Concordia shaped college basketball trailblazer
By Jake Knabel, Sports Information Director
Jerry Strom may not recognize several buildings that scrawl across 800 North Columbia Avenue, but then again, it wasn’t the bricks and mortar that attracted him in the first place. It’s been awhile since Strom has returned to Concordia University, the school he graduated from in 1976 (then named Concordia College). But yet the relationships he made and the warmth of the campus community remain vivid in his mind nearly 37 years later.
“What sticks out to me are the people,” Strom said. “It was a very diverse population of students in that people came from all over the U.S. I met so many great friends and not just from the sports teams. I loved the small campus and community and hanging out at the student union. It really was the people that made the place. It was a warm and wonderful place to mature.”
Strom’s experiences at Concordia, where he earned degrees in physical education and biology, have helped guide him through a successful career in both coaching and teaching. The Fontanelle, Iowa, native is a trailblazer in college athletics having become one of the first – if not the first – Director of Basketball Operations in collegiate men’s basketball history.
Now in his 32nd season as a member of the men’s basketball coaching staff at the University of Iowa, Strom credits Concordia with helping him find his calling and reach incredible heights he did not necessarily expect.
“At the time I came to Concordia I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do,” Strom said. “I needed Concordia a lot more than Concordia needed me. I needed that spiritual guidance and family atmosphere that it provided. I believe in the idea that if you hang around good people, you have a better chance of becoming a good person yourself – and I was surrounded by good people.
“Concordia motivated me to be a better person.”
Strom transferred to Concordia after spending one year at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. He landed at Concordia after researching the basketball program and learning of its Christ-centered community. He went on to play basketball, baseball and golf for the Bulldogs.
More importantly, Strom made connections that would last a lifetime in a town that had been largely unfamiliar to him upon his arrival. He met his future wife, Melody, a McCook, Neb., native, while at Concordia and was deeply impacted by the caring nature of the community – so much so that he contributed to the fundraising effort that made possible the addition of the Walz Human Performance Complex.
“I look forward to the time when I can stop there, walk around the campus and see the changes and see the new gymnasium,” Strom said. “It looks great in the pictures I’ve seen. I’m really proud of the success of the school. I always look through the Broadcaster to see if there are any names I recognize and to see how the sports teams are doing.
“It’s going on almost 40 years (since attending Concordia), and it feels like just yesterday.”
Following graduation, Strom remained in Seward for three months and worked the graveyard shift at a muffler factory called Walker Manufacturing. That held him over until he and Melody moved to New York City, where Strom was placed by Concordia as a teacher and boy’s basketball and track and field coach at Martin Luther King High School. He excelled immediately and led the basketball team to a Thru-way City League championship.
He also made stops at Lutheran North High School in St. Louis, Mo., and at Monmouth College as a coach and assistant to the athletic director and also picked up his master’s in athletic administration from Western Illinois along the way. Soon after came a significant breakthrough when legendary coach Lute Olson gave Strom the opportunity to come on staff as a graduate assistant coach at Iowa in the early 1980s.
When Olson left Iowa for Arizona, Strom figured his days in Iowa City might be numbered. However, new head Hawkeye George Raveling saw the value in Strom and promoted the former Bulldog to an administrative position in 1983.
Four coaches later, Strom remains at Iowa. He’s worked with Tom Davis, Steve Alford, Todd Lickliter and now Fran McCaffery in addition to Olson and Raveling – a total of six head coaches.
“Each new coach had the option to make a change,” Strom said. “I feel very fortunate to have been able to work with six different head coaches here.”
Strom continues to handle day-to-day operations for men’s basketball at Iowa. His goal is take pressure off the rest of the coaching staff and allow McCaffery to focus mostly on coaching his players and recruiting. Strom has a hand in scheduling, travel, budgeting and recruiting while also working closely with sports information and marketing staff, among other duties.
“The great thing about my job is that it changes daily,” Strom said. “No two days are alike. You might end up working on something completely different than what you thought when the day began. I’m like the athletic director who oversees the basketball program.”
For Strom, the most rewarding part of working at Iowa – similar to his experiences at Concordia – has been the interaction with the people he works with. He has always been fond of the small towns he’s lived in and relishes the togetherness he’s felt in places like Fontanelle, Seward and now Iowa City.
“If you have a flat tire on the Long Island Express you could be there for days before anyone stopped to help,” Strom said. “In Iowa and Nebraska you have 10 people fighting to help you. There’s a Midwest quality of life that stresses helping your neighbor. You just have to live it.”
These places have also taught Strom a little something about hard work. While he hopes head coach No. 6 sticks around for a long time, he knows things happen quickly in the world of NCAA Division I athletics.
“I always live my life like I could be fired tomorrow,” Strom says.
Strom and the Hawkeyes begin play in the National Invitational Tournament on Wednesday night in Iowa City. Look for the Concordia alum right behind the Iowa bench.
For complete biographical information on Strom, click HERE.
18 March 2013
Jerry Strom - 1976 Concordia graduate