Coach Marty Rowe reaches 500-win milestone
The Lady Flames’ victory over Delta State University on Saturday, Feb. 17, marked the 500th win in Marty Rowe’s basketball coaching career. The team’s match against Shorter University on Feb. 22 added another to the total, racking up 370 wins for Coach Rowe since his first year at Lee in 2004. This success, according to the coaching staff and players, is due largely to Rowe’s consistent building of culture and ability to draw out the best in those around him.
Coach Rowe procured his first head coach position in 1998 at Brescia University in Kentucky, where he led the women’s basketball team for six years. During his time at Brescia, the team’s record rose steadily, improving nearly every season until they worked up to the Fab Four in the NAIA. Coach Rowe left the school with a record of 131-65, and his current Lee University record of 370-93 exceeds the winning percentage of his career at Brescia by over 13 percent.
Before Coach Rowe came to Lee in 2004, he heard about the head coach opening through two fellow coaches who suggested he would be perfect for the job. Though Rowe had never heard of Cleveland, Tennessee—let alone Lee University—upon his arrival, he saw a vision for the school sparked by President Paul Conn’s progressive fulfillment of his own vision, explaining that this was the reason he gravitated towards Lee.
“When I came down here, we were still doing a lot of building. Obviously, Dr. Conn is dynamic in what he’s done as far as our campus and everything. But at the time, we were still growing, and you could see the work that he was doing,” Rowe said. “We weren’t very good on the women’s side before, so you just saw a potential for it to be something special just because of the type of leadership we have at our school—starting with Dr. Conn and Darlia and then all the way through our administration and our athletic department.”
Despite the team’s condition prior to Coach Rowe’s arrival, his coaching quickly allowed the team to blossom, which is reflected in his achievement of the Russell Athletic/WBCA NAIA Coach of the Year during his second year at Lee. Coach Rowe explained that he tried to develop a culture within the team that would contribute to their success.
“Consistency has been very, very important to us ever since we got here,” Rowe said. “Building a strong culture of winning, building a strong culture of character, recruiting high-character people, good students, people that want to be here, people that understand the culture of our school and our university is really important—and you can win with those types of people.”
Alumna Christina Johnson, who played on the team from 2012 to 2016, attested to the consistency of Coach Rowe’s culture despite the constant turnover of players in college sports. She explained the players' best efforts were crucial to the team’s success and advancement, which is reflected in the coach’s approach to every season.
“The environment was different with every team, but the philosophy was the same,” Johnson said. “Coach Rowe believed that whatever we did in the preseason and postseason dictated how well we did in the season. So if we approached workouts or practices in the preseason with a lackadaisical attitude, our season would be mediocre because we didn't put in the necessary work.”
The work ethic Coach Rowe established within the team paid off, as Lee University was included in NCAA Division II in 2013. They ended their first season at the top of the Gulf South Conference (GSC), though they were not yet eligible for postseason because of their provisional status. However, the team has consistently remained a top competitor, advancing as far as the semifinals in the GSC Tournament the last two years and preparing for their tournament run this year as well.
Coach Rowe described the main challenges of this switch to Division II play as scoping out the competition and balancing academics with the suddenly more demanding sports schedule. He explained that the shift enhanced the team’s focus. These challenges were echoed by former player Christina Johnson, who related the challenges of opposing unfamiliar competitors and engaging in the aspects of life outside of basketball. Johnson concluded that her involvement in the sport taught her time management and perseverance.
Beyond building a culture of daily improvement and determination, Coach Rowe is also praised for his cultivation of the talent within individual players. Jan Spangler, who played for the team from 2004 to 2009 and is now in her seventh year as assistant coach, draws on her experience with Coach Rowe to emphasize this point.
“I am always impressed with his ability to see the strengths and weaknesses of players and push them to reach their potential and beyond,” Spangler said. “He is constantly pushing those around him to be better, and I continue to feel that even as a coach.”
Senior player Erin Walsh adds to this commendation, describing Rowe’s versatility as a coach and his investment in understanding each member of the team.
“He’s good at knowing how he can get the best out of each person…so some people he does push harder or yell out more, but just knowing that they can take it,” Walsh said. “Other people he has to coach differently, but I think he does a good job at knowing each player and doing what’s best for them."
This effort is apparent in the dynamics of the team. Former player Rachel Burdette (née Lockhart) reminisced on the community of the team and coaching staff, noting the nurturing roles of Coach Rowe and his wife along with the hospitality of assistant coach Kelly Kiser and his wife.
“Family is the best word to describe it,” Burdette said. “From cookouts at the Rowe’s to Christmas parties at the Kiser’s, you always feel you have a family away from home.”
Coach Rowe claimed that, prior to his start at Brescia University, he would never have pictured himself coaching for 20 years. But after passing the 500-win mark, he said he doesn't have any goals moving forward in his coaching career.
“I’m glad we won 501,” Coach Rowe said. “If I start to have personal goals, that interferes with what we’re trying to do. Just like our players, we just want to continue to improve. I want to be a better coach tomorrow than I was today.”
Coach Rowe’s influence has obviously made an impact, whether through his fostering of a hard-working culture or through his development of athletes’ natural abilities. His coaching style has allowed for the steady rise of the Lady Flames’ performance, and the team will have a chance to further showcase their improvement in the GSC Tournament.
“He not only coached me as a player; he continues to ‘coach’ me as an assistant coach,” Coach Spangler said. “I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to grow and continue to learn from someone who has had so much success on the court while building a program with such a strong culture.”