BOULDER, Colo. —
A three-month-old baby sleeps peacefully in an almost silent room in the tunnels of CU Events Center. While music thumps on the court, where USC and Colorado are warming up for a critical game in the Pac-12 conference race, the only sound in a room normally intended for film study is the rhythmic suction of a breast pump.
Lindsay Gottlieb scrolls through her phone while her breast milk drips into small clear bottles.
“It would be nice to get this one on the road,” the USC head coach says, the anxiety creeping into her voice.
While putting USC in position for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2014, the 45-year-old Gottlieb is also adjusting to life as a mother of two. The second-year head coach gave birth to daughter Reese on Oct. 15, was back on the sideline for USC’s season opener 24 days later on Nov. 8 and lifted the Trojans into the Associated Press top 25 for the first time since 2016 on Feb. 13.
It’s been, Gottlieb said, a once-in-a-lifetime season.
The family adventure will continue in Las Vegas, where Gottlieb will take Reese for the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament. With its best conference record in more than a decade, USC (21-8, 11-7 Pac-12) is the No. 6 seed facing No. 11 Oregon State at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Michelob Ultra Arena.
Five years after having her first child, Gottlieb has noticed the increased conversation and understanding surrounding working mothers in sports.
Arizona head coach Adia Barnes was the subject of a viral ESPN sideline report after she pumped breast milk during halftime of the national championship game in 2021. In the WNBA’s 2020 collective bargaining agreement that increased salaries to an all-time high, it was the expanded maternity and family planning benefits that had many in and out of the league most impressed.
It’s a sign that blending family and coaching is “more normalized,” Gottlieb said, but when she spoke to other mothers last summer, quietly voicing her plan to return in time for the beginning of her second season with the Trojans, she received cautious encouragement. There will be plenty of seasons, she was reminded. She had only one chance to raise Reese.
But to her, this season, when USC welcomed seven new transfers, also deserved ample focus. To strike the balance, Gottlieb’s top goal is to simply be present, whether on the baseline at practice or while getting her kids ready for bed at home.
Sitting in the corner of her living room, Gottlieb feeds Reese on a recent weekday morning. They’re bathed in soft morning light filtering through floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a manicured backyard. Gottlieb’s five-year-old son Jordan eats a light breakfast of bacon, fruit and eggs at a small table nearby and watches “Pinocchio” before going to kindergarten.
The picturesque start to the morning is the result of a choreographed dance of help.
The family lives with an au pair who helps get Jordan ready for school in the mornings and picks him up from school. Gottlieb’s husband Patrick Martin works from home as a finance entrepreneur, providing remote work flexibility. A doula helped Gottlieb through her birth and accompanied Reese during road trips for her first four months.
Gottlieb knows her delicate balancing act isn’t an easily attainable blueprint for every mother. She acknowledges her good fortune to work in a job that, while consuming and challenging in its own way, has flexible hours, pays enough to afford childcare and allows her children to join her in the arena, at practice or on the road.
“To be able to do both at the prime of my life, it’s something that I don’t take for granted,” Gottlieb said. “It’s also because I have incredible people around me allowing me to do it.”
While interviewing for the USC job in 2021, Gottlieb, who spent the previous two seasons as an assistant for the Cleveland Cavaliers, made it clear to USC athletic director Mike Bohn she wanted opportunities to integrate her family into work. She wasn’t pregnant at the time, but she and Martin had hopes of expanding their family.
Touting the power of the “Trojan Family,” Bohn had no reservations about welcoming Gottlieb’s growing family. At Cincinnati, he worked with volleyball coach Molly Alvey, whose two children were also born close to the beginning of the Bearcats’ seasons.
“It comes down to trying to make sure that our coach has support, has the encouragement from the administration that hey, everything’s going to be great,” Bohn said. “Having children around our elite athletes and around our institution as a whole is a great blessing.”
For someone who half-jokingly said she once had plans to have five kids before 30 years old, USC assistant Nneka Enemkpali sought confirmation that being a mother and a coach was possible by choosing to work on staffs with mothers. After starting as a video assistant at Gonzaga, where head coach and mother of three Lisa Fortier led the Bulldogs to seven 20-win seasons in her first eight years, the three-time All-Big 12 selection from Texas is in her second year at USC with Gottlieb.
“It can seem very unattainable because of the level of time that we put into watching film and we travel all the time,” Enemkpali said. “A lot of our time is dedicated to our young women, which, is the job that we chose, the job that we signed up for, but to be able to watch her do it and do it at such a high level, it makes it feel a lot less out of reach.”
Gottlieb, the youngest of four children, felt empowered by her parents to pursue any career. She watched her mother serve as a stay-at-home mom for 10 years after Gottlieb was born, then make a career as a stockbroker. Her father was a lawyer. They especially focused on showing their three daughters that there was nothing they couldn’t do because of their gender.
Gottlieb hopes to do the same for Reese.
“I want her to be in a situation,” Gottlieb said while holding Reese in her arms, “where she’s able to make whatever choices she wants and it doesn’t hurt her ability to be successful, either as a mother or as a working person, whatever career that she chooses.”
Success is all Gottlieb knows in her coaching career. After leading California to seven NCAA tournament appearances in eight seasons, including a Final Four berth in her second year, she joined the Cavaliers staff and became the seventh female assistant coach in NBA history in 2019.
So the fact that the Trojans are a projected No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament by ESPN doesn’t surprise Gottlieb, even as she’s tending to her growing family.
“We’ve put ourselves so far in position [for the NCAA tournament] and that was always the goal,” Gottlieb said. “Just because I’m having a kid, I’m not going to take any of our sights off the goal.”
On a recent weekday morning at 7 a.m. while Reese slept upstairs and Jordan showed a visitor around, Gottlieb already had game film loaded up on her laptop set up in the kitchen. While she spends less time in the office now, she makes the most of every minute.
Gottlieb feeds Reese in the morning, drops Jordan off at school, packs for an upcoming road trip, holds Zoom meetings with her staff and even squeezes in a short Peloton workout all before the team’s 1 p.m. practice. It’s not unusual for her to fit in a few calls on her drive.
“It’s remarkable to see what the female body can go through but also how we can continue to adapt,” Enemkpali said. “She just continues to empower us as coaches to help lead and put our players in position to be successful. But at the helm of it herself, she just continues to do remarkable things as a mom.”
After Gottlieb gave birth to Jordan in May 2017, he was old enough to join her at work when the season started. Jordan came to campus almost every day, taking naps and playing in the coaches offices. He was a fixture at practices and even took his first steps in front of the team as he followed the players out onto the court one day.
But the timing was trickier for Reese.
After announcing in April to her players that she was expecting, Gottlieb executed a detailed plan to keep the Trojans on track and minimize time she would spend away from the baby who would have been too young to repeat Jordan’s daily commutes to the office.
The staff re-arranged the preseason training schedule to install plays during the summer before Gottlieb left. Gottlieb coached until the final weeks before her due date, sometimes sitting on an exercise ball in the gym as the team went through drills. When she was out, associate head coach Beth Burns stepped into the head coaching role, and director of player personnel Courtney Jaco served as an additional assistant.
Staff communication through Zoom meetings, text messages or emails substitute for in-person talks, allowing Gottlieb to miss just one feeding on days when she goes into the office.
One year into her USC tenure, Gottlieb felt she had already integrated Jordan into her work. He was at an age where he could easily come to games or visit the office after school. Adding Reese to the mix forced the family to find a whole new routine.
Jordan, an outgoing kindergartner who is already working on dribbling a basketball between his legs and draining long-distance shots on the family’s Pop-A-Shot game in the garage, had basketball games and a whale watching trip planned at home during the weekend Gottlieb took Reese to Utah and Colorado. He called on FaceTime to say hello to his sister and tell Gottlieb about the 17 dolphins they spotted.
She would have hated the bumpy ride on the boat, but feels a tinge of guilt for not always being there.
“I made the decision not to be the mom that has a 9-to-5 where you’re at every activity on the weekends,” Gottlieb said, “but he gets to come with me a lot and he gets to do some cool things.”
Jordan still talks fondly of becoming best friends with former Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana’s daughters, who lived next door to Gottlieb in Cleveland, and loves sampling room service when on the road. Jordan can bring his friends to his mom’s games, and after big games like USC’s upset over then-No. 2 Stanford on Jan. 15 when the Trojans beat the Cardinal for the first time since 2014, Jordan gets to leap into his mom’s arms in a celebration that makes up for any other lost moments.
“The emotions of a game, whatever they are, and they’re real and intense, it pales in comparison to seeing your kid,” Gottlieb said. “It’s just so grounding in that sense of as important as the games are to us, they’re not the be-all, end-all.”
In her time with the Cavaliers, Gottlieb learned that sitting around all game day and focusing on it for hours before tipoff provided diminishing returns over the course of an 82-game season.
Instead, Gottlieb says, it seems that efficiently focusing her mental energy on a pregame routine that includes pumping breast milk in between addressing her players and finalizing the game plan has brought out the best in her. She trusts her assistants and players and enjoys the quiet moments she gets to herself while feeding Reese.
Gottlieb was pumping breast milk after feeding Reese a final time before tipoff. The baby slept in a sling wrapped around the doula’s torso.
Ofelia Aragon is “the baby whisperer.”
The doula packed Reese’s luggage for the road trip to Utah and Colorado, ensuring that while the Trojans play two top-25 teams in one of the most difficult road trips in the Pac-12, Reese can have bottles, toys and blankets at the ready. She set up Reese’s changing station on the desk of a hotel room and hung the baby’s favorite toy overhead by attaching it to a lamp.
Aragon, who stays with her clients for up to four months after birth before helping each family find another full-time nanny, bounced Reese on her lap while Gottlieb coached on the sideline.
Gottlieb had to stop looking for Reese behind the bench during the game. USC outlasted the then-No. 25 Buffaloes to avoid getting swept on the road and comfortably stay in the top-half of the Pac-12 after being picked to finish ninth in the preseason. Gottlieb subtly pumped her fist at the final horn.
In the locker room, tears welled in her eyes as she addressed her team. She joked that she used to be able to blame her emotions on being pregnant, but no, she’s always been a crier.
The mental stress has been at an all-time high for her. The Trojans had seven of their first nine games after Christmas on the road. Road games take a lot out of her, Gottlieb told her players. But with a 6-3 record during the difficult stretch, the Trojans had reason to celebrate.
Gottlieb praised the individual performances of her stars, celebrated the team’s defensive effort and reminded her players that their journey wasn’t done. To the joyful screams of her players, Gottlieb broke out the Griddy dance. Then she walked down the hall, opened the door to a quiet room and broke into a smile when she saw Reese.
“You’re our good luck charm,” Gottlieb whispered as the baby ate.