In 1987, Bethel President Jim Bennett filled the men’s basketball head coaching position vacated by legendary coach Homer Drew with one of Drew’s former players that was coaching a local high school team.
Twenty-six years later, Mike Lightfoot guides one of the most successful NAIA programs in the country, one highlighted with countless individual and team accomplishments.
Under Lightfoot’s watch, the Pilots have won three NAIA and four NCCAA national championships, 17 Crossroads League regular season and tournament titles, have made ten NAIA and nine NCCAA national championship tournament appearances and have won nearly 700 games.
In fact, Lightfoot’s win total of 684 is seventh-most among active NAIA coaches and third-most among active Division II coaches, behind Oregon Tech’s Danny Miles and Olivet Nazarene’s Ralph Hodge. His career winning percentage of .728 is second-highest among active NAIA coaches and the highest among active Division II coaches with at least 500 career victories.
Lightfoot is the 19th quickest coach in men’s college basketball history to his current 684 career wins, doing so in only 938 games, and the quickest in NAIA Division II history. He has won more games than all previous seven Bethel coaches combined (684-441).
Lightfoot is the quickest NAIA men’s basketball coach to win 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, and 600 career games, and is on pace to win 700 career games quicker than any other NAIA Division II men’s coach.
Only the former University of Kentucky head coach Adoph Rupp won 400 games quicker than Coach Lightfoot (477 games to 488). In all, he has recorded 24 winning seasons, including ten 30-win and twenty-one 20-win seasons. He has also coached 24 NAIA and 47 NCCAA All-Americans and 87 All-Crossroads League players since taking the helm of the program in 1987.
With Lightfoot directing the program, the Pilots have risen to the forefront at the national level, becoming one of the elite programs in the NAIA.
Since the NAIA went to two divisions in 1991-92, the Pilots have appeared in the top 25 ranking in 135 of the 231 polls. Lightfoot has coached the Pilots to 36 all-time No. 1 rankings, the most in NAIA Division II history, and holds the second-longest streak of being ranked in Division II poll history, a streak of 76 consecutive polls from 1992-00.
In addition, the Pilots have made ten trips to the NAIA Division II national tournament under Lightfoot and have found tremendous success in Nampa, Idaho and Branson, Missouri.
In those ten appearances, Lightfoot has coached the Pilots to three national championships, tied for the most of any program in Division II history, a national runner-up and a Fab Four. The Pilots are the only team to win back-to-back national championships and appear in three straight national championship games.
The Pilots own a 27-7 record at the national tournament under Lightfoot, the third most wins in Division II history, and their winning percentage of .794 in NAIA Division-II postseason play is the highest in history. Lightfoot has never lost a first round game in any of his ten appearances.
Not only has the team found success under Lightfoot, individual players have flourished too. Lightfoot has coached three NAIA Division-II National Players of the Year and 12 players to All-Tournament teams, including three Tournament Most Valuable Players and a Tournament Mr. Hustle.
Lightfoot has also coached one player to NCCAA National Player of the Year honors, three Pete Maravich Award winners, and 18 All-Tournament team players, including four Tournament Most Valuable Players.
The Pilots hold seven individual and six team records at the NAIA Division II national tournament with Lightfoot at the helm, including a record 14 consecutive victories from 1997-99, four of the top five spots for most points scored in a single tournament, the top three spots for most field goals made in a single tournament, and most 100-point games in NAIA Division II tournament history, to name a few.
The Pilots have been equally successful in the classroom under Lightfoot. In his 26years, Lightfoot has graduated nearly 99% of his players who have completed their eligility.
25 Daktronics-NAIA Scholar Athletes and 39 NCCAA Scholar Athletes, as well as 20 Academic All-Conference players and 4 Daktronics-NAIA Scholar Teams, have been under the tutelage of the veteran coach. The list of accomplishments goes on and on, and they’ve earned Lightfoot the NAIA Division II National Coach of the Year two times, NCCAA National Coach of the Year three times, North Central Region Coach of the Year 17 times, Crossroads League Coach of the Year award six times, and induction into four different Halls of Fame: Marian High School, Bethel College, NCCAA, and NAIA.
However, despite all of the individual accolades Lightfoot has earned, the focus at Bethel is on the impact he has on the young men that come through the program.
“In a profession where it is easy to get caught up in winning on the court, he genuinely cares more about his players’ development off the court as a man of God and success in other areas of their lives,” said former assistant coach Danny Randolph.
Lightfoot has led missions trips to such places as the Dominican Republic, Mexico, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Alaska, and Ecuador.
“Basketball is a game that so many people now around the world love. Sports I feel can impact people like no other entertainment,” said Coach Lightfoot. “That is why we take our team on missions trips. Basketball draws people. Through basketball, you gain an instant audience and a platform to share the Good News to a dark and lost world.”
“Going through the process of basketball you learn so many things that you can apply to your spiritual life. The discipline of athletics can help us in our spiritual walk and our discipline of our spiritual life can help us in athletics.”
Over one hundred Bethel basketball players have gone on these ten missions trips over the past twenty years, and hundreds more students, fans, alumni, and even opponents alike have had their lives changed crossing paths with Coach Lightfoot.
Over forty former players and assistants have gone on to coach at the prep or collegiate levels, including recent IHSAA state champions Jason Groves, Travis Hannah, Michael Edison, and Pete Smith. 1995 NAIA Division-II National Tournament MVP Mark Galloway also coached his team to a state finals appearance.
Countless other former players are changing the world in avenues such as business, ministry, technology, criminal justice, and much more.
“After working so closely with Coach Lightfoot over the past sixteen years, it is very evident that Coach cares very deeply about each player’s development, not only as an athlete, but also as a Christian,” said Assistant Coach Tony Natali. “He has high expectations for each player, but takes the time needed to meet with each one to talk about whatever is needed. Overall, Coach is concerned about the development of the whole person.”
Still, Lightfoot has become synonymous with Bethel basketball, in part because of his success but also in part because he’s been involved in 1,029 of the 1,697 games in program history-- 90 as a player and 939 as the head coach.
As a player, Lightfoot amassed 644 career points and 206 career assists in three varsity seasons with the Pilots after transferring in from Tri-State University. As a senior, Lightfoot led his team to the best record in program history at the time (24-7).
Against his former team, Tri-State, Lightfoot started at guard in what turned out to be the lowest scoring game in program history, a decisive 22-21 victory for the Pilots and Coach Homer Drew. It was the program’s first ever win over Tri-State in twelve chances.
A standout basketball player at LaVille High School in Lakeville, Indiana, Lightfoot coached the freshmen team at Mishawaka Marian High School (Ind.) for two years and the varsity team for seven years before he replaced Homer Drew as Bethel’s eighth head coach in program history.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in history and physical education from Bethel in 1978 and his master’s degree in secondary education from IU South Bend in 1981.
Lightfoot and his wife, Jacci, have two sons: Robbie and Ryne. Robbie and his wife, Brittney, reside in Mishawaka, and Ryne and his wife, Justine, also reside in Mishawaka.
Mike and Jacci reside in Wakarusa.
**Click here to read more about Coach Lightfoot's first 26 years at Bethel.
**Click here to view Coach Lightfoot's Bethel Hall of Fame page
|0||Jordyn Coon*||SO||G||6-2||175||Warsaw, Ind.||Warsaw|
|2||Josh Glass||FR||SF||6-3||180||Solon, Ohio||Solon|
|4||Jared Mott||SO||F||6-7||205||Lucas, Ohio||Temple Christian|
|5||Travis Smith||SO||G||5-10||160||Peru, Ind.||Peru|
|10||Caleb Oetjen||FR||SG||6-0||172||McCordsville, Ind.||Horizon Christian|
|12||Chris Mitchell*||FR||G||6-3||182||Detroit, Mich.||Mishawaka|
|15||Landon Booker||SR||G||5-10||183||South Bend, Ind||Adams|
|20||Matt Schauss||JR||PG||6-4||190||Greens Fork, Ind.||Centerville|
|22||Zach Miller||JR||SG||6-1||166||Connersville, Ind.||Connersville|
|23||David Lee*||FR||G||6-1||164||Plymouth, Ind.||Plymouth|
|24||Brandon Gerber||SR||F||6-5||191||Markle, Ind.||Norwell|
|25||Michael Mislan||SR||C||6-8||203||Indianapolis, Ind.||Roncalli|
|30||Ryan Wassink||FR||F||6-6||211||Hudsonville, Mich.||Unity Christian|
|34||Ryan Benner||SR||G||6-4||197||Mishawaka, Ind.||Mishawaka|
|41||Patrick Oetting||SR||F||6-6||224||Fort Wayne, Ind.||Concordia Lutheran|
|50||Keith Cochran||FR||C||7-0||201||Bluffton, Ind.||Bluffton|