Coach Mike Lightfoot is without a doubt a living legend of NAIA basketball. In his 24 years as head coach at his alma mater, Lightfoot reached the 500 win plateau faster than any other coach at any level in history. Along the way he has guided the Pilots to NAIA Division II championships in 1995, 1997 and 1998 and NCCAA titles in 1992, 1993, 2000 and 2007.In addition, Lightfoot attained the ultimate personal achievement in 2009 as he was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame with legendary coach John Wooden.
“When you’re hired as a coach, you never think about winning 500 games, you just want to get that first one,” Lightfoot said. “I think it shows that I have enjoyed Bethel and enjoyed coaching and it also shows what longevity can do for you.”
With just four scholarship players at the start of his first season, Lightfoot admits he was concerned with the daunting job ahead of him. But after losing their first two games of the season in a tournament at Mt. Vernon Nazarene College, the Pilots gave their young coach his first victory by winning on the road at Concordia College.
“That win was special because there were times when we just didn’t know if we’d win a game that season,” Lightfoot said. “Every game you win is special because of the people you’re working with, but, boy, that first one gave us a chance to breathe a little.”
By the end of that first season, Lightfoot had Bethel in the NCCAA tournament and the college knew they had a leader who would build the program into one of the best in the country.
“I have really been blessed to work with a number of top assistants who should all share in the program success,” Lightfoot noted. “It’s their hard work with the kids in our program that separates us from other programs. I’m a firm believer that you’re only as good as the people around you and, to be honest, my assistants have made me look good over the years.”
While a disciplinarian on the court, Lightfoot has formed a special bond with his former players – many of whom keep in very close contact with their former coach.
It’s that bond that has helped keep Lightfoot in the coaching business, even while a number of his colleagues have retired, moved on to other professions, or simply burned out.
“Getting the opportunity to work with young men at a place like Bethel is a real privilege. To see them mature and develop gives me great satisfaction and when you realize that these kids are finding their mission, their ministry, and in some cases, their mates while at Bethel College … that’s what makes coaching special.”
The Lightfoot File
630 - Coaching Victories in 23 seasons at Bethel. Lightfoot’s overall collegiate record is 630-214 (74%) and has won 300, 400 and 500 games faster than any coach in collegiate basketball history
67 - All Americans
52 - In-season tournament championships in 22 years
47 - National tournament wins. In 21 national championship tournament appearances Bethel is 47-14 (77%) under Lightfoot.
44 - former players coaching
20 - 20 win seasons
15 - 25 win seasons
10 - 30 win seasons
3 - 35 win seasons
10 - former Bethel players who have went on to play professionally
11 - NCCAA Regional Championships 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007
10 - Mid Central Conference Championships 1990, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2007, 2008
7 - National Championships (NAIA 1995, 1997, 1998; NCCAA 1992, 1993, 2000, 2007)
6 - National Coach of the Year awards
2 - National Runners-up (NAIA 1999, NCCAA 2005)
1978 Bethel College Graduate
Has led 8 mission trips to the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Bahamas, Jamacia, Alaska and Ecuador
Wife : Jacci married for 32 years
Sons : Robbie (27) Ryne (24)