Michael Motta and Luke Simons
Season 6 - Episode 643
Baylor’s men’s and women’s basketball teams enter a new season among the nation’s top 20 teams, lofty rankings that have become the norm for both. The months ahead bring additional anticipation with the opening of Paul and Alejandra Foster Pavilion. What goes into making sure the programs run smoothly? Michael Motta, Assistant Athletic Director for Basketball Operations for Women’s Basketball, and Luke Simons, Director of Operations with Men’s Basketball, know better than anyone. In this Baylor Connections, they take listeners behind the scenes in travel, planning, working alongside coaches Nicki Collen and Scott Drew and more.
Derek Smith:Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors and more discussing important topics in higher education, research, and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and today we are talking Baylor basketball. As the new season is nearly underway, we're visiting with Michael Motta and Luke Simons. Motta and Simons lead basketball operations efforts for Baylor's men's and women's basketball programs. Motta begins his third season as assistant athletic director for basketball operations for women's basketball, working alongside Coach Nicki Collen. Simons enters his second season as director of basketball operations with men's basketball on Coach Scott Drew's staff. Baylor's basketball programs are preparing for a unique season in 2023-2024 as they'll begin at the Ferrell Center before moving to the brand new Paul and Alejandra Foster Pavilion in January. The women open the season November 6th, home against Southern, the men the next day, November 7th against Auburn in South Dakota. It's a busy time, and guys, I know how busy you are this time of year. Really appreciate you taking the time to join us. Michael and Luke, thanks so much for coming on the program today.
Luke Simons:Thank you, Derek. Happy to be here.
Michael Motta:Thanks for having us, Derek.
Derek Smith:Great to have you here. And Michael, let's start with you. If we were to take a peek over your shoulder and look at your Outlook calendar these days, what are just a few of the things we might see on it?
Michael Motta:It really just depends on what day of the week it is. Currently, if you look at my office, it looks like an equipment room. There's just boxes of shoes and gear that we need to give out, but really it just depends on the day. The great thing is we have our hand in everything that is going on with our program. Right now gearing up for a big official visit this weekend, but mainly working on fundraising, team travel, getting our equipment organized for the season. So it's a little bit of everything, which makes the job really fun. We're not always doing the same thing. So that's kind of what keeps us on our toes, I think.
Derek Smith:What about you, Luke? How similar?
Luke Simons:Very similar. I think a lot of right now is preparing as much as you possibly can before the season begins when you know there are going to be last minute changes. There are going to be things that have to be taken care of at the last second, but as much of that as you can get done now, it's just going to make you that much more effective at your role once we're multiple road games in two weeks and that kind of stuff. So again, getting all the gear out that the guys are going to need for the season. We have a couple cold weather games this year, so we're getting the guys, the coats and such that they'll hopefully only wear two or three times this year. Checking a lot of the boxes with just making sure you're involving people in the program before it really gets busy with having donors, alumni, different folks coming in. We've got a lot of scouts that attend our practice. So trying to keep everything running before we get to the fun part when the games start.
Derek Smith:Well, Michael and Luke, I've seen how much, we'll just call it craziness you all have to deal with as you deal with travel and a large group of people and orchestrating that things are where they need to be where. So let's try and immerse people in that just a little bit. Luke, I'll start with you and then Michael. Director of operations. Just first of all, how would you describe that role to people who aren't familiar and then follow it up with who is a good director of ops? What qualities does it take to meet all these things you're describing?
Luke Simons:Certainly, yeah. Sort of the tongue-in-cheek job description or a way to help people understand what we do is when we do our job well, nobody knows, but when we mess something up, everyone is going to know. That could be things like at the end of every season, you're going to have some of those sort of clickbait stories of such and such a team forgot their uniforms and had to wear their practice jerseys or something happened with a plane or with a hotel, that kind of thing. So if we're really doing our job at a high level, then things run smoothly and nobody really notices. But every once in a while you mess up and unfortunately you may end up on Twitter or ESPN. I think a good director of ops is someone who can operate at the expectation level of the program or the head coach which means we're no different or better than anyone else, but our sort of operational tempo is probably a lot different than a normal group of people walking into a hotel or walking into an airport or into a restaurant. So helping the outside vendors and the people outside the program that you work with understand the expectations that we're expected to operate at and getting that job done well without burning bridges with the Marriott and American Airlines and Olive Garden and all those places.
Derek Smith:What about you, Michael?
Michael Motta:Yeah. I mean, Luke kind of hit it on the head there, but I think describing the role, you really have to be a problem solver. There's a lot of things that come up that because there's so many people involved in your program, something may come up at some point and you just need to have solutions. I know Scott and Nicki, they probably like to have the answers when you're presenting a problem or a solution when you're presenting a problem. So I think to be great in this role, you got to be ready to change and divert and to figure out a solution to a problem that arises. We work in athletics. There's a lot going on. There's a lot to manage, but as long as you can be a problem solver, you're going to be really good in this role and a great communicator. Like Luke said, we're dealing with a lot of people that touch our program, whether it's donors or, excuse me, different companies or vendors. So you got to be a great communicator as well.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We're visiting with Michael Motta, director of ops for Baylor Women's Basketball, and Luke Simons his counterpart with the men. And before we move on, I want to ask you about... You're working with coaches here in just a little bit because I know a lot of people are going to be interested in that. But before I do that, we're talking about a lot of things in season, but you do a lot of things out of season two. If we're looking at the job description, what are a few things we would see beyond what we've discussed, Michael, I'll start with you, that are part of your purview as you prepare for a season?
Michael Motta:Yeah. The great thing about being here at Baylor is when I spoke with Nicki, when I got the job, she was like, "Oh, you're going to have an assistant director of ops. Your job is going to be a little bit easier. You can focus on different things." But the joke is she forgot to mention we were going on a foreign tour and also that we have Foster Pavilion being built, which is incredible. So coming to a place where we just have a lot of incredible things to work on. So Foster has taken up a lot of time. Our foreign tour this past summer has really taken up a lot of my time out of season, but it's kind of like Christmas, right? Once Santa is done with Christmas, he starts all over again. So for director of ops, once the season is over, we're already planning for next season. So I'm already working on our game schedule for next season, even though this season hasn't even started yet. So there's things that keep us on our toes all the time, and like Luke said, we're thinking about things seven days, 14 days, one month, two month, three months, a year in advance. And so for me, it's just constantly restarting your roles all over again, which is great because it's new year, new opportunities, different challenges. So that's what we do out of season, if that makes sense.
Derek Smith:And through it all, you're working with the coaches. I imagine this is a topic that I'm sure a lot of people are interested. I don't know how many questions you get from people, but what's it like working with Coach Nicki and Coach Drew? So look, I'll start with you. A lot of us who have been around Baylor for a while have seen Coach Drew and got to know him over the course of the last 20 years and all he's done at Baylor, building the program, leading it to a national title. But in just two years, you know him in a different way than we do. Very broad question, but what's it like working with Coach Drew?
Luke Simons:Well, I was blessed to have the opportunity to work for Bryce Drew, coach's younger brother at both Valparaiso and Vanderbilt. And every fall we would scrimmage Baylor leading up to the start of the regular season. So I had a lot of experience just being around Coach Drew and just being around the Baylor program. John Jacobs is one of my closest friends. He was actually my wife's youth pastor growing up. He set us up and actually performed our wedding. I worked for Athletes in Action for several years and took several Baylor players and staff members overseas on missions trips. So when Coach Scott Drew first called me about the role here, I felt like I had a pretty good understanding of what the foundation of Baylor basketball is about. We had the opportunity when I moved from College of Charleston to Boston College with Earl Grant, we hired Matt Gray who was a former GA here at Baylor as our video coordinator at Boston College. So again, just a lot of sort of external connections there. But working for Scott Drew and Bryce Drew is very similar. You can tell that they learned a lot of their coaching style from the same person, which is their father.
Derek Smith:Makes sense.
Luke Simons:But I think maybe the best quality of both of those men is that they are the exact same person every day. We lost three games in a row to start the big 12 season last year. And there was frustration, and frankly, I think there was some righteous anger in us having to get some stuff right. But I know that there are people that don't have the blessing of getting to work for someone who is as grounded as Coach Drew is and who operates out of his same set of beliefs, whether after win and after loss in stressful times and great times. I know I'm enormously blessed.
Derek Smith:What are some things you've learned? In some ways, it's almost like you're a point guard or a quarterback trying to set the people up around you to get where they need to be and do it well. Does Coach Drew have any quirks or what are some things you've learned about what he needs from you to do the things he needs to do?
Luke Simons:Coffee is the most important thing on a road trip. It doesn't matter if it's 3:00 PM when we land, 11:00 PM when we land, when we step into that meeting room, there needs to be some hot coffee. Now, I will say he loves coffee, but he does not have a refined or high maintenance palette.
Luke Simons:As long as it is hot black coffee, he doesn't care where it's from, what it tastes like. He just wants that caffeine boost. So I learned that pretty quickly last year. And then other than that, he's going to make it a hundred percent about the players. So once I learned what is inbounds and out of bounds as far as his broad parameters, I learned pretty much after that to don't ask him, just go ask the players. Because his answer is going to be, "Well, what do the players want?" When you get to work in a program where it's players first and you know that you're going to keep them happy, that's going to make your job a lot easier.
Derek Smith:That's great. No, thank you for sharing that, Luke. Good insights there. Now, Michael, I want to ask you some of these same questions about working with Coach Nicki. She's about to start her third year here, as are you, but you've known her before that as well. Take us inside what it's like working for and with Coach Nicki and what you enjoy about that.
Michael Motta:Definitely I've known Nicki for a few years just from our WNBA connections, but really blessed when she called and asked me if I wanted to join her here. Actually, small story, I actually interviewed with her in Atlanta when she was the head coach of the Atlanta Dream, and it didn't end up working out, but I'm grateful for that because it ended up working out a couple months later when she got the Baylor head coaching job. But Nicki is just a genuine person. What you see is what you get. Derek, you've traveled with us, she is who she is, and I absolutely love that about her. She's going to tell you how she feels and she's not going to say something that she doesn't believe in. I just think that's really genuine when you're trying to learn from someone. She's very similar to Scott, she's player driven. She's also very staff driven. She's going to try and do anything that she can to make sure our staff is growing and that we're learning and that we're enjoying Baylor and Waco. That's what's great about her. She's so selfless. I would say one quirk about her though is that she loves information. You need to get her all the calendars, you need to get her all the information. She's not going to make a decision unless she has all the facts presented in front of her, whether that's statistics from games or anything from practices to game scheduling, we worry... Not worry a lot. We focus a lot on the net and trying to schedule quality opponents. We just read into things a lot more than probably some other staffs might, which is a great thing because we're going to be prepared and setting different schedules or practice plans or whatever it may be. But yeah, I just think it's easy to work for someone that's very genuine and I'm very thankful that she is.
Derek Smith:Absolutely, for sure. And you mentioned the information side. Maybe not everyone knows what she's an engineering major in college? Is that that engineering side coming out in different ways still?
Michael Motta:For sure, for sure. But actually fun fact, if she ever retires from coaching basketball, she wants to open a coffee shop. So she definitely, like Coach Scott Drew has an affinity for coffee. So maybe a little bit more refined palette than Coach Drew.
Michael Motta:But yeah.
Derek Smith:You're not going to sneak over to the gas station at 11:00 PM, the coffee has been there all day.
Michael Motta:Although our men have a fancier coffee machine in their offices and they don't let us live it down, so [inaudible 00:14:57] over to their office to make coffee.
Derek Smith:That's good stuff. Good coffee talk here on Baylor Connections as we visit with Michael Motta and Luke Simons. So as we're talking right now, probably no more than about 50 or 60 yards from where I'm sitting is the Paul and Alejandra Foster Pavilion, and pretty soon that's going to be where you guys call home along with the teams. So I'm sure there's been teams that have started in one stadium and finished the year in another, but I really don't remember a lot of those over the course of the year. So it's a unique challenge that you both get. Michael, continue with you and then we'll go back to Luke on this. What's that like? I mean, obviously it's exciting. You guys just have to plan around it.
Michael Motta:Yeah. It's going to take our logistics to the next level and I'm thankful for Luke. I feel like he has a little bit more experience than me in some of these areas. So we actually just did an operations walkthrough at Foster either a week or week and a half ago and actually walk through the arena and walk through our spaces that we're going to have available to us and really try to put our VR goggles on and see what the vision is going to be and see all the things that can arise. One thing that we talked about is where is our visiting team going to walk? Where are the entrances to the arena because it's not going to be fully done yet from our locker room space. Is there a place our coaches can meet at halftime? So things that we have to think about that our coaching staff won't think about. So it's really becoming more of a reality that we'll get in there in the next two months, but I've never been a part of a brand new building opening, so it's just really exciting as we're going through the process and just trying to figure out how we're going to plan for it. I think that's probably going to cause a little bit more stress for Luke and myself and we have to just be creative about it, but we're excited at least to get in there this year.
Derek Smith:Luke, have you've been part of a new building before?
Luke Simons:I'm trying to think. So I came here last season from Boston College. We were in the midst of remodeling our practice gym and adding on some other facilities and such. And so practice was scheduled to happen actually in the rec center for the first half of the season. I was fortunate enough to be able to avoid all of that by getting the offer the job here, but I went through all the logistics and the pre-planning, just didn't have to be part of the execution. But really one of the biggest differences for me in this role, Derek, I've been a part of basically half of my career, is helping a head coach take over new programs. So Bryce Drew brought me from Valparaiso to Vanderbilt with him. Earl Grant brought me from College of Charleston to Boston College. And the biggest difference here is Scott Drew has been here for 21 years. Before there was a practice facility attached to the Ferrell Center. Before there were all these different things. And so when you're starting a new program with the head coach, you can maybe help set things up to your advantage, get things done in a certain way that you know the outside vendors are going to be happy with and that kind of stuff. There's nothing that happens here that isn't just exactly the way that Coach Drew has learned is going to be the best way to do it over the last 20 years. And probably the biggest hurdle is going to be pregame meals. Second semester won't happen in stone attached to the Ferrell Center, and our offices won't be on the concourse level of the Foster Pavilion. The offices won't be ready yet in second semester of next year. So understanding it's a home game and our fans are going to be there and every game is going to be sold out. And they're going to give us an incredible advantage. But some of the just tempo of a normal game day is going to be a little bit different.
Derek Smith:We're winding down here and I want to ask you, given an opportunity, Michael mentioned an assistant earlier, and I know who that is, but is there anyone, groups of people or individuals that as we talk about director of ops that to close out you want to give a shout-out to for the way that you're able to lean on them to do what you've just described for the last 20 minutes or so, Luke?
Luke Simons:Certainly. With us, the first that comes to mind is our GA's and managers. I will argue with anyone that wants to that we have the best group of GA's and managers in the country. So much so that when Coach Drew first called me about the role and we were discussing it, he sent me a graphic of all of the GA's and managers who have come through Baylor basketball and then gone on to work in the NBA, NCAA, be an agent, whatever impressive role that they moved into from their time at Baylor. And that's not normal. I tell our guys that here all the time, that most head coaches don't use their graduate assistants and student managers as a recruiting tool, but you guys are part of such a legacy here in an elite group. I think it's really telling that Davion Mitchell had multiple GA's in the green room with him when he got drafted. And our GA's go on to do great things from here. Truly, I don't know how much I would sleep or how much I would see my family if we didn't have such a great crew of them. And then I don't want to even intimate that she's an assistant here. I mean, she keeps things running, but the opportunity to have Karen Craig right outside of my office is her desk, and the fact that she's been here prior to Coach Drew's arrival and has been here every day of his tenure, and helps me navigate some of the simplest things that nobody else thinks about because they've all been here so long, all the way up to the very detailed and larger topics that she helps me make sure that we're getting taken care of.
Derek Smith:That's great. What about you, Michael?
Michael Motta:Yeah. As I mentioned, Micah, who's my assistant director of ops, she helps me keep the trains on the tracks here. But like Luke said, our GA's and managers, this is the first year that we can have graduate assistants or graduate managers, whatever title we want to give them. It's kind of like our own team. So our coaches have our basketball team, me and Luke have our GA's and managers, and for us, that's 10 right there that work their butts off to make sure that we're going in the right direction. So we can't do our job without them. I really try to make sure that we take care of them as much as we can because again, they help keep us in the right direction.
Derek Smith:Great crews, for sure. Well, we appreciate y'all. Thanks for coming on and taking the time during a busy stretch.
Michael Motta:Thanks, Derek.
Luke Simons:Thanks, Derek. I don't know if you heard, but the horn just went off there. We're starting practice.
Derek Smith:All right. It's about that time. Well, thank you guys very much. Michael Motta and Luke Simons from Baylor women's and men's basketball programs, respectively shared about their jobs as director of basketball operations for the men's and women's program here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this in other programs online, baylor.edu/connections and you can subscribe on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.