Steely Stein

University of Southern Indiana head women’s basketball coach Rick Stein has written a 25-year success story.

Editor’s Note: This is an extended version of the article published in the June/July 2024 issue of Evansville Business.

Rick Stein seemingly bleeds University of Southern Indiana red, white, and blue. At least that’s the impression of those around him.

“They’ll probably bury him under the (Screaming Eagles) arena,” jokes Randa Gatling, Stein’s long-time USI women’s basketball assistant.

He put an exclamation mark on his 25th season as head coach in March, guiding the Eagles to Ohio Valley Conference regular-season and tournament championships in their second year in NCAA Division I. This winter, Stein will return four starters from a team that finished 25-7 overall and 17-1 in the OVC.

“You handle success like you handle failure, with a chip on your shoulder,” Stein says.

Burning with intensity, Stein can remember a stat from years ago that leaves Gatling’s mouth agape. But leadership is his primary attribute, she says.

Photo provided by the University of Southern Indiana/Elizabeth Randolph

“Players trust him, and his knowledge of x’s and o’s, numbers, and history (is staggering),” Gatling says. “You wonder, how did he remember that? He’s very prepared for any and everything.”

USI athletics director Jon Mark Hall agrees that Stein is a numbers cruncher.

“He gets the maximum use out of his scholarship budget and operating budget,” Hall says. “He’s super efficient.”

Stein has posted a career head coaching record of 448–261, all at USI. He was named the 2024 OVC Coach of the Year and was a three-time Great Lakes Valley Conference Coach of the Year when USI was in Division II.

In the second year of a four-year reclassification, the Eagles were ineligible for the NCAA tournament. They accepted a bid to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament and defeated the University of Illinois Chicago before losing to Wisconsin, both at home. (The WNIT is governed separately from the NCAA-sanctioned men’s NIT.)

USI won the OVC tournament title after not even qualifying in its first season of Division I.

“Mainly it was because we definitely had a chip on our shoulder,” says Addy Blackwell, who started all 32 games at guard. “The fact that the conference tournament was in our backyard, at the Ford Center in Evansville, and we didn’t qualify, was a slap in the face. That was definitely a motivator.”

Hall says Stein has the respect of his colleagues in the entire athletic department.

“A lot of young coaches look to him for advice and guidance,” Hall says. “Like most coaches, he’s had his ups and downs, but he sticks to his (formula). He does everything at a high level with character and intelligence.”

Stein’s recipe for success is blending players who put winning first and surrounding himself with a great coaching staff. “Going into Division I, we thought we could compete right away,” he says.


Photo of Rick Stein provided by the University of Southern Indiana/Elizabeth Rudolph

Regarded as a hard-working, “lunch-pail” athlete, Stein began his college career playing for Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois, helping lift the Cobras to a second-place finish in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II tournament as a freshman in 1988 and a fourth-place finish as a sophomore in ‘89. He transferred to USI and was a two-year starting forward for coach Lionel Sinn. In Stein’s junior year, the Eagles advanced to the 1990 NCAA Division II South Central Regional, and as a senior, they stunned Wisconsin on the Badgers’ home court in Madison.

Stein expected to be at USI for two years, get his degree in business, and return to his hometown of Crete, Illinois, a small suburb 35 miles south of Chicago and six miles from the Indiana border. Sixteen credits shy of his degree, he asked then-USI women’s coach Chancellor Dugan if she needed any help while he finished his schoolwork.

“The whole thing started when Kari (Johnson, who became Stein’s wife) was a student worker in the athletic office, and she came up to me one day and asked, ‘Are you looking for another assistant?’” Dugan said.“I told her to tell him to come see me,” says Dugan, who will enter her 13th season as the women’s head basketball coach at Louisville, Kentucky’s Bellarmine University. “The next day, we really hit it off. We just had a good, dynamic connection. We’re both people persons.”

In his quarter-century leading the University of Southern Indiana women’s basketball team, Rick Stein has experienced much, including the program’s ascent to NCAA Division I status. The Screaming Eagles captured the Ohio Valley Conference title in their second Division I season and advanced to the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. Photo by provided by the University of Southern Indiana/Elizabeth Randolph

Dugan recalls a story about Stein learning to deal with women’s athletes early in his coaching career.

“One of our kids (Gail Bridgewater) jammed her finger in practice when the ball hit her kind of funny,” Dugan says. “She started crying. Me and (assistant) Kelly Boyd looked at each other, as if to say, ‘whatever.’ But Rick was frantic. He said, ‘Coach, you’ve got to get over here and see if she’s OK.’ He didn’t realize a girl’s first reaction (to pain) is to cry.”

It marked quite a contrast to Stein’s nickname, “Dirty Rick,” describing his blue-collar, aggressive style during his playing days, Dugan says. As far as coaching, Dugan says Stein was mature beyond his years.

“We ran his junior college coach’s offense and the pressure defense (then-USI men’s coach) Bruce Pearl learned from Tom Davis at Iowa,” Dugan says.

They combined forces for eight years, forging a 159-73 record, before Dugan became the head coach at Division I Florida Atlantic. First and foremost, Dugan is a master motivator, Stein says.

“She had a great feeling for how to push players, get them to work to get better,” Stein says. “She loved pressure defense. She still does, and so do I. I learned so much from her so fast, and I ran with it. I was so excited to be a part of it. I have so many good memories.”

Anyone affiliated with USI women’s basketball from that era will never forget the Eagles playing in the 1997 NCAA Division II Elite Eight in Grand Forks, North Dakota, a town slammed with eight blizzards and a record 98 inches of snow that winter. When the Elite Eight was held that March, snowbanks were still piled so high it was almost surreal, reminiscent of the Coen brothers’ movie “Fargo.” Seemingly everywhere you looked, all you saw was white. The wind was constantly whistling at 25 to 30 mph.

USI advanced to the national championship game, losing to the University of North Dakota on its home court. Incensed by the perceived unfairness of it all, Dugan let loose in the postgame press conference, saying “somebody’s got to be like Bobby Knight.” (In most instances, NCAA championship games are held at a neutral site.)

The 2024 Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year and a three-time Great Lakes Valley Conference Coach of the Year, Rick Stein has posted a 448-261 career record as USI’s women’s basketball coach. Photo provided by the University of Southern IndianaThere were problems with accommodations from the outset.

“All I saw was insulation (dangling loosely),” Dugan says. “It wasn’t finished. It was a motel, not a hotel. We changed hotels (immediately).”

She gave a shout out to the many USI fans who made the long trip up to Grand Forks.

“So many fans were there to watch us when women’s basketball wasn’t ‘cool,’ ” Dugan says.

She says the ’97 team was a special group.

“We were in a hotel when we were playing at Missouri-St. Louis and we gave them some money to get something to eat,” Dugan said. “The coaches were up in their room breaking down tape. I looked out the window and saw them all walking together to get something to eat. That doesn’t happen all the time. They were a close bunch.”

As Dugan’s successor as USI head coach, Stein guided the Eagles to a 2001 Division II Elite Eight appearance in Rochester, Minnesota, losing to No. 1-ranked Columbus State in the first round of the tournament.

Like Stein, Gatling expected to play for the Eagles and then leave town. Gatling and roommate Adrienne Seitz discussed where they might go, perhaps Cincinnati or Indianapolis. A Central High School graduate, Gatling gained her degree in social work. She was working at the Evansville YMCA and Premiere Video and pondering her next move. Instead, Gatling got a life-changing phone call from Stein, asking if she would be interested in serving as his assistant.

“I was thinking, ‘What? Really?’ I had no coaching experience,” Gatling says.

But Stein sold her on the idea, and they’ve worked together ever since.

“I think Rick and I formed a good partnership over trust and reliability,” Gatling says. “We decided a long time ago that this partnership is based on a friendship. And we both take good care of our friends and family.”

“I like to speak my mind passionately, and he’s found a way to put up with me and keep me around for 25 years! But I think he respects that about me,” she adds. “I’m not just a ‘yes’ person.”


Stein is proud that his son, Alex, and daughter, Mallorie, both decided to attend USI on their own, without any prodding from him.

Mallorie, who played on the USI women’s soccer team, is an occupational therapist for Deaconess Health System; she works primarily for its branch in Henderson, Kentucky.

Alex helped spark F.J. Reitz High School boys’ basketball to a Class 4A state runner-up finish in 2015, then elected to stay on the West Side and play for the Eagles. He became USI’s career scoring leader with 2,219 points and lifted the Eagles to the Division II national semifinals in 2019 at the Ford Center. He began his pro career with the Canton Charge of the NBA G League, which currently is stretched all the way to Poland.

“To be considered one of the best (in USI history) is an honor,” says Alex, a 6-foot-3 guard who plays for Spojnia Stargard in the Polish Basketball League. “I feel like a lot of my success came from countless hours in the gym working to get better and better each year. I had great coaches and was surrounded by great teammates that helped me be successful.”

Alex and his wife, Lindsey, have stayed in touch with his mom and dad, via FaceTime.

“Yes, it’s tough being away from family most of the year, especially with a seven-month-old baby,” Alex says. “We are so happy we can FaceTime them so they can watch her grow up from afar. But like I said, it’s very hard.”

Lindsey gave birth to baby Layla in September in Evansville. Alex came home for five days for the birth, then had to return to Croatia, where he was playing professionally at the time. Lindsey stayed in Evansville with her newborn for six weeks alone. His wife and daughter joined him in Croatia for November and December.

“However we left that team and all three of us came home in January,” Alex says.

But he landed a new job playing pro ball in Poland in February.

“My wife and I FaceTime with my parents every Sunday,” Alex says. “They get to see Layla and we catch up with them.”

When Alex and Mallorie were growing up, Stein offered his advice, but only when asked. 

“My dad was never hard on me when it came to basketball growing up,” Alex says. “I think the only time he would be upset is if he thought I wasn’t playing hard. Other than that, he really only gave constructive criticism if I asked for it.”

He appreciates that in light of the fact that so many sports parents are overbearing.

“It’s been so much fun watching my dad’s teams have success over the years,” Alex says. “This year was particularly special, even though I had to watch from afar.”

When asked what the future holds, coach Stein says, “I’m only 55 years old.”

In other words, he plans to continue coaching for a long time to come.“He hates to lose more than he loves to win!” Gatling says.

Expecting to move back to suburban Chicago all those years ago after a brief stint in Southern Indiana, Stein is glad he became embedded in the West Side.

“You go to where the going’s good, and that’s here,” he says. “The people at the university and in the community are a major factor. I gained happiness here, and their support for the program has been amazing.”

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Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti joined Tucker Publishing Group in September 2022 as a staff writer. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2020 with a bachelors degree in English. A Connecticut native, Maggie has ridden horses for 15 years and has hunt seat competition experience on the East Coast.

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