Traveling Violations: A coach's coach
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports
March 2, 2007
ST. LOUIS – He’s been telling it like it is for 42 years as a coach, always unflinchingly honest and direct, a breath of fresh air. So, no, there was no reason to expect anything to change now that Royce Waltman’s bumbled dismissal was humiliatingly public.
Waltman has been fired as the head coach of Indiana State and that probably means little to most college hoops fans. It should mean more.
This is a coach’s coach, the kind of guy you’d send your kid to play for and learn from in a heartbeat, just the way parents in Indiana had for decades. This is the kind of leader college basketball likes to pretend all of their coaches are like, when in truth, so few are.
He had been a high school coach, a Bob Knight assistant at IU, a small college champion and finally the guy who resurrected Indiana State from its depressing post-Larry Bird era and returned the Sycamores to a couple of NCAA tournaments earlier this decade.
“We failed,” Waltman said after a 59-38 loss to Creighton ended ISU’s season at 13-18. “There’s no one to blame for that except myself.”
Indiana State had fallen off in recent years, so the school had little choice. But make no mistake, college basketball is a poorer place without this guy, the grandfatherly teacher. The way the school’s Board of Trustees decided to fire him a week ago and then let it become the worst kept secret in Terre Haute was an unfortunate way to end it.
“Well, don’t take this as a bitter comment because I am not one bit bitter but the administration handled this with the deft touch of a 20-mule team,” Waltman laughed.
Waltman was disappointed Friday and worried about the future. For over four decades he’s had a team to concern himself with; a group of young men to teach and now, well, who knows? He can’t imagine a winter without a team. But now, at 65, and coming off this disappointment, he knows he might be done – no matter his 599 career victories at the college and high school level.
“I can’t get a head coaching job,” Waltman said. “You gotta understand, if you get fired for cheating, you get hired right back again. If you get fired for losing, it’s like you’ve got leprosy; so young coaches need to bear that in mind. Cheating and not graduating players will not get you in trouble, but that damn losing …”
That’s always been Waltman’s way, take no prisoners. Don’t get the idea that this press conference was a final rant against an unfair system. Waltman spent as much time cracking jokes as anything.
When initially asked to comment on the accuracy of a report in the Terre Haute paper that he was done, he deadpanned, “Well, I would say it’s very accurate.”
College hoops can only hope he hooks on somewhere as an assistant. He was a victim of his own success in many ways. When he took over in 1997, the Sycamores had suffered through 17 consecutive non-winning seasons. He immediately got them to 16-11 and then into the 2000 and 2001 NCAA tournaments. But he couldn’t maintain it and Waltman says that’s on him.
“We had some great teams and then we made some recruiting errors and some mistakes and we found ourselves in a position where we didn’t build as we should have,” he said. “I’m embarrassed by that.”
ISU will go younger, for sure, and will probably find a more polished, supposedly more exciting coach. “Whatever they choose to do is their decision,” said Creighton coach Dana Altman. “But they’ll have a hard time finding a better coach and a better man than Royce Waltman.”
“Do I get a retraction?” he asked, which I agreed to. “How about a public apology?”
The guy finishes 47th out of 48 and he wants an apology?
“I’m ashamed/proud (of last place),” Staples said. “But now you can call your dad the penultimate competitor. And any opportunity to use the word penultimate is a blessing.”
And so The Jerome turns.
Ironically I didn’t even give my father enough credit for his Jerome scouting this winter. He even took in the Drexel-Northeastern tilt last month, a true MCI game – friends and family only. Of course, he immediately turned on his buddy Bruiser Flint and picked Virginia Commonwealth to win the CAA.
“It’s a home game for VCU,” he offered.
Of course, the guy is so excited about all the games on Saturday he doesn’t even know when my mother is returning from visiting family in New York. If she is smart it’ll be April.
“The older you get the more you think about it,” said Davis, who coached at Iowa, Stanford and Boston College through the years. “I’ve been in it long enough to know that … I’ll take some time and think about it.”
If this was Davis’ final season – 17-16 – it can be highlighted by his victory over Iowa, the program that fired him in favor of Steve Alford (who is now on his own hot seat).
Maybe. But one more win sure would help.
He actually coached Medaille, a Division III school in Buffalo, this season and was so good that one year after getting fired from the MAAC he was the coach of the year in the AMCC. Not bad.
“We’ve created a monster in this league,” Missouri State coach Barry Hinson said. “Don’t point the finger at them, point it at the other nine teams in the league that are good. They play in the sixth best conference in the country.”
The league expects packed houses here for this weekend’s semifinals and title game. Maybe it’ll allow them to spring for wireless access courtside next year.
Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Saturday, Mar 3, 2007 1:53 am, EST