The most successful era in the history of the Canal Winchester High School boys basketball team has ended.
Kent Riggs, the program's winningest and longest-tenured coach, resigned last week after leading the Indians for 27 seasons. He will continue his role as the school's athletics director.
"(Coaching) is something I've done for 30 years and obviously I'm going to miss it," he said. "I've been the A.D. and boys basketball coach here (simultaneously) for 16 years and I didn't plan on doing both jobs for this long because it's hard with all of the responsibilities you have between the two jobs."
Riggs, 51, was an assistant coach at Canal Winchester for three seasons before being elevated to head coach for the 1987-88 season. He guided the Indians to a 422-194 record, 23 winning seasons, seven Mid-State League titles, five district championships and a regional title.
The Indians won their only regional title in 2000 to advance to a Division III state semifinal, where they lost to LeBron James and eventual champion Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary 63-53 to finish 24-2.
James was a freshman that season, scoring 19 points against the Indians and helping SVSM finish 27-0.
Riggs was named Division III state Coach of the Year in 2000, Division IV Central District Coach of the Year in 1989, District 10 Coach of the Year in 1989, 2000 and 2005 and MSL Coach of the Year seven times.
He was inducted into the MSL Hall of Fame in 2013 and the Canal Winchester Hall of Fame in 2010.
Riggs has begun the search for his successor and hopes to have the position filled in the coming weeks.
Last season, Canal Winchester won six of its first 12 games but lost 10 of its final 11, ending the season on a seven-game losing streak to finish 7-16 overall. In their first season in the OCC-Cardinal Division, the Indians went 2-12 to finish seventh behind champion Westerville Central (13-1).
"We've got six seniors coming back and a lot of good young kids moving up and this is a good time to let someone else come in with a lot of energy and run forward with the basketball coaching position," Riggs said.
According to one of his former players, Riggs has set the bar high for the coach who follows him.
"When you look at how long he's been there and what he's accomplished as both a basketball coach and A.D., coach Riggs has become the face of Canal Winchester athletics over the past 30 years," said Shawn Haughn, who played for the Indians from 1989-93. "He took the program from being a small Division IV team that competed in the MSL to a Division I team that now competes in the OCC, and he's such a great coach that he's been able to win at every level."
Mind for coaching
Riggs played a variety of sports growing up in Sugar Grove and first became involved in high school boys basketball as a seventh-grader, when he served as a team manager for Berne Union.
It didn't take long for Berne Union's coach at the time, Ray Mowery, to discover that Riggs had a keen understanding of the game.
"Kent wasn't a typical kid," Mowery said. "He just understood the game better than other kids his age. I can remember when he was our team manager, he would sit behind our coaches on the bench and talk to another manager about the game. One time during a game, I overheard him suggesting something that he thought would work, and I called a timeout and decided to give it a try. It turned out that he was right."
Riggs played basketball and baseball at Berne Union. He was named MSL Player of the Year in basketball as a senior in 1980 and was inducted into Berne Union's inaugural Hall of Fame in 2006.
"Kent was always in the gym and he was a coach on the floor," Mowery said. "Kent wasn't a fast player, but he's very intelligent, so he was able to stay two steps ahead of everyone else by anticipating where the ball was going."
Mowery was named coach at Canal Winchester before the 1984-85 season and he hired Riggs, who had graduated from Ashland University, to be an assistant coach.
Mowery stepped down after the 1986-87 season to become the principal of Canal Winchester's elementary school and recommended Riggs as his replacement.
"I always knew Kent had coaching in his blood because he has the ability to see the entire picture of what's happening on the court," Mowery said. "He was our offensive coach when we coached together and he developed our point guards. It was one of those rarities where Kent was a good head coach right away."
Haughn was Division IV state Player of the Year as a senior and earned a scholarship to the University of Dayton, where he played one season under coach Jim O'Brien and three seasons under Oliver Purnell.
O'Brien went on to be the head coach for three NBA teams (Boston, Philadelphia and Indiana), and Purnell currently is the head coach at DePaul University.
"I had the opportunity to play for some great coaches, but coach Riggs understands the games Xs and Os so much better than any other coach I've played for," Haughn said. "If he wanted to make the jump to coach in college, he would have done well at that level, too. But he's a loyal guy and Canal Winchester is where his heart is."
Riggs led the Indians to district titles in Division IV (1993), Division III (1998, 2000 and 2001) and Division II (2008). Canal Winchester moved up to Division I in the 2011-12 season.
"Kent is a great scout coach who can see what other teams are doing and always comes up with a great game plan," said Lyndell Snyder, who played for Riggs from 1987-89 and served as his assistant the past 14 seasons. "He's a stickler for details and he's taught me that it's often doing the little things right that wins games."
Riggs also gained the respect of a longtime rival in Bloom-Carroll coach Tom Petty, who has a 587-204 record in 34 seasons with the Bulldogs.
"Our schools are great rivals since our communities are so close, and Kent and I have coached against each other for 30 years," Petty said. "During that time, Canal Winchester was always well prepared and fundamentally sound. You're never going to surprise Kent with anything because he always does his homework."
All about relationships
Several of Riggs' former players say his greatest strength was getting the best out of his athletes by developing strong personal relationships with them.
Haughn, who is the principal at Bloom-Carroll Middle School, said Riggs emphasized the importance of working hard not only on the court, but in the classroom.
"Coach Riggs pushed you to make you better every day," Haughn said. "He saw my ability and potential when I was too young to see it myself and he took me under his wing. He understands that coaching is more about relationships than anything else. When you make a mistake, he gets in your face and tells you how you need to improve. But when you doubt yourself, he's there to give you a pat on the back and encouragement.
"I believe I, and probably many others, wouldn't have the quality of life we have today if it weren't for the impact he had on us."
Byron Mullens was Division II state co-Player of the Year as a senior in 2008. He has gone on to play for four NBA teams, including both the Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia this season, but still holds a special place in his heart for Riggs.
"He's an awesome coach and I look up to him not only as a man, but also as a father figure," Mullens said. "In my eyes, he's the best coach I've ever had because of the relationships he develops with his players. He pushes you to be a better player, but he also makes sure you hit the books, too. He's a guy you can talk to about anything and I'm already joking with him that he'll need to come out of retirement to coach my son in 18 years."
Riggs credits his former players for much of his success.
"We have a long, proud history of basketball at Canal Winchester and I was fortunate to get to work with a lot of great athletes and be a part of this program for so many years," he said. "Now it's time to bring someone else in who has a lot of energy and will keep the program moving forward."