Theo Dean walked onto campus at Truman State University in 2010 as a freshman with no idea that he would one day be the head coach of one of Truman’s most successful programs.
In 2010, Dean was just a visual communication major who loved to play basketball at the Student Recreation Center with his friends. Dean had always loved being around basketball in any capacity, which eventually led him into the women’s basketball office where he accepted a job as a manager with the team.
After managing for the team, Dean received his undergraduate degree early and became a graduate student, allowing him to become a graduate assistant coach under first-year head coach Amy Eagan. After graduating from Truman with a dream and a plan to coach, Dean moved to Lansing, Kansas, to accept an assistant coaching position at Lansing High School. After a brief stint in Kansas, Dean soon returned to Kirksville to become Eagan’s right-hand man again.
In his three seasons as an assistant alongside Eagan, Dean helped lift the team to their most wins in program history with 23 last season. Going into this season, his fourth with the team, Dean was expecting to continue his role as an assistant to Eagan until just days before practice was set to begin, when he received the news that Eagan was leaving the program to accept an assistant position at Drury University.
“I found out the day before, officially, from Amy [Eagan] that she was leaving,” Dean said. “My mind was racing because I knew we were starting in five days, so that aspect was kinda nerve racking.”
Despite getting the news less than a week before practice was set to begin, Dean is confident in this season’s staff and their ability to lead the team to another National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament appearance. Dean, who had not held the position of head coach prior to this year, has been unbothered by the pressure and responsibility that comes with the title.
“It’s my opportunity to put my mark on the program,” Dean said. “At the end of the day, as much as you prepare and watch videos and everything else people do for years to be a head coach, you don’t really understand how to do it until you’re put in the position.”
Dean’s players expressed that the biggest impact Dean has had on his team is the foundational relationships he has developed with each member, even before he held the title of head coach. Dean believes that knowing your players’ personalities and building meaningful relationships is fundamental to running a successful team. As a former Truman student, Dean knows the struggle of Truman classes and the toll it can take on student athletes. Creating an environment where his players feel comfortable and are able to enjoy basketball is imperative to Dean.
Dean’s philosophies are reflected in his players. With music playing on the sidelines and smiles on their faces, the team approaches each of their practices with the same relaxed but focused attitude that greets you at the door of their head coach’s office. His players don’t just unknowingly reflect their coaches attitudes, they recognize his efforts to understand them and speak glowingly of their coach.
“Coach T knows all of us as individuals,” forward Maya Mouton said. “He can jump in and visually show us exactly what he wants. He just knows how to reach all of us.”
Dean’s approach to practices and his team has already made a noticeable difference. Center Katie Jaseckas believes that Dean’s time as an assistant was an important opportunity for him to get an alternate perspective on the team’s needs and ultimately make a positive change for the Bulldogs.
“I’m really excited for the change he’s bringing into the program,” Jaseckas said. “Our practices have been different but in a good way, and I think our team is learning a lot of new and useful things just in the first two weeks of preseason practice.”
This season Dean has had the help of Brie Daniels, a former Truman alumna, who has returned to the staff for her second season as a graduate assistant coach. Daniels was a three-time all-conference performer in her time as a Bulldog from 2008-12. Dean and Daniels face the unique challenge of preparing a team with only one senior this year, however, despite the youth of his team, Dean is optimistic.
“All of our returners are experienced,” Dean said. “Yes, we are young in regards to having one senior, but we have three kids that have been on the all-freshman team. Yes, it looks like we’re young on paper, but if you look at the stats we have a ton of experience coming back.”
In addition to experience, Dean and the Bulldogs will be counting on two Div. I transfers and five incoming freshmen to help the team repeat the success of the 2018-2019 season. Sophomore transfer athletes Brioenne Burns, fromStephen F. Austin State University, and Ellie Weltha, from Illinois State University, are expected to make an immediate impact, and will help the Bulldogs keep athletes on the floor at all times and push the pace of the game.
Playing faster is something Dean hopes to prioritize this season. Last season the Bulldogs scored about 20% of their total points in transition. Already at 6% over the national college average, Dean is still looking to play faster.
“Playing fast is fun,” Dean said. “Playing in transition is fun, having the greenlight to shoot it when you’re open, as long as it’s a good shot, those things are fun. Those are things that we did last year, and we have several pictures of the bench last year going crazy, and that’s the stuff we want to keep doing.”
Last year the Bulldogs finished the season at 23-8 overall and 13-5 in conference, earning them the fourth seed in the conference tournament and a sixth seed in the NCAA national championship tournament. Dean knows that following old blueprints will not be enough to elevate his program to a championship level. By pushing the pace and improving the teams mentality and focus, he hopes to again challenge for a Great Lakes Valley Conference Championship and another NCAA tournament bid.
This season the women’s basketball team has a daunting challenge ahead of them. They will be entering their first season without the winningest coach in program history hoping to replicate the success of the winningest team of all time, all under the control of a first-time head coach with only one senior leader to lean on. Yet, with each new challenge that this season continues to throw at them, the music on the sideline at practice never stops, the smiles on the bench never fade, the focus on winning each game never waivers and head coach Theo Dean is behind it all, smiling as usual.