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Love of the game: Gonzaga’s Lisa, Craig Fortier among several coaching couples who work side-by-side

For most couples, mornings consist of a quick kiss goodbye and a, “Have a good day,” before heading off to work.

Most are separated by hours on end, working at different companies, using different skills and passing the time with different coworkers.

It’s a life Lisa and Craig Fortier once knew, but now, the Gonzaga coaches carpool to the university where they work side-by-side. Lisa, who is the head coach of the Gonzaga women’s basketball team, and her assistant coach and husband, Craig, are in their fourth season of coaching together.

The relationship on the court has raised some questions, particularly with the presumed power struggle that could be expected by any couple attempting to lead a team together.

The Fortiers might only have a few years of experience on the same court together, but they said they rarely compete over the reins.

“It works because we have a great relationship other than just our marriage. We’re very close. I have a lot of respect for her as a coach,” Craig said. “And she’s a patient woman, so that kind of makes it work.”

Patient and phenomenal at multitasking, which doesn’t make Lisa the best driver out of the two – according to Craig – but it does make her a great head coach, and one Craig is willing to let run the show.

Working in the supporting role is not always the easiest task for husbands who have to answer to their wives. Lisa said it takes a certain kind of man to take on such a role, and Craig models that role on the court well.

“I don’t know if all men could do it the same way that we do, but Craig certainly can. He’s kind of a cool guy when it comes to that kind of stuff,” Lisa said.

She also knows that it takes two to make a husband-wife coaching system work, meaning both have to check their egos at the door and support each other in their decisions with the team if they want the system to avoid any kind of tug-a-war in authority.

“Craig is awesome. He’s really humble and he is such an advocate for me,” Lisa said. “He actually believes in what I’m doing and how I do it, so we don’t really have that kind of issue.”

The road won’t always be a smooth run. Learning to coach side-by-side seems to be an art form that takes years to perfect, but the Fortiers are fortunate to have a few other husband-and-wife coaches nearby to turn to for advice.

June and Mike Daugherty are veterans when it comes to coaching alongside each other. Mike has been his wife’s assistant coach for the women’s basketball team at Washington State for 10 of June’s 11 years as head coach. Before that, they coached together in the same capacity at Washington and Boise State, totaling roughly three decades of coaching side-by-side.

No doubt, the Daughertys have mastered the art form.

“Everything went smoothly for all 33 years,” Mike joked. “But really, coaching is a big-stress environment, so there was always some bumps in the road.”

Over the years, Mike and June have developed strategies to coach together in peace – one being to stay out of each other’s hair.

“I think the thing that made it work is we both stayed in our own lanes,” Mike said. “We just tried to stay out of each other’s responsibilities.”

Some of that wisdom was passed down to another coaching couple close by – Chris and Carey Carlson, who lead the women’s basketball team at Northern Idaho College. The Carlsons are in their 22nd season of coaching together, and 14th at NIC.

Early in their careers, Chris and Carey turned to the Daughertys for advice on how to navigate the unique world of couple coaches and the concerns that inherently arise.

“When we first knew we would be coaching together, we actually called June when she was … at UW,” said Chris, who serves as NIC’s head coach. “We asked her about nepotism. Just trying to find out if there was anything we should be concerned about or any insights we might get about coaching together.”

Favoritism has been a concern among couple coaches, because it could potentially cause issues for the players and other assistants on the sidelines.

Mike referred to the presumed nepotism between the Daughertys and other couple coaches as just undivided loyalty, a team quality that has attracted a number of prospects to Pullman over the years.

“I think (our marriage) adds some good things to the team,” he said. “There is a family atmosphere. We sell that to recruits. And I’m definitely loyal to my head coach. There’s no loyalty problems there, which sometimes you get in this business.”

But most of the concerns appear to be wrapped up in how coaching side-by-side in such a competitive environment affects the foundation of a marriage and a family.

There is no secret to how couple coaches have learned to coexist in home life and at work all day, every day. Or at least veterans Mike and June weren’t sure of any secret to coaching alongside each other for so many years without allowing it to affect their personal relationship.

Mike suggested that said it just takes a certain kind of spouse to make the road a bit easier.

“With (June’s) personality it hasn’t been hard,” he said. “It’s worked, obviously. It’s 30-something years later and we’re still together.”

‘Salty old sports guy’

Unlike the Doughertys and the Carlsons, who started coaching alongside their spouses early in their careers, the Fortiers were forced to take a much longer road to the same court – one that took roughly eight years.

Lisa and Craig first met nearly 20 years ago at Placer High School in northern California as fellow classmates. After graduation, Lisa went off to play basketball at Butte Community College for two years before finding a spot on a new roster at California State Monterey Bay.

Between practices, Lisa worked at the publishing company Coaches Choice, which puts out instructional materials for coaches. She labeled videos and Craig, who attended the same college, worked in the shipping department.

Soon after they sparked a relationship and started looking for graduate schools together. Jim Peterson, a publisher at Coaches Choice, pointed them to Spokane.

“He told us, ‘Well, you’ve got to check out Gonzaga, that’s where (Jerry) Krause is,’ ” Lisa said.

Peterson’s friend and former Eastern Washington head coach Krause was working as Gonzaga’s Director of Basketball Operations at the time. Lisa and Craig agreed to meet Krause for a campus tour since Peterson understood the ways of the sports world better than most.

“He’s just like Coach Krause – an old,” Lisa paused and looked at Craig. “What did we call them? Salty?”

“Salty’s a good word,” Craig said.

“Yeah, a salty old sports guy,” she laughed.

Krause, who later became a close friend and mentor of the Fortiers, got the couple hooked on Gonzaga’s basketball program when they visited the campus before the 2004-2005 season.

That year, Lisa joined the women’s basketball staff as the coordinator of basketball operations, while Craig served as a graduate assistant for the men’s team under current head coach Mark Few.

After graduation, Lisa and Craig were married and began the daunting job hunt, hopeful that they would both live out their dreams of coaching. Krause, who has since retired from Gonzaga, argued that such career goals could make for a rocky relationship.

“I said, ‘That will never work. Two coaches in the same family? That’s a bad idea,’ ” Krause said. “But I also said, ‘It might work if you can get on the same staff, but that will never happen.’ ”

The two floated around the basketball world side-by-side, but just as Krause had predicted, they struggled to get back on the same campus together. She had a one-year stint as an assistant coach at Northern Colorado, while he served as an administrative assistant for the men’s team at Colorado State University.

The following year, the newlyweds moved back to Spokane for Lisa’s new assistant women’s coaching position at Gonzaga under then-head coach Kelly Graves. Craig found an assistant coaching job for the men’s basketball team at Whitworth for four years and filled the same position at Eastern Washington for three more years.

To Krause’s surprise, they finally came together when Lisa was promoted to head coach in 2014 after Graves took a head coaching job at Oregon. It didn’t take long for her to add Craig to her staff as one of three assistant coaches.

“I predicted she would be a head coach in college because she was good, she’s very good,” Krause said.

As for Craig’s new position next to Lisa, Krause said he had advised Craig to “put your ego aside.”

“Not too many husbands can be an assistant for their wife. That’s tough,” Krause said. “But I think it’s going to work out for them.”

‘The juggling act’

Carey Carlson figured she was faced with an ultimatum nearly 20 years ago – be a coach or be a mother.

She was pregnant with her first child Nina, who is now a freshman at the University of Idaho, and was co-head coaching alongside her husband Chris at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake.

The Carlsons turned to the Daughertys for advice on the possibility of raising children in a basketball-crazed home.

“I remember her (June) saying to just involve them in what you’re doing,” Carey said. “I got a really good sense from her that it was possible and actually a good thing.”

June and Mike often brought their young twins to practices at Washington and Boise State and would take them on the road for the majority of the season. The Carlsons followed suit, and all three of their children became travel gurus by the time their youngest, Jordan, was old enough to walk.

When Jordan was a toddler, he was already trained well enough to get through the airport without the help of his parents.

“He was like 2 years old and he knew how to go through the security in the airports … with his shoes in his bin,” Chris said. “He knew how to do it and he was doing it on his own.”

The Fortiers took on the challenge of raising a family seven years ago when they had their first child, Marcus. They have since welcomed two more children – 5-year-old Calvin and 3-year-old Quincy.

With three kids in the mix of two 40-plus-hour work weeks, their experiences have been much like the Carlsons’ – challenging, but they’ve somehow made it work.

When Lisa was coaching alongside Graves at Gonzaga and Craig was at Eastern Washington, Lisa was often the one to bring her oldest two to practices and games. When she and Craig were both on the road at the same time, she would be the one to take the kids.

“It wasn’t as easy for him to bring them because, you know, moms are little bit better at that,” she said. “So I started trying the juggling act.”

Since taking on a much larger role at Gonzaga, the juggling act has been harder to execute. Now the Fortiers are constantly on the hunt for babysitters, even for practices.

“People are surprised that they’re not in practice anymore, but Craig and I, we just can’t do that,” she said.

That hasn’t stopped Lisa and Craig from taking their children on the road occasionally. It’s rare that any of them miss a chance to watch the Zags play inside The Kennel, which has become a second home to the Fortier children.

“Our kids adore the players,” Lisa said. “Gonzaga is just a family place, so I think it’s a good place for us to have our family.”

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