Big-time coaches help GCU ascend to big-time athletics

Dan Majerle, a former Phoenix Suns player and assistant coach, is now the head coach of the soon-to-be Division I Antelopes. (Photo by Zuriel Loving/Cronkite News)

Josh Braun signed on with Grand Canyon University’s basketball program for one reason: Dan Majerle, the former Phoenix Suns star and a local legend now coaching the Antelopes.

“Coach is a passionate dude,” Braun said. “He loves the game and loves what he does and knows it so dang well. We’ve learned a lot from him and his coaching style.”

Majerle, who played 14 years in the NBA, joined GCU three years ago when the school began its four-year transition to NCAA Division I.

But he’s not the only coach at GCU with experience playing and coaching at the highest levels of their respective sports.

The school hired Schellas Hyndman last year as the head coach for men’s soccer and extended the contract of baseball coach Andy Stankiewicz last May.

Stankiewicz spent 16 years in professional baseball, serving in the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees minor-league operations and playing parts of seven seasons in the majors, including playing in the Diamondback inaugural season in 1998. He also worked as an assistant to former Arizona State coach Pat Murphy, helping the Sun Devils to two berths in the College World Series.

“I knew when we interviewed him that he was going to be a great recruiter,” said Brian Mueller, GCU’s president and CEO. “He cares about kids, he cares about family. I knew that would come through in the recruitment process. He’s doing an unbelievable job.”

Hyndman most recently coached FC Dallas of Major League Soccer, taking the club to the MLS Cup Final in 2010, when he was named MLS Coach of the Year.

Hyndman played one year of professional soccer before launching a college coaching career at Eastern Illinois and Southern Methodist universities, where his teams reached the postseason 29 times in 31 seasons.

Hyndman said he came to Grand Canyon because of the support the school has for soccer.

“And the brand-new soccer stadium had a lot to do with it,” Hyndman said of the on-campus stadium scheduled to open in April that is designed to hold as many as 6,000 fans.

Hyndman has high expectations for the soccer program.

“I would like to take this team to the NCAA playoffs,” he said.

Hyndman knows what it takes. He’s been there before.

“The important thing is to know where you want to go,” Hyndman said. “I think I have the experience to know where I want to go.”

The men’s soccer team finished 7-10 in Hyndman’s first season despite a quick 6-1 start. A lack of depth led to a weak finish.

“When we started getting injuries, unfortunately they were all defenders,” he said. “And that’s when you give up your goals.”

Majerle is the most high-profile hire GCU has made.

He left the Suns coaching staff when the team elevated Lindsey Hunter to interim head coach four years ago to replace Alvin Gentry.

Not long after that, Mueller spotted Majerle in the stands watching the Antelopes play. He decided to reach out to former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo, who had been active with GCU and for whom the GCU business school is now named.

“He started showing up and sitting in the front row of our games,” said Mueller, “So I called Mr. Colangelo and said, ‘Does he have a resume in his back pocket? Is he interested in coming here?’ So Mr. Colangelo called him and he said yes he would be very interested.”

Mueller knew from the moment Majerle started his interview he would be the perfect fit, especially with five years of coaching experience and 14 years as a player in the NBA.

“I could tell how he was talking about working with kids and developing kids and what his thoughts were about building a program,” Mueller said. “I really believed he would find more satisfaction coaching college kids. Those kids would run through the wall for him.”

The Antelopes enter the final weekend of the regular season 24-6, tied for second in the Western Athletic Conference. But they will not be eligible to play in the NCAA Tournament until the 2017-18 season, when they have finished their four-year transition to Division I.

Majerle hopes to get the Antelopes there as soon as possible once they become eligible.

“He’s a competitor,” said Braun. “He doesn’t care if it’s our first year in Division I or our second or our third. It doesn’t matter to him how long we’ve been in the league. He wants to win right away and we appreciate that.”

Majerle’s nephew, Ryan, is now a guard for the ‘Lopes who said he transferred to Grand Canyon because his uncle is “very competitive, very intense. The biggest thing he brings to us is his intensity and energy every single day.”

Dan Majerle was a driven as a player. Now as a coach, he drives to deliver a top-25 program.

“That’s what drives me every day when I get up, and when we practice, and when we go hard,” he said. “It’s what’s going to happen a couple years from now.

“So, we stay focused on that and we just get after it.”