Brian Dutcher takes his place among the best coaches in America

Brian Dutcher directs the Aztecs against FAU. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Spread the love
Brian Dutcher walks onto the court before SDSU plays FAU. (Don De Mars/EVT)

On the biggest stage in the Final Four, the nation is learning what Aztec fans have known for a long time. Brian Dutcher is one of the best basketball coaches in America.

SDSU is playing on Monday because of the leadership of the Aztecs’ head coach. Most teams would have folded after falling behind by 14 in the second half. SDSU did not because they copied their unflappable leader.

Dutcher orchestrated the end of the game masterfully. Down one with 36 seconds left in the game. He chose not to foul when most in his shoes would have tried to extend the game. Then, with one timeout left, he let Lamont Butler win the game for the Aztecs. Always deferential, Dutcher refused to take any credit.

“Just a feel,” Dutcher said when asked about that final decision. “I thought we’d get the ball somewhere around seven seconds if we were lucky. … I always say, ‘March is for players, not for coaches.’ Lamont made a play and made an old coach look good.”

Dutcher’s tactical and organizational genius went far beyond that final play. Down the stretch, he was subbing in Darrion Trammell on offense and replacing him with Lamont Butler on defense. Yet, it was the defensive point guard that he gave the keys to with the game on the line.

On the most important defensive possession of the year, he played Nathan Mensah, Keshad Johnson, and Aguek Arop on the court together. Even with that group’s limited outside shooting, he elected to run with them on the final play.

Last week against Alabama, Matt Bradley was struggling on offense, and Dutcher still put the ball in his hand late in the game. Bradley delivered. Two days later, Bradley had another challenging game, but this time, Dutcher kept his best player on the bench. It was two near identical situations, and SDSU’s head coach handled them differently.

The SDSU assistant coaches are very vocal. Regularly, the coaches are getting out of their seats to yell commands at their team. AT NRG stadium, the bench is underneath the court, making it harder to get players’ attention. (Don De Mars / EVT).

Unique Leader

Frank Sinatra famously sang “I did it my way.” That song would be an apt soundtrack to SDSU’s season. Dutcher is one of the few head coaches who actually give his assistants power. He is the rare leader who is unafraid of a subordinate’s success.

On Friday’s open practice, he milled around the court while Dave Velasquez and Chris Acker put the team through paces. In practice during the season, it was no different. Dutcher pulls individual players to the side, coaches them privately, and occasionally interjects and takes command when needed.

When SDSU fell in love with prized recruit Miles Heide, Dutcher took the lead role as the primary recruiter even though most in his position act as a closer in recruiting and lean on their assistants to do the tedious work of attending AAU games across the country.

What makes Dutcher great is he knows his strengths and is unafraid to maximize those, no matter how it might look to outsiders. He possesses immense strength and self-confidence. Most coaches, especially in the days of analytics, follow the book and not their instincts.

Dutcher gives Lamont Butler a five as he exits the game against FAU (Don De Mars/EVT)


His approach is perfect for SDSU. The Aztecs are not a mid-major, but they are not blue blood either. To win at the level they are currently at, they have to be better in ways that make them unique. Dutcher’s calling card for the Aztecs is defense. Unlike most programs, he teaches defense at a professional level. Most coaches sacrifice advanced techniques because college players are only on campus a few years.

“He (Dutcher) said from day one, ‘if you want to play as a freshman, you need to be able to defend,’” Lamont Butler said this week. “That’s one of the things I’ve always been good at, so I took that challenge and was ready for it. It’s just credit to the culture here.”

I'd like this amount to  

The Aztecs’ defense is the talk of the Final Four, but before anyone knew they had this potential, Dutcher knew. In December, there was a series of breaks between games. SDSU’s staff used that pause as the first opportunity to do an extensive self-scouting of their team. Emerging from that break, Dutcher was asked what he learned, “We are an elite defensive team,” was his reply.

Micah Parrish encourages Matt Bradley during his hot start (Don De Mars/EVT)

Nothing the Aztecs had done to that point would have backed up his assertion. SDSU was a good defensive team but not elite. There were brief times this year when their offensive metrics were better than their defensive. Yet, Dutcher doubled down on that side of the ball, knowing the Aztecs’ potential lay there.


Among the more remarkable aspects of the Aztecs is their unshakeable belief in how good they could be. To a man, every player spoke about going to the Final Four and winning a national championship in the preseason. Playing in the final college basketball game of the 2022-2023 season shines a light on where that came from.

“I knew what this team was capable of; the coaches knew what this team was capable of,” Micah Parrish said from SDSU’s locker room following Saturday’s win. “I kind of figured this would happen. We’re not surprised that we’re in a Final Four. I’m just happy we get to show the world who we are. I’m blessed for the opportunity, really.”

If ever there was a time when that belief could have shattered, it was the 14:56 mark of the second half against FAU. SDSU trailed by seven at the half and could do nothing to stop the Owls. Whatever half-time adjustments were made, they were not working.

The game was unraveling. Down nine, Parrish committed a flagrant foul. Nathan Mensah fouled on a three-point attempt. Following Alijah Martin’s five free throws, SDSU trailed by 14.

Brian Dutcher encourages the Aztecs against FAU. (Don De Mars/EVT)

How did they respond? Dutcher has instilled great belief in this group.


Dutcher’s influence has built an amazing team. Some of the highest praise from players and coaches is reserved for the scout team. Jared Barnett, Cade Alger, Triston and Tyler Broughton, and Cam Lawin are valued members of the Aztecs. When the game was on the line against the Owls, the walk-ons contributed.

“Just keeping everyone’s head in the game,” Tyler Broughton said postgame. “We know that the only thing that’s going to beat us is ourselves. We try to stay grounded. We try to stay connected. Just keeping that team mentality.”

Both Broughtons described postgame how frequently Butler has hit that same shot as the game-winner over them in practice. They felt pride to see their contribution in what their teammate accomplished on the court in front of the nation. Their effort is directly correlated to how Dutcher runs his program.

“All the recognition that we don’t receive goes out the door,” Triston Broughton said, “We’re doing what we need to do to win. Behind the scenes, with the attention or not, this is what we all dream of. … we’ve told each other as a team this is what we’re going to do.”

San Diego State is headed to the National Title Game because Dutcher decided to coach under Steve Fisher for 18 years as an assistant coach with the Aztecs. He went off-script and turned down multiple head coaching opportunities to stay in America’s Finest City.

Beginning in 1999, he helped build the Aztecs into what they are this week in Houston. In doing so, his own coaching reputation suffered. Now, 24 years later, no one can deny:

Brian Dutcher is one of the best coaches in America.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *