Deserving of Each Other

Last evening, it was made public that West Liberty University Associate Head Coach, Kyle Cooper, was elevated to the position of Head Coach.

I have known Coach Cooper for several years now since he has been an assistant coach in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference turned Mountain East Conference when I was a head coach at Penn State – Beaver and an assistant at Clarion University.

From my interaction with Kyle, he has always been the consummate professional as women’s college basketball coach. Whether it was staying for the late AAU game at tournaments when he was trying to land the big recruit, breaking down just a little more film, or working with female student-athletes on the court, Kyle was always willing to do whatever it took to be a great assistant.

Put simply, he always tried to do what great assistants do: make the head coach’s life easier and always put the team before his ego.

Kyle made a somewhat controverisal move in 2013 when he left Wheeling Jesuit University for cross-town rival West Liberty University. By making the jump across town, he not only got to work with legendary coach Lynn Ullom, but he had the opportunity to observe and be mentored how to run an elite NCAA Division II program, make quality contacts with some of the best in the business and take the lead role in recruiting, game planning and many other facets of program planning. It was only an 11 mile move, but it made all the difference.

For an assistant (and head coach for that matter), to work in an environment that allows room to grow while continuing to be able pursuit ones professional goals and dreams IS EVERYTHING.

Unfortunately, not every coach has great mentors, support from their administration or even the personal resolve to allow them to persevere until a situation arises which allows for a vertical move. Sometimes assistants get antsy and jump at any chance to become a head coach, even if it is a subpar situation. This is all in an effort not to get labeled as an “assistant” forever. Other coaches may get out of the game completely because the assistant coaching salary, especially at the DII or DIII levels, may not be enough to support themselves or their families. When you weigh the time requirements along with the modest financial compensation at most institutions, these factors can really be the deciding reasons for assistant coaches looking for an opportunity to be a head coach to make a tough decision about their vocation and leave the professional altogether.

Since head coaching jobs are so far and few between, coaches should celebrate West Liberty’s decision to promote Coach Cooper for the following reasons.

First, the administration didn’t open the position to a lengthy national search. Instead, they looked at Coach Cooper’s entire body of work since he has been at West Liberty and made a value judgment on his ability to lead the women’s basketball program. Kyle’s approach to his position over the past four seasons proved he was worthy of the title “head coach”. By not opening a search, yes it may not have given others the ability to interview and show their competence, but it also didn’t waste potential applicants time or money by putting on a “dog and pony show” when they knew who their hire was going to be. We all know that the hiring process is brutal, filled with emotional rollercoaster moments throughout, so to spare this anxiety for everyone involved, especially the Cooper family, is tremendous.

In addition, the decision to promote Coach Cooper keeps the program running seamlessly and will most likely not make for a wave of transfers, something plaguing college basketball at all levels, because Coach Cooper not only recruited all of them but he has a personal relationship with them as well. I am sure that most if not all of the student-athletes are excited about continuing to have Coach Cooper as their coach and leader.

Moreover, the process was not some “political move” or “inside job” made by administration to satisfy an alum base or booster. It was not some new administration or current administrator putting “their guy/girl” in the job who was not qualified but rather a figurehead or personal friend. It was not the administration opening the job up to find a an ex-professional player or alum to make a “splash” hire. It was not the administration hiring a “big name” who has coached basketball but never (maybe) women’s basketball before, or worse yet, never been a coach at all. The hire was also not an administrator hiring someone to fill a quota.

No the hire of Coach Cooper was none of that. Rather, West Liberty had no agenda. Instead they evaluated Coach Cooper’s four years on the Hill and took that four year job interview at face value. West Liberty rewarded Coach Cooper with a promotion because he EARNED THE POSITION. Period.

This hire has helped restore some of my faith in the hiring process in women’s basketball. Kudos to West Liberty University President Dr. Stephen Greiner and the athletic administration for how they handled this entire process. Coaches everywhere would be lucky to be treated with this type of loyalty and respect that Coach Cooper experienced.

Hopefully other administrations will look carefully at their upcoming open positions, and whether it is opening the position up for a national search or promoting from within, they must do the what is right from both the program and its current and future student-athletes. It must be noted that depending upon the situation, either option can be the right decision. It just has to be made with the student-athletes and the program in mind and nothing else. No agendas please.

With all of that in mind, most importantly, a coach who has paid his dues now gets an opportunity to play out his adulthood dream while his wife and son get to cheer him on from the stands.

Congrats West Liberty University and Coach Cooper. All the best in the future.

You deserve each other.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo

 

 

 

 

When in Rome…Be Broke

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I was listening to an interview on the Jim Rome Radio Show on Monday when he was interviewing Fairleigh Dickinson Head Men’s Basketball Coach, Greg Herenda.

During the interview, Rome commented on Herenda’s career path and good fortune. Rome stated, “sometimes it doesn’t break the right way for some people,” to which Herenda agreed that after a long struggle, he did catch some breaks.

How true.

Think about how many coaches and/or players would have or could have “made it” if they were just under the right system, had an agent promote them a little better, were professionally networked better or were under better coaching mentors?

It brings me to one of my former players, Troy Jackson Jr. Troy is currently playing for the Rochester RazorSharks of the PBL (Premier Basketball League – “The Triple ‘A’ League of Professional Basketball”). Troy is the reigning MVP of the league and has a tremendous professional career but I always felt that timing did not work out for him.

Considering he played at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore for one season and then transferred and graduated from Alcorn State, it is amazing that he even played overseas and professionally in the United States for almost 10 years.

Troy was forced to take (and make — see this ridiculous highlight video) lots of bad shots at ASU due to his supporting cast. Nevertheless, the future Alcorn Hall of Famer’s ability shined through and he was fortunate enough to get some looks overseas.

Troy was overseas and playing well when the checks stopped coming…that is his team essentially went bankrupt. Bad luck, right?

After moving from league to league like countless others do, Troy showed out with the Vermont Frost Heaves (now defunct team owned by Sports Illustrated’s Alexander Wolff), going 9-10 from 3pt range, which landed him another overseas opportunity. Again, that experience was short lived due and Troy was once again sent searching for a team.

As PBL MVP in 2014-15,  Troy could definitely have been playing in the D-League or making close to six-figures overseas. However, as Rome said, “sometimes it doesn’t break the right way for some people.”

So why not? I think there are tons of factors: College coaches with insufficient professional contacts (guilty as charged), former agents who did not really work for him, lackluster marketing my teams/leagues, coaches who have agendas and limit his minutes/production, overall bad timing and some poor choices by Troy himself with selecting his professional support staff.

So what? Others have been subject to this too…I agree. Countless others. Others most of us will never hear about.

The real difference is which athletes/coaches are willing to continue to work when the chips are down, dreams are unrealized and they have only themselves to count on? (Sounds like Daymond John’s “The Power of Broke”, doesn’t it?)

Troy’s RazorSharks (13-2) plays in Providence on Sunday vs. the Sky Chiefs (6-7) at 1pm. Come see him play and you will understand what I am saying.

No complaints. No sob story. Just witness a professional chasing a dream and being patient for it to “break the right way.” The Power of Broke is what has kept him going and what motivates him.

Come up and see it for yourself.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter at CoachDeSalvo

 

The Promise (and Majerus’ Curse)

In an era when events like “The Decision” are sensationalized and covered by every major news source around, I wanted to discuss something that was very important to me. “The Promise.”

The reason I created this blog was to give myself a creative outlet to express thoughts and insights during this waiting period in my basketball coaching career. With only three stories on my site, I think you have a general idea that I want to be creative, humorous and witty as I address topics that arise in the wide world of sports.

However, this entry will be a bit more personal.

Recently, Rick Majerus, a true basketball mastermind, tactician and historian, passed away. With his passing, many sports columnists and basketball coaches that were associated with him expressed their views on Rick Majerus. Doug Gottlieb’s article in particular did a great job capturing Majerus’ dichotomy as a person and coach.

This got me thinking of my brief experience with Coach Majerus.

I was at a Nike Coaching Clinic in Uncasville, CT at the Mohegan Sun Resort Casino. I believe it was in 2004. I am not exactly sure the year because my clinic notes, along with almost my entire life, sits in a 10’ x 11’ storage facility on the East side of New Haven right now (but I will get back to that later).

As an aspiring basketball coach, I was eager to move up in the coaching ranks and Majerus’ was presenting on a great topic that any coach should be familiar with. He was discussing the “9 Ways to Defend the Pick and Roll.” I think I could only name seven ways at the time, so I was very excited!

However, as Majerus began to talk, it was clear that he was never going to address all the ways to defend the pick and roll. He was so knowledgeable that the hour and fifteen minute allotment that he was given by Ed Janka, Nike Clinician, was not going to be able to touch on even half. He discussed trapping out of the ball screen, which led to a story. Then switching out of the ball screen, which led to a story. And so on, and so on. His stories were so vivid and detailed, all of us who were lucky enough to hear him speak that day felt like we were in the moments he was describing.

As the Head Men’s Basketball Coach at the University of Utah, he had the opportunity to see John Stockton and Karl Malone in their glory years with the NBA’s Utah Jazz. Majerus was a former assistant with the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and his connections to Frank Layen and Jerry Sloan (former Jazz Head Coaches) gave him access to Jazz games and practices. This allowed him to be quite the connoisseur on the pick and roll, a staple of the Jazz’ offense during Stockton and Malone’s careers.

However, it is not the pick an roll that really caught my attention. As I was fiercely taking notes, Majerus went off on a tangent. He began to talk about the 1998 NCAA Championship game which his Utah Utes lost to the Kentucky Wildcats, 78-69. It was here that he said, “Have you ever been so close to your dream that you could see it? I have watched that game countless times and know every possession in that game. I replay those mistakes in my head time and time again and realize that I was so close to my dream.” It haunted him.

Majerus continued that basically he loved watching game tape so much that he would routinely eat four to six pizzas in his hotel room, which is where he lived, while breaking down game tape. Needless to say, Majerus did not live in a traditional home. Also, it was because of his compulsive personality that he “was divorced and had no children.” He had basketball and basketball had him. That was his intimate realationship.

Majerus said this so matter-of-factly and then continued on his topic.

I thought, “Wow! This is a coach that is at the top of his game, has coached at the highest level and he is haunted by the thought of that one loss.”

It makes you wonder if it would have been better if Majerus had never reached the 1998 title game.
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Let’s fast forward to February 23, 2011…

My Penn State Beaver team was going for its fourth consecutive conference tournament championship. We were up 10 points at the half although we were not playing our best brand of basketball. As the second half wore on, I could see the game slipping away. This is an awful feeling for a coach, especially when you feel there is nothing you can do to gain the momentum back. I called timeouts, ran quality offense, used the bench, got to the foul line, but to no avail. Penn State Brandywine, with the game tied, knocked down a 3pt field goal on the left wing with just seconds remaining to give them a lead.

I drew up a press breaker and 3pt shot for my best 3pt shooter, who grazed the right side of the rim as time expired. We had lost, 57-54.

My team was devastated. I have only watched the end of that game once. It was at the start of the next practice as we received an automatic bid to the national tournament. We watched it in pain together to put it behind us and prepare for the national championship tournament. I haven’t watched it since.

I think about that game from time to time. It was one we should have had and my seniors would have won four conference championships to cap their storied careers. However, I will not memorize that game because I do not want those memories to haunt me each an every day. Coach Majerus taught me that. I felt his pain in our loss. Both, Majerus’ and mine, are still very, very real.

Our team rebounded, won three games in a row and made it to the national finals. Again we lost, 80-55. The seniors walked off of that floor together at the final buzzer, as they should have. Despite the score, they were champions in my eyes.

That game, I have NEVER watched.

And I never will.

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Let’s fast forward again…

It’s now the beginning of October 2012. My wife and I are expecting in December (we just had a beautiful baby girl on December 2nd, ironically the day after Coach Majerus passed) and we are excited about the huge change in our lives that is about to occur. Although we own a great home near Clarion, Pennsylvania, we both have applied for positions to better our family and our career and financial situations.

I have made it no secret to my administration and head coach that I wish to continue the climb up the coaching ladder and run my own Division II basketball program or get back into division I basketball once again.

Amazingly, my wife, who works in higher education, was offered a job at Yale University during our search. This is truly a great opportunity for both of us. She can pursue her career ambitions and we will be closer to our family in Rhode Island when the baby arrives.

In the short term, we decide that I will take a week or so to see the birth of our child and then I will return to Clarion to finish the season and take care of our home during the selling process. However, our home sold in four days and after seeing how my wife was living in our new apartment, by herself with limited (basically no) furnishings, I decided that I could not live with myself seeing her like that or focus on anything. Plans had to change. I was afraid to be a 50/50 husband and father and a 50/50 coach. My family and my players deserved better than that. I had to make a tough decision.

An emotional three weeks ensued, where I had to say goodbye to my players rather hastily. It was one of the most difficult things I had to do.

I coached my last game on Saturday. Finished packing up the house on Sunday and moved to New Haven, Connecticut the next day, Monday, November 19, 2012, so I could be reunited with my wife and soon-to-be newborn. We now live in a good sized apartment, with most of our belongings in that 10′ x 11′ storage facility I so fondly referred to earlier (I hope you can sense my sarcasm).

Not having a basketball season these past few weeks has been difficult for me. My whole existence up to this point has evolved around “my promise.” My promise is what motivates me, although it has evolved through time just as I have.

My first “Promise” was to be a college head coach and earn my master’s degree before I was 30. I accomplished that.

Then I redefined my “Promise” to support a family once again though coaching. I accomplished that.

Then my “Promise” was to get my dogs, Murphy and Benny, a yard. Again supporting a family but having a home to call our own. I accomplished that.

Then my “Promise” was to become be a NCAA Division II Head Coach or NCAA Division I Assistant Coach. I was so close to realizing my dreams with all of my interviews in the summer of 2011 that I could taste it. Just like Majerus.

However, that “Promise” has not come true yet.

My recent resignation from basketball, has led me to have this empty feeling where I have relived the sacrifices I have made to pursue my basketball journey and coaching career. I have questioned my very existence from a professional standpoint. I find myself wondering where I will end up once job openings begin come available in March and April.

Then I think of my wife and my newborn.

Then, I recall that Coach Majerus lost his family because of his obsession. No wife. No children. I remember the emptiness in his voice that day. I remember the suffering. The loss haunted him, but I believe that he was expressing that day was that he had lost much more than a the 1998 Men’s Basketball National Championship game. I have never forgotten that.

And I never will.

Wanna Get Away?

If you were watching NBA action last night, the early time-slot marquee matchup was the San Antonio Spurs against the defending champions, the Miami Heat. The game was a close fought affair, with Ray Allen hitting a clutch 3-point shot down the stretch to give the Heat the 105-100 win.

However, the topic of discussion was that legendary Spurs Head Coach, Gregg Popovich sent Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green home the night before of the final game of a brutal six game, in nine night road trip.

The Spurs, who have won four NBA Championships during “Pops” reign as head coach, have been know to rest their veterans at times to survive the grueling 82-game regular season schedule to prepare for the playoff push. Popovich obviously is sensitive to the “marathon” which is the regular season, so his veterans can make their annual push in the “sprint” that is the NBA playoffs.

Popovich, highly regarded and a true ambassador of the game, did acknowledge, “If I was taking my 6-year-old son or daughter to the game, I would want them to see everybody, and if they weren’t there, I’d be disappointed. So I understand that perspective. Hopefully, people in that position will understand my perspective. My priority is the basketball team and what is best for it.”

As a coach, I of course, side with Popovich and will be interested to see the discipline that Commissioner David Stern has vowed to serve.

However, this for me is not the story. The real story is that the players went home the night before, from Orlando to San Antonio…on a commercial Southwest Airlines flight.

Can you imagine that?

Imagine taking this flight from Orlando to San Antonio on a random Wednesday night in late November. Hopefully you are in Group A or B. If not you have to wait until the C group boards. That’s annoying. Even more annoying than that may be that you have to ask your fellow passengers what number they are when you board your group. This seems like an apparent “icebreaker” strategy by Southwest so that its passengers meet each other before they board the plane. Maybe this is a marketing strategy to increase passenger comfort and therefore future sales. Either way it makes you feel like the first day of kindergarten.

“Mr. Duncan, I am A36. I think your ticket says you are in A37.”

“No problem Mr. Parker, I see you are A35. Go right ahead.”

So as you board the plane in between of the two future NBA Hall of Famers, the stewardess notifies the passengers that the plane is going to be at capacity. As you select your aisle seat, you realize that these are not regular passengers. They are BIG human beings. Knees and elbows are all over the place. They jam their carry-ons into the overhead compartments and scrunch your personal items.

“I hope that bottle of Key Lime BBQ sauce didn’t explode.”

Next Duncan, Parker and Ginobili sit behind you. Great. Again knees are in your back and the perennial All-Stars cannot get comfortable. They toss and jostle all flight long. If they were screaming, you would think that they were a bunch of four-year olds who were out of control.

On the other hand, Mr. Green is sitting in front of you and he reclines his seat which seems like it goes extra far back. He is in your lap basically. Now you are having a tough time doing the sudoku puzzle in the complimentary Spirit magazine.

These players are too much.

“Peanuts or pretzels, Mr. Ginobili?”

Mr. Ginobili asks for the heart-shaped goldfish crackers. The flight is full and they are out. You have to be kidding Southwest! You know how Mr. Ginobili gets when he doesn’t get his heart-shaped goldfish crackers.

Seriously?

Now, Mr. Duncan heads to the restroom in the back of the plane. You don’t even want to imagine him jamming his 260 lb, 6’11” frame into that tiny space. It’s tough for normal sized people, never mind “The Big Fundamental.”

The seatbelt sign comes on and you cannot wait for the plane to land. As you begin your descent, you have to listen to Parker talk about how he hates landing and begins to tap the back of your seat in nervous anticipation. Really?

You are not out of the woods yet though. Other passengers turn their phones on and snag a picture or text/call a family member to tell them who is on board with them. Now you have random strangers who are coming into your personal space. Asking you to snap a shot or two.

“Can you please hold the iPhone camera a second or two after you push the button or the picture comes out blurry.”

You have an iPhone, but you are not a professional photographer so you “appreciate” the tip.

As you pull up to the gate, you still have to wait for the NBA Champs to grab their items since yours are squished in the back. More waiting. You start to smell Key Lime BBQ sauce.

Great.

“Geez, it is hot in here,” declares Green.

Yeah, thanks ‘Master of the Obvious.’

Eventually you begin to deplane and you are very excited to get off this flight. Great no baggage claim, you just want to get out of here. However, Duncan is holding up the deplaning because he was to get the Southwest credit card so he can get the reward points.

“If I take a few more flights, I will be eligible for a free flight!”

“Come on, you have to be joking Tim!”

Thankfully your experience comes to an end and you head to your peaceful abode.

Or you could just ask for their autographs…

Or maybe the Spurs could upgrade them to business class…

Or maybe you should have just went to see the Spurs vs. Heat game to get away from them…

“You are now free to move about the country.”

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo

“Where Else Can You Buy A Dream For A Dollar?”

As I was sitting with my family the other day during the Thanksgiving holiday, my brother reminded me to “make sure you play the Powerball. The jackpot is ridiculous.” According to a recent story in the USA Today, the Powerball will reach upwards of $425 million and it seems that there will be a winner as most of the number combinations will have been played.

With that in mind, I have yet to run out and get my winning ticket. Maybe the coach in me is a pessimist or maybe I just understand the craze. I worked at a liquor store during my college days and sold these tickets at my place of employment. Therefore, I have seen the poor decision making by some who waste a whole paycheck on several hundred tickets, which really do not increase your odds of winning the jackpot.

Still, it is fun to think of what you would do if you won the big one.

For anyone, even professional athletes and big time coaches, that kind of money is life altering. With a little financial planning and the ability to say ‘no’ (distant family and friends included) one would never have to work ever again. EVER.

Still competition is in our blood and I asked myself “what would I do?” Would I still coach? Humm…We all have our daily struggles at our specific universities/colleges. As college coaches, we have to skillfully juggle our administration, boosters, summer camps, budgets and fundraising events to keep our programs flourishing and fiscally afloat. It is because of some of these things that some coaches lose their jobs or decide that the workload/hours is too overbearing and get out of the game.

After considering not coaching for a brief moment as that thought flashed in my mind, I answered the question with a resounding “yes”.

So I thought, I would coach for sure but it would be on my terms more or less. So I could buy my way into a position, but I would get resentment from most. I could coach high school or AAU for the love of the game, but I know I would want to be a the college level. Then it hit me! What if I could buy my own school? Just imagine if you could fund or partially fund a university/college where you could set up endowments and scholarship monies to help to pay for top notch facilities, professors, infrastructure and administrators. Couple that with a large payroll, even bigger budgets, rooms stocked with athletic apparel, and a top flight weight room. Needless to say, my mind was racing.

Now I know that this $425 million jackpot (don’t forget taxes) might not cover all of these expenses but let’s think outside the box and dream, o.k.?

So of course, we would need administrators, professors, buildings and majors. These would all have to be carefully selected. Remember we can mimic the thought process of Philanthropist John Hammond in Jurassic Park, “spared no expense” so I am not too worried about luring top echelon professors from the Ivy Leagues, etc. Then we need to select the location of the university. West coast vs. East coast? Should it be a liberal arts or a research institution? Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Lots of choices will have to be made, but let’s get to the fun stuff. From a basketball standpoint, just imagine designing your own athletic building! Coaches offices, state-of-the-art film room, athletic fields, training and rehabilitation facilities. New copy machines and printers (I battle daily with my 1996 HP model) and more than adequate staffing. A strength and conditioning coach too! Air-conditioning courts during the summer months, really?

Spared no expense.

Now let’s talk gear. Nike, Adidas, or Under Armour? Who cares. Use whatever distributor you want and put as many logos on it as you desire. Money is no object.

And for the founder of this new institution, a life time contract. Wow! Imagine coaching with that type of security. I can see where it could be dangerous if the founder/head coach was lazy and abused their power, which can happen, trust me. However, all things being equal though, that would be pretty amazing.

It is fun to dream. A true wish list. Some of these things may seem trivial to you and your program but to some low DI’s and many DII’s and DIII’s, they are on the tops of their lists (especially a reliable printer!).

I do have one personal request. Parquet floor reminiscent of the old Boston Garden. That would be special to work on each and everyday. The older the better. Nostalgia sometimes trumps new.

Despite all of the great things that this type of scenario entails, as the Notorious B.I.G once said “Mo’ money, Mo’ problems” and there surely would be some given this situation. One issue for coaches would be how would they continue motivate student-athletes who have the best of everything? You can’t play the underdog card when you are rocking the best gear, traveling on luxury charters and eating great meals every road trip. As a Head Coach, I would continue to reiterate that we have no history and we have won nothing yet. Games are won on the court and that old parquet floor might serve as a reminder. In addition, I would still make our student-athletes fundraise, do community service and brand our program like every program in the country does. I would treat them great, but I would also treat them normal once they committed to the program. Nevertheless, it would be a challenge at times.

And what would you call this new school of higher education? “Insert your last name” University, Powerball College? What would the mascot be? A big red ball, in the Syracuse Orangeman genre? Hardly.

Given these circumstances I think Daydream University with a cloud as the mascot would be appropriate.
Also, the university would retire the number nine at the first home game too. It would be in honor of knowing that everyday members of our campus community woke up we would all be on “Cloud Nine.”

I am running out to buy my ticket now…

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo