It’s one of the more discussed and often inflammatory questions in sports: how important is a head coach to a team? Sure, the players play the game, but what role, what percentage of a team’s effort and ability should be attributed to the man at the helm.
It surely differs, but one could make the argument that no coach is as important to a program’s long term success as a college basketball coach. While the players change from year to year, the coach is the constant. And when you look at programs that are consistent on a year-to-year basis, the Michigan State’s, the Duke’s, the Gonzaga’s, you don’t see schools that change out coaches on a whim.
After last season, a season that saw the Governors miss the OVC tournament, Austin Peay was at a crossroads. Not only was their coach of 23-years, a five-time coach of OVC champions, three-time coach of NCAA tournament teams, struggling on the court; he was also the school’s Athletic Director, the only man in Division I to still hold both titles. With a former OVC head coach on the staff, do you make a change, and if so, what change do you make?
The decision made was surprising to some: Dave Loos left his post as Athletic Director, to focus all his efforts on the court which bears his name.
Every year, no matter where Austin Peay is picked to finish, coaches from other schools are always quick to warn, “Don’t overlook Dave Loos.” The Governors are hoping those warnings ring true, for the first time in a few seasons.
An instant rise in expectations
On paper, there’s isn’t a lot of reason to pick Austin Peay third in the West Division. They do return all-conference guard (and my pick for preseason player of the year) Travis Betran, and quality forward Will Triggs. But Anthony Campbell, the team’s second-leading scorer a year ago, is gone. The guards are completely overhauled.
And let’s not forget, this was an 8-win team a year ago.
Before Austin Peay’s precipitous fall from the ranks, the Governors were picked to win the OVC after a 20-win season the year before. That season, the Governors would lose their first nine out of the gate, and finish 12-20 overall, and just 8-8 in the conference. The Governors had gone through losing seasons under Loos before. In 2003-04, the Governors posted 13 wins. They were 15-18 in 2001-02. But they seemingly always bounced back.
The next year, the coaches and athletic director predicted that the Governors, like they had done before, would rise again, picking them third in the West. Again, the Governors would falter, falling to their lowest win total since Loos’ third season at the helm.
As much as anything, picking Austin Peay third in the division for the second year in a row shows the respect coaches and athletic directors have for Loos.
But Loos isn’t just hoping to return to the OVC Tournament. Finishing in the middle of the pack isn’t his goal, even though that would be a marked improvement. Before another reporter could even finish his question to Loos at OVC media day about the coach’s expectations, Loos began his answer.
“To contend for a championship,” Loos quipped. “Absolutely. That’s where our program has been, and that’s where we’re trying to go, to get back to. That’s the feeling of our players, they think we can be good. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but they want to make a run at it.”
To get his team back into the mix in the OVC, Loos isn’t afraid to try some new things with his players.
“We did a lot of tweaking, Loos said. “Put people here, put people there, some of which put people in places where they didn’t belong. We’re better right now then we were at any point last year. Whether we’re good enough to contend, only time will tell. But I think we are.”
A veteran of the sport, and media days, Loos was quick to pull back on the reigns as well, ending our conversation with a matter of fact saying.
“Of course, words are easily spoken right now, right?”