When Brian Wardle was in the midst of a standout basketball career at Marquette University, his parents would often tell him that he should consider coaching someday.
He did not waste any time following their advice.
The former Hinsdale Central star is now the second youngest NCAA Division I men’s basketball coach after being hired by Wisconsin-Green Bay last week. Appalachian State hired Jason Capel on Wednesday and he is three months younger than Wardle.
The 30-year-old Wardle had been an assistant coach for the Phoenix the last five years after playing in the NBA Developmental League and the CBA for one year apiece.
“My parents (Jim and Cindy) would make comments to me (about coaching) because I would be on the court pointing at my teammates, making sure they were in the right places,” Wardle said from the airport on Wednesday while waiting for his flight to North Carolina for recruiting. “The game kind of always came easily to me so I was very fortunate in that way.
“I knew that when I got done playing, I couldn’t imagine not being involved with basketball. I got into coaching right after my career finished up and I’ve been fortunate with the timing.”
Wardle takes over for Tod Kowalczyk, who departed for Toledo. Wisconsin-Green Bay finished 22-13 last winter and lost in the second round of the College Basketball Invitational at the end of the year.
“I am obviously very excited,” the 30-year old said. “I’ve invested a lot of time in this program. I love the community, the city, the university. They have treated me and my family very well and I am excited to stay.
“Hopefully it will be a smooth transition. Coach Kowalczyk laid a good foundation and we will see if we can take it to another level.”
As for being the youngest head coach in college, the sixth all-time leading scorer in Marquette history is aware of that special distinction.
“It’s great right now because I’m undefeated,” he said. “I’m enjoying it. But seriously, it is quite an honor and I’m grateful for the opportunity. Ken Bothof, the athletic director, believes in me. They know I will work as hard as I can to make this happen. Nobody is going to outwork me.”
Wardle has had a lot of great influences in both his playing and coaching careers, starting with his parents and moving on to former Marquette head coaches Tom Creen and Kowalczyk.
“My mentors have been Todd (Kowalczyk) and Tom Creen, who is now at Indiana,” he said, “and my parents have been great role models. A lot of people have showed me a lot of characteristics to be successful. My parents, I looked at their work ethic and I’ve taken some important coaching aspects from Todd and Tom. They had two different styles but both are very successful. I’ve learned that if you stick to your personality, things will work out.”
His goals for the near future are simple, to continue the storied tradition of the Phoenix, which includes four NCAA tournament appearances in the 1990s and most recently back-to-back 20-win campaigns in 2009 and 2010.
“I have the usual goals,” Wardle said. “We want to keep recruiting high character players, keep graduating players, get out in the community and get fans excited. And then we definitely want to win games; get into the postseason and win games.”
Wardle, who lives with wife, Lecia, and daughters, Mya and Emery, in Green Bay, first became a household in the Chicago area when he led Hinsdale Central to back-to-back state quarterfinals appearances in 1996 and 97 (55-7 two-year record). He is still the Red Devils’ all-time leading scorer and rebounder and says that lessons learned from those times he still uses today.
“First off, the academics really helped me,” Wardle said. “Growing up in that area and getting a strong education was the biggest factor. And then going and being a part of a winning program (at Hinsdale Central). I learned how to be a leader and then seeing the success we had as a group, one other thing I learned is how important chemistry is. We had great chemistry and we had each other’s backs. You see that a lot with good teams and we had that back in the 90s.”