I filled in today at WKU football practice for Chad Bishop, who’s on the road with the basketball Tops as they prepare for Virgina Commonwealth.
I talked today with assistant coaches Walt Wells and Eric Mathies – the only coaches that have been with the seniors throughout their time at WKU – as well as seniors Kawaun Jakes and Rammell Lewis, who graduated on Saturday.
I’m about to cover some high school hoops, but for now, here are comments from Wells and Mathies.
Wells confirmed that the assistant coaches are still awaiting their fates under new coach Bobby Petrino. The assistants set up meetings today with Petrino, Wells said.
Seeing the seniors through: “It’s been great and satisfying to see those guys to buy into a vision we sold them a long time ago. Of course, the vision’s changed through the coaching changes and things like that, and those guys have persevered and stayed through it. They’ve all worked really hard, and they’re reaping the rewards now. It’s fun to watch those guys grow up and to see success at the end of their careers.”
The adversity those players have faced: “This is just a small part of life, and this is preparing them for life. If the biggest thing they go through is a coaching change, they’ll be OK. They’ll know how to deal with adversity, job changes, boss changes. God forbid something tragic happens to their family, at least they understand how to react to certain situations.”
Wells and Mathies being constants on the staff: “I think that helps them have some success. I’m not saying our coaching or anything like that, but more hearing the same voices, same things coming through again and again. It keeps that comfort level there.”
Coaches dealing with all the changes: “It tries you. You talk about mentally tough – this is a business you have to be mentally tough in. If you’re mentally tough in this business, you’re not gonna last. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been here 10 years. It started with coach Harbaugh, and it’s ending with – well, I don’t know if it’s ending – but right now, it’s ending with coach Taggart. This has become my school because I’ve been here so long. My daughter knows nothing but here, my son was born here and my wife works on the Hill. For us, it’s been a family affair.”
More on time at WKU: “You think through all the things you’ve been through – being a consistent winner, being a consistent loser, back to a consistent winner. That’s part of the process, and it’s helped make me who I am as a coach and person.”
Is staff still waiting to hear if they’ll be retained? “We set some things up today coach Petrino. We’ll see how that goes, but we’re all professionals. We understand the business, and that’s the business end of it. I told my wife when Willie kept us, ‘Hey, we survived the first one. If another round comes, I don’t know what will happen.’ We’ve just got to roll with it. The most important thing is winning this football game for these seniors and completing this transition. If we do that, I can’t speak for (Mathies), we’ll feel like we’ve brought this thing where it needs to be, and we’ll feel good about our time here.”
Senior class: “It’s fun to see the process and see them grow. You see them as high school seniors or juniors, and all of a sudden, you see their development. … They become men, but they have to have someone to lean on. Me being there and having them lean on me for guidance, it’s gratifying.”
All the changes: “With everything we’re going through right now, it couldn’t end smooth. It just couldn’t. Everything’s got to be a rocky road, but with what they’ve been through, if what they’ve accomplished up this point is any indication, I think we’re going to finish this thing off pretty good next week.”
More on the changes: “It’s all adversity. From when they first started, to losing coach Elson, to that 0-20 streak, losing coach Taggart. Now you’ve got a whole coaching staff that may not be here. But they’re still out here, still working, still persevering. Life’s about how you handle times of struggle.”
Players needing consistency with coaches: “So much in our society, especially young men, there’s a lot of people in and out of their lives, especially young, black men. There’s a lot of inconsistency at times. When you find something that is consistent, they tend to flourish. That’s what’s going on with this group. Yeah, I got lucky that coach Taggart kept me when Elson got fired. And in the grand scheme of things, it might have been the best thing for those kids.”