Coaching basketball is hard. I coached a year of high school JV basketball while I was in college back in Indiana. It’s hard. I’m not saying it wasn’t fun or it wasn’t worth it. I loved it, but it’s hard.
It’s a grueling task to plan practices, keep teenage boys focused on a rebounding drill instead of the cheerleaders practicing in the corner of the gym, and not get paid very much, if at all, for the amount of time you put into it.
While being a basketball coach is hard, being a successful basketball coach is rare, and being a successful basketball coach in the same place for pretty much your entire career, well, that’s special.
My old high school coach, Dave McCollough, was the one of the winningest high school coaches in Indiana before a few outspoken parents ran him off the bench. He was 308-138 at the school, with eight sectional titles, a regional title, and 10 conference titles on his resume. Then, last April, poof. Gone.
The Dean Smiths and Mike Krzyzewskis are needles in a massive coaching haystack.
For those that know Bruce Hoffman, and a lot of people do, you wouldn’t have been surprised to hear Stan Haithcock tell his former coach, “You’re Dean Smith.”
Bruce Hoffman won 651 games at Sheridan College. That number is absurd.
But to me, the staggering statistic in Bruce Hoffman’s tenure is exactly that: his tenure. The guy coached 34 seasons at a small junior college in Sheridan, Wyoming.
While I had the pleasure of attending Hoffman’s 50-year celebration on Saturday, I got to thinking how incredible that number is.
The Generals have had three different head coaches since Hoffman retired in 1999.
Aspiring coaches usually get their start at the junior college level, with hopes and dreams of moving up the ranks and someday being the next Dean Smith. Junior Colleges don’t get the same money as bigger schools. They definitely don’t have the same pool of talent to choose from.
While John Calipari has McDonald’s All-Americans lined out the door of his office, Bruce Hoffman has recruiting meetings at the local McDonald’s. Well, it was Hardees, and he didn’t even buy the recruits a burger. Just a coke.
They only have players for two seasons, with players shuffling in and out of the doors faster than the coach has time to fix the old bus that transports them to road games.
But Hoffman somehow figured it out. Maybe it was a phenomenal understanding of the game, maybe it was a little bit of insanity. While his former players may joke that it’s the latter, it’s probably more of the former.
He loved the game. Scratch that, he loves the game. That’s why he was given a 50-year celebration by the college when he only coached for 34, because he’s served in other ways too. He stuck around even after he hung up the clipboard in ‘99. If you hangout at the college long enough, you’re sure to bump into Bruce in the hallway, as I did my first week in Sheridan.
He’ll treat you like he did his players, like he does with current players and coaches, and like he does with everyone else in the Sheridan community — with genuine respect.
That respect kept him around for 34 seasons, and beyond. He respects the game of basketball.
He may not have coached the North Carolina Tar Heels, but he’s Dean Smith.
He’s a legend.
Mike Pruden is the sports editor at The Sheridan Press.