazzling fans as a two-time National Player of the Year at USI and competing professionally overseas, “Superman’s” membership to the game’s most exclusive—and elusive—club was denied. There would be no NBA.
But basketball still beckoned.
Not long after his greatest defeat, that first team provided a much- needed victory—25 of them, actually. More importantly, it ignited a new passion that quickly propelled him to, and through, the collegiate coaching ranks.
Like books judged by their covers, coaches are often judged by their records—and Gouard’s is impressive (winning 204 out of 315 games in 12 years as head coach at the University of Indianapolis, named 2019-20 region coach of the year, as well as being UIndy's second all-time winningest coachbefore becoming USI's Head Men's Basketball Coach this year).
But while winning is important—he longs to add another national championship trophy to USI’s case—it’s not his only priority. Nor is it his first. “I preach academics, character and basketball.... And we will never sacrifice the academics and character for basketball,” the former GLVC Coach of the Year said.
Gouard pushes players to their limits; lack of effort will always land them on the bench before a mistake. He encourages them to embrace each moment; as COVID-19 has proven, opportunities can disappear in an instant. And, when the final buzzer sounds, he hopes he’s prepared them for life after basketball; wherever it leads, he wants to follow along.
He’s still in touch with many of the men who’ve called him “Coach” over the past two decades. When his team traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, last year, he invited former players in the area to the game. He cherishes each wedding invitation that arrives in his mailbox. If one of his guys needs help, he’s ready—which is why, hundreds of miles away, Scott Strahm picked up the phone.
The successful Florida entrepreneur and father of two wanted to know how his friend was doing. And, as a White man navigating the days following George Floyd’s death at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, he also wanted advice. “Some of my friends—I didn’t want them to not hear from me,” Strahm said. “I just wanted his perspective on how to approach [those conversations].”
During their emotional hour-long discussion, Gouard told Strahm to keep it simple. “Just let them know you’re thinking about them, and you feel for them and what’s going on,” he said. A week later, Strahm sent a text. “It was just to thank him ... because that [ability to reach out to my former teammates] ... put my heart and my mind at ease.” Gouard called another former player and learned he was preparing to join friends protesting in downtown Indianapolis. With nightfall and the city’s curfew approaching, and concerns about the young man’s safety mounting, Gouard asked him to rethink his participation. He did.
Two men, including an Indiana University football alumnus, were shot to death that night. “That could have been anybody,” Gouard said— including his player. “Something as simple as a wellness check can go a long way.”
His personal investment extends to his new team too. Restricted by the pandemic, he’s relied on technology—sometimes group video chats, sometimes individual conversations—to build relationships with the student-athletes on USI’s roster. “I told him I wasn’t really satisfied with how my year went last year,” forward Josh Price ’21 recalled of one chat. Gouard agreed; the rising senior had more to give. “It lets me know that he wants me to be great,” Price said. “So, I’m all in with him.”
Regardless of his decorated playing and coaching careers, Gouard knows he’ll have to continually earn that trust and respect from his players, just as they must prove themselves to him. “I want these guys to look up to me in all aspects, and I think that starts with my everyday walk,” he said. Promises are nice, but actions are what really matter to the 49-year-old. He doesn’t mind a player proclaiming to be a future national champion on social media; he will (and did) ask the entire team what they’re doing to make it happen. It’s part of his “win the day” mentality. “Be better today than you were yesterday,” he tells players. “If you’ve got a job, do a better job today than you did yesterday. If you are with your brother, be a better brother than you were yesterday. It’s not just winning on the court, but it’s winning the day.”
Gouard’s ambition and intensity are regularly on display from November to March. And though coaching has no true off-season— there is always more to do: recruiting, scheduling, ordering equipment— outside the gym, he considers himself pretty laid back. “I don’t get too high or too low,” he said. “I’m very family oriented. You’ll see me out in the yard picking grass out of my flower bed, playing with my [10-year- old] daughter [Kennedy] in the driveway or even jumping on the trampoline .... Every day my wife [Chasity (Kennedy) ’98, a fellow USI grad] and I take an hour-long walk.” He enjoys not just knowing, but spending time with his neighbors. A “people person” to his core, a trait that likely developed out of necessity as the youngest of eight children.
Just as he did while growing up in Danville, Illinois, Gouard values the support of loved ones and strives to cultivate an atmosphere of care within his program. He wants players to know they are more than the numbers on their jerseys, more than their stat lines and highlight reels. They’re his family. And above all, he wants them to succeed. “That means a lot more to me than just going out and winning a lot of basketball games,” he said.
The NBA was Stan Gouard’s dream. Twenty years after that first transformative season, he has no doubt coaching is his calling. “I love instilling my wisdom into these young men,” he said. “And, as much as I wanted to play at the next level, I think I love this a whole lot more.”