IOWA CITY — Lisa Bluder didn’t want to bite the hand that first fed her.
When asked to disclose her salary of her first season as a women’s basketball coach, she did so with hesitancy.
“I kind of hate to say it because of St. Ambrose being such a good friend,” Bluder said Tuesday. “But I was offered the job for $2,400 for the year, and I used my unbelievable negotiation skills to get it up to $2,500 for the year.”
That was in 1984.
Times have changed, and so have the numbers in Bluder’s life. Now she’s making nearly a half-million dollars a year at the University of Iowa. And she’s on the cusp of another milestone.
Bluder pursues career win No. 600 on Thursday, when the Hawkeyes (13-4 overall, 2-1 Big Ten) faces Michigan State (14-2, 2-1). Tipoff is 5 p.m. (Iowa time) at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich.
“Six hundred, that’s a crazy number,” point guard Samantha Logic said. “Not many active coaches have done that, so she’s in elite company.”
Once Bluder, 52, gets there, she’ll become the 25th coach with at least 10 years at the Division-I level to do so.
“You know, it really is longevity,” said Bluder, who has a 599-290 mark in 29 seasons (including 243-148 in 13 years at Iowa).
“There are a lot of coaches that have reached 600 wins a lot quicker than I have. If you’re in it long enough, you’re going to get milestones. I started coaching when I was 24. It has taken me a long time to get there.”
Bluder majored in business while playing basketball at UNI, from where she graduated in 1983. Her first year out of college, she did anything and nearly everything to stay close to the game.
She was an evaluator of officials at UNI, and also did some public-address announcing there. She worked camps and officiated games at Hawkeye Tech.
Former St. Ambrose athletics director Jim Fox was the one that gave Bluder her first coaching break, before the 1984-85 season.
“I met (my husband) Dave after the interview, and I told him the good news was they offered me the job and the bad news was what the salary was,” Bluder said. “We both kind of just laughed and said, well, let’s just try it one year.”
One year led to six at St. Ambrose. Then 10 at Drake. Now, 13 at Iowa.
“I’ve been really fortunate to be at three great places,” Bluder said. ”I’ve been here for 13 years now, and I am still just as excited as I was that first year when I got here. It really is a dream.”
Nine of her first 12 teams at Iowa have qualified for the NCAA Tournament. None have reached the Sweet 16, but with an injury-free team and home court the first two rounds, this season has breakthrough potential.
Bluder was in the Carver-Hawkeye Arena tunnel in November, visiting with coaches from Robert Morris before their game. One of the assistants asked her a pointed question:
“He was kind of a young guy and he said, ‘Wow, you almost have 600 wins … How many more years you got in ya?’ ” Bluder recalled.
“I’ve never been asked that before by another coach. I hope I have a lot left in me.”
IOWA (13-4, 2-1) at MICHIGAN STATE (14-2, 2-1)
Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, Mich.
Tipoff: 5 p.m. (Iowa time)
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: WMT-AM (600), KXIC-AM (800)
Notes: Iowa’s Samantha Logic leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth nationally with 7.2 assists per game. The Hawkeyes have won eight of their last nine games, but have dropped six straight at East Lansing. Sophomore Kathy Thomas is a Michigan native (Flint). Jaime Printy is clutch at the free throw line, making 21 of 21 this season there in the final two minutes of games.