shirt salesman. Security guard. Maintenance man.
"I swept hallways. I planted flowers. I dumped trash,” he said of the job at their apartment complex.
But just as the season was about to start, the women's basketball coach quit. The athletic director asked Budke if he would take the job.
"I've seen 'em,” he said. "There's only three or four on the team.”
Not even enough to field a team.
"We'll pay you $500 more,” the athletic director told him, saying the magic words.
Budke's first duty as the women's coach was putting an advertisement in the school newspaper.
"This is a true story now,” Budke said. "We had a 33-year-old mom with three kids that came to me and said, ‘Now, Coach, I'm going to school. I can help you as long as I can, but I've got to be able to bring my kids to practice.'
"So, we had a playpen in one corner.”
The team won only a couple games that season, but if his players outscored their opponent during a four-minute stretch, Budke would call a timeout to congratulate them.
"We might be down 30,” he'd tell them, "but we won that last four minutes.”
The on-court struggles were hardly Budke's only worry. Money would get tight at home, and he would wonder if he should take a high school job. The salary would be better. Ditto for the stability. But he had friends in the coaching business who said he might never come back to college coaching if he left.
The Budkes decided to pay the price even if it made paying the bills more difficult.
After a stint at Allen County Community College in Kansas, Budke got his big break. He took over the women's team at Trinity Valley Community College in Texas, a program on the cusp of a championship.
His first season there, Trinity Valley won the first of four national titles.
Then came Louisiana Tech.
Then, Oklahoma State.
"I knew Louisiana Tech wasn't my last stop,” Budke said. "I knew I wanted to get to a place that truly wanted to be a competitor and have a chance to win a national championship.
"This is what I worked to get to.”
‘You can't forget'
Shelley Budke watched her husband out on the Breslin Center court Saturday afternoon and knew his mood had changed.
The smiles were fewer. The laughs were gone. Even as the Cowgirls practiced for Bowling Green, the relaxation of Friday was giving way to the anticipation of game day.
"He's been through the trenches to get here,” Shelley said as she watched. "That's why he appreciates it so much.”
Why Kurt Budke cares so much, too.
"You can't forget where you came from,” he said. "That is vital.”