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Nothing but Net

How Andy Enfield’s tech startup success helped him coach “Dunk City” to the Sweet 16.

Andy Enfield

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Andy Enfield is one of those people who seems to succeed at everything he does. In high school, Enfield was his class valedictorian. In college, he set the NCAA career free-throw record at Johns Hopkins University by shooting an unheard-of 92.5 percent from the charity stripe. After earning his MBA, he started a business to teach his shooting technique, which led directly to his being hired as a shooting coach and then an assistant coach in the NBA. He then stepped away from coaching to work as a vice president at a fledgling health care technology firm, which is now reported to be worth well over $100 million. Then he married a supermodel.

Earlier this year, Enfield came to national prominence by coaching epically obscure Florida Gulf Coast University to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA basketball tournament in its first-ever appearance. It was the first time in the history of March Madness that a 15th seed had made it that far, instantly turning Enfield’s team into one of NCAA basketball’s greatest Cinderella stories. It didn’t hurt that his up-tempo coaching style, dubbed “Dunk City,” made for YouTube compilation reels reminiscent of a game of NBA Jam.

When Enfield signed a six-year, $1.55 million per season contract to take over as the University of Southern California’s head basketball coach in April, it was only the latest in a series of successful second acts to a career that culminated in that NCAA tournament run. The first of those reinventions came in 2000 when he decided to quit assistant coaching in the NBA and join the startup software firm TractManager as a vice president. “He was involved in the early stages of building all the little building blocks of the company,” TractManager CEO Tom Rizk told Sports Illustrated, describing Enfield’s role at the company, which he left in 2006. “He mentored a lot of young people in those six years and it was very cool to see the impact he could have on them.''

Enfield is demure when asked about what he did at TractManager, which sells contract-management software to health care institutions. He says he doesn’t want to speak too much about what is still a privately held company. Also, he doesn’t like how his work there has been portrayed in previous press accounts, which initially misidentified him as the company’s co-founder. He repeatedly states that he was just one small part of a very committed group of “teammates” and not the reason for the company’s success.

Still, Enfield concedes that he “wore a lot of hats” at the company, including dipping his toes into operations, sales, strategic planning, management, marketing, and technology. “Looking back, it was the best decision I’ve ever made as far as my career goes,” Enfield says. “When you’re part of a startup company that is not profitable, and you have to raise money to pay the monthly bills, you just kind of roll your sleeves up and you do whatever’s necessary. No job is too small.”

Even when he was working full time as vice president at TractManager, though, he always kept one hand on the roundball. On weekends and vacation days, he worked as a part-time “shot doctor,” running shooting camps and clinics for kids, or working individually with NBA players. “Andy is one of the greatest shooters ever and he is an even better shooting coach," reads a typical testimonial, from former Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning on the website for Enfield’s old basketball company, All Net Shooting.

In 2006, Enfield returned full time to his first love, basketball, taking a job as an assistant coach at Florida State University. Enfield went into the college game because he says being on a college campus is a much better situation for raising a family than the NBA lifestyle. (He and his wife, Amanda, now have three kids.) Within five years, he was the head coach at Florida Gulf Coast University, a school that was so unknown at the time that recruits would confuse it with Gulf Coast Community College. In only his second season with the school, the team had its breakout tournament run, after having lost 20 games or more in four straight seasons prior to his arrival.

Enfield says that his work at TractManager was the ultimate preparation for becoming a successful head basketball coach in the NCAA. He says that being a head coach is like being the CEO of a company—and although he has used this line with other reporters, it seems like a genuine coaching philosophy.

At a company, “you might have bad days or bad months or bad quarters or bad years. … In your basketball program at the college level, you might not sign the recruit that you just spent a year and a half recruiting. … [But] you just have to be committed to the end goal and work every day and every week to get there,” he says. “If you have committed people that are all working on the same page, you’re able to withstand the downtimes and the failures and eventually get to where you want to be.”

Enfield’s players have also described his coaching style as businesslike. "When we had practices, most times they were just over two hours long," Florida Gulf Coast forward Chase Fieler told the Los Angeles Times when Enfield was hired at USC. "Film was brief, too. Very efficient." For comparison’s sake, the NCAA allows coaches to run practices as long as four hours per day and 20 hours per week.

The clearest similarity between being a college coach and running a business, as Enfield sees it, is the necessity of building a marketable brand. In the business world, you need to create a positive image of your product for obvious reasons: to sell it. In college basketball, you have to sell your program to potential recruits. In the case of Florida Gulf Coast, Enfield’s sales pitch was his team’s fun, highlight-reel-friendly style of play. At USC, he has the advantages of a school with a top-flight academic program, a huge alumni base, national recruiting range, a great sports tradition, and a name that doesn’t cause people to pause and ask, “Where?”

But USC is also a program that has only made one more Sweet 16 appearance in the last 50 years than FGCU had in two years of tournament eligibility. In order for his latest act to be as successful as his previous ones, Enfield is going to have to reinvent USC’s basketball program around his run-and-gun style. He’s also going to have to come up with another name for that style after FGCU’s sporting director took exception to USC trying to steal away the catchphrase “Dunk City” along with its head coach.

Fortunately, the Trojans are still going to play the Enfield game and will also have Enfield’s enviable marketing talents. Soon after he was hired, Enfield was invited on to the Tonight Show, and he promised Jay Leno that USC was going to be bringing Showtime back to Los Angeles.

If Enfield’s achievements at TractManager and Florida Gulf Coast are any indication, you shouldn’t bet against it.

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