A week after my retirement announcement, Sam, Jacob and I piled in a car and headed to spring training in Arizona. My son, grandson and I will spend four or five days in spring training as we follow our passion for baseball. Before I left, I wanted to follow last week’s blog with the names of a few people that have meant a lot to me.
In 1979, I took my first head coaching job as the girls’ basketball coach at Wilber-Clatonia High School. I have told this story many times on why I picked Wilber-Clatonia and the girl’s position as my first head coaching job. My dad was the postmaster in Clatonia. He usually had some free time to sit on a bench in front of the post office and share his politics with the local businessmen and farmers. I was his victim one summer day in 1979 when I was home for a friend’s wedding.
Just then, a very tall young lady walked into the local tavern. I asked dad about that tall young lady and he informed me it was Angie Miller, the daughter of my childhood hero, Oren Miller. Oren and his Clatonia 1958 basketball team were the Class C undefeated state champions. I was eight years old and never missed a game.
The youth I had spotted was eighth grader, Angie Miller. She started every game she ever played at Wilber-Clatonia. She also started for four years at theUniversityofNebraska. I learned very early in my coaching career what a committed player and a great leader meant to a coach. Twenty-five years after her dad’s state championship, Angie led her team to an undefeated state championship. When interviewed by the local television after the state championship game, Angie gave the credit to her father. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
In 1984, I began moved to college coaching atDoaneCollege. My first recruit was Dena Gosch fromSpringfield-PlattviewHigh School. She was a sharp-shooting guard who didn’t know if she was going to play ball in college. The first three years weren’t easy for Dena or me atDoaneCollege. However, she stuck it out and led the first Doane team to win over 20 games during her senior season. I still talk to Dena a couple of times a year. She lives inOverland Parkwith her husband and four children.
Dena wasn’t the only player that led to 12 years of 20+ win seasons atDoaneCollege. I thought we had all the pieces in place after three years except for a point guard. There was a great point guard about 20 miles fromCreteby the name of Trudi Veerhusen. She was a local celebrity and I was sure she was headed to theUniversityofNebraska. However, her dad, Cliff, realized that Trudi could be much more successful at a smaller school. She came to Doane and her teams never won less than 24 games during her collegiate career. She became Doane’s first women’s basketball All-American.
Despite the 20 win seasons,DoaneCollegenever really challenged for a national championship until the arrival of two very different individuals. The pair led the Tigers to their first ever number one national ranking. Marissa Maaske came toDoaneCollegefrom theChicagosuburb of Warrensville. Her dad coached Doc Rivers among others in the inner city ofChicago. Tracee Uldrich arrived a year earlier, but landed in Marissa’s graduating class after she tore both ACL’s her sophomore year. Tracee grew up in the metropolis ofMilligan,Nebraska. The town has a population less than 500 people. Her dad and mom ran a meat market in the inner city of Milligan. The only similarity of the two communities is paved streets.
Despite the cultural differences, Marissa and Tracee formed a special bond. They led the team their senior season to a number one national ranking and a trip to the school’s first ever Final Four. Both are great friends of mine today and I talk to them often. I always say that great players make good coaches.
Many people have influenced my walk down the coaching profession the past 39 years. I was named for my uncle, Gene Else. My career in education and coaching followed closely with my Uncle Gene’s. His first coaching job was atMilford,Nebraska. My second job was for theMilfordschool district. Uncle Gene came back to Clatonia to coach and is given most of the credit for their 1958 undefeated team despite moving to Beatrice in 1957. He later coached the men’s team atDoaneCollege.
That’s where the similarity ends. After three years, he gave up the Doane position saying he didn’t like recruiting. I beat him by twelve years and loved recruiting. However, many things I do in coaching are founded in my Uncle Gene’s coaching philosophy. He always said basketball is a game of habits, a line every team I have ever coached has heard many times.
I wasn’t a very successful junior varsity boy’s coach atHumboldt,Nebraska, my first job after graduating from Kearney State College. However, I had a great high school girl’s softball team. They went from single digit wins the previous year to a 20 + winner during my first year. The reason was a soon to be seventh grader by the name of Paula Sue Blecha. Paula Sue was a sixth grader in my first teaching class. During recesses, she didn’t want to play with the girls and the boys didn’t want to be embarrassed by her skills.
Paula Sue was one of the best players on my high school softball team despite her age. She later led Humboldt to a state runner-up finish in basketball her senior year. It was my first lesson that great players make good coaches.
I left Humboldt after two years. I eventually ended up as the freshmen coach on the boys’ basketball team. The head coach was Bob Bargen. Bob was the youngest boy in a family of coaches. He followed one of his brother’s atMilfordand his oldest brother coached at theUniversityofNebraska. Bob knew more basketball than I knew existed. I was only on his bench for two years, but we became close friends. I took advantage of the friendship to learn as much about the game as possible. I still use many of his philosophies today.
Surprisingly, the next major influence on me and my career was a journalist. The owner of the Milford Times, the local weekly newspaper, was George Seeley. I convinced the city ofMilfordto hire me as their summer recreation director. To advertise my summer programs and news of our softball team, I asked George if I could turn in weekly stories and schedules. He was happy for the filler material, but it led to much bigger things.
I forgot to tell you George had a son that ran wild in the newspaper office. He was a pest, but a good kid. That good kid’s name was Andy. He later became aNorthwestMissouriStategraduate and later the Sports Information Director. He was the SID when Northwest hired me.
After that first summer, George asked me to write the stories of the high school football and basketball teams. He paid me by the column inch, but the money wasn’t a factor at all. I found I loved to write. George even allowed me to write features my last summer inMilford. Writing skills I learned from George at the Milford Times has always been a huge help as I promoted my basketball programs.
After three years of a very average basketball atDoaneCollege, I decided I was at a cross roads in my coaching career. It was time to bring a winner toDoaneCollegeor go back to junior high math. My coaching staff found a one-man coaching clinic inDenver. We piled in a van and attended Bob Knight’s lectures. What I learned in those two days positively affected my college coaching career for the next 25 years. Coach Knight might not be real popular to the general population, but he really knows basketball.
I mentioned that the decision to retire from coaching this year was made one Sunday afternoon last June. Scott Bostwick’s death was like a message to move on. I also found out Dr. Pat Harr was retiring. When I asked him why, he told me the life expectancy for someone our age is 78 years. That fact help solidify my decision. However, Scott had just as much influence on me during the 12 years I knew him. It didn’t matter he coached football and I coached women’s basketball. He never failed to stop by the office to talk about either sport or just talk about how he never lost toDoaneCollegeduring his years as a player at Nebraska Wesleyan.
Scott was so full of life, I still expect him to come down the hall and say, “What the hell are you thinking?” I would tell Scott I was thinking of him. I hope I can be half the parent Scott was and I hope I had half as much influence on my players as Scott. If I achieved exactly 50% of what Scott achieved, my career will be considered a success.
I will work at Northwest Missouri State until the end of June. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity Jim Redd and Sherri Reeves game me and my family. Sherri is one of the great people who shaped women’s athletics at Northwest. I hope no one ever forgets her contributions.
I will miss working with the coaches and administrators. My former assistant coach, Lori Hopkins, was my boss as my career ended. It’s too bad she probably won’t become a head coach. As an assistant, she was a tremendous influence on many lives. Wren Baker will take the athletic department to new heights and Dr. John Jasinski will help the University come through these tough financial times and be stronger because of it.