Commentary

Several factors limit tenure of area basketball coaches

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

When Kevin Thuman recently announced his retirement as coach of the Westerville North High School boys basketball team, the area lost one of its few long-term coaches in the sport.

Thuman had been the Warriors' coach for 18 seasons.

That doesn't seem like too long of a tenure, but look around. Who has remained at the same post as long? Ed Calo has been at Westerville South for 26 seasons, the same as Grandview's Ray Corbett and Canal Winchester's Kent Riggs. Vince Lombardo has been at Watterson for 20 seasons and Bob Miller trumps them all with 30 seasons at Thomas Worthington.

There's also girls coach Dave Butcher and boys coach Pete Liptrap, who spent multiple seasons at the old Pickerington, now Pickerington Central, before moving to Pickerington North when it opened in 2003.

But more and more, area basketball coaches rarely stay on the job this long. Often it comes down to the coach wanting to spend more time with family.

"(Spending time with family) is something that a lot of people talk about, and it is a factor," Thuman said. "I know I spent a lot of time working on summer basketball and missing some of the baseball games (my son) Jacob played when he was younger. It was up to my wife (Laurie) to cart the kids around to a lot of events."

Gone are the days of showing up to basketball practice in November and figuring out who is going to play. Now, coaches spend time watching AAU games, organizing open gyms and trying to make the most of the 10 contact days they're allowed with players in June and July. Those hours add to those spent away from family events and vacations.

Connie Allen spent seven seasons leading the Johnstown girls program before leaving in spring 2011 to spend more time with her two young daughters. Former Dublin Jerome girls coach Matt Martin left following the 2011-12 season, his fifth, after his wife gave birth to their second daughter.

Some coaches also are lured away by upward career movement. Several have left the bench to become administrators such as principals, assistant principals or athletics directors. Last summer, John Betz stepped down after four seasons as the boys coach at Olentangy Orange to take over as the school's athletics director, and in 2008 Joe Bline left Jerome's boys program after one season to become the athletics director at St. Marys Memorial. Bline since has returned to the area to hold the same position at Marysville.

One factor in Thuman's long stay at Westerville North was patience and consistency. Since opening in 1975, North has had only three boys basketball coaches in Les Randolph (1975-83), Dave Hoover (1983-95) and Thuman.

Thuman started strong, with his team reaching the Division I state tournament in his first season, but he also had some lean years. During a three-season stretch from 2005-08, the Warriors went 11-53, with back-to-back 3-18 seasons from 2006-08.

But in 2008-09, even though North finished 13-11, it reached its first district final since 2000, losing to eventual state champion Northland 59-56. It was the first of five consecutive trips to at least a district semifinal for the Warriors.

Coaches at many schools would not have endured a three-year stretch like that. Basketball coaches often are sent through a revolving door, even if the school is known more for other sports.

That comes full circle to the 365-day aspect of the sport. When basketball players spend their summer playing other sports, it shows when they walk into the gym for the first practice of the season. Their skills erode and they have been passed by athletes who have put in that extra time on the court. That's not saying they shouldn't play other sports, but they have to dedicate some attention to basketball during the summer.

Just as players need to put in time on the court, coaches must do the same. And that time has limited the number of long-tenured coaches.

The situation likely won't change anytime soon.

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