Boots retirement

We’ll have more on Dave Boots’ resignation, its significance and the reaction to it in the coming days, but I can spare a few words on the topic here now (early Wednesday morning) and still have some left over for use later in the week.

Obviously in a situation like this, the first questions – and as yet unanswered in any great detail – are these: Why? And, why now?

I can’t answer them and if you came here looking for idle speculation, you came to the wrong place. I don’t know and nobody I talked to today knew, or had much to offer otherwise on- or off-the-record on that count. My guess is that in the next few days we’ll have a better picture, but if we don’t, that wouldn’t surprise me either. There is always the possibility that he just decided it was time to move on and his public explanation of that on Tuesday – essentially that it was time for someone else to lead the program – is all we’re going to hear about it.

I can tell you about 20 years of working as a sportswriter covering Dave Boots-coached teams. That part I know. I also know that in recent years he spoke of retirement not being that far off. That’s not unusual for a coach who has been around for a while, especially while swimming in the stress pool of a basketball season. But as the years tick on – he coached 32 seasons of college basketball – you’d have to take those occasional mentions more seriously.

Regarded as a taciturn sort by many, especially in the early years, he’s far from that once you get to know him. There was a day a few years after I started showing up in Vermillion when I went into his office expecting to conduct my usual five-minute interview. My M.O. with all-business guys is to be all-business.  I’ve learned in this trade if you make it a habit of being sensitive to not wasting people’s time, they’re more apt to cooperate.

But that day I sat and talked with him for what must have been two hours. I’m sure most of it had to do with Minnesota sports – he follows his Minnesota sports teams pretty closely – but it went well beyond that to coaching philosophy, views of what was going on at the University at the time, and his own background in the game.

I often run into his former players here and there, many of whom still live in the area or remain in the basketball business. The best is when you’re in the midst of a group of these fellows. Inevitably, the topic will eventually arrive at their former coach and an exchange of favorite stories. It’s all standard coach-player stuff on one level, but somehow more interesting because the public perception of Boots – and one that can be pretty accurate at times – is that of a button-down, all-business guy.

A point made in these conversations is that for all his supposed sternness, he wanted his players to play loose. He did not want his players to be out there crazy worried about what the coach was going to do if they screwed up.

Another point made by current player Brandon Bos on Tuesday is that though Boots is from another era, calling him an old-school coach with limited interaction with his players wouldn’t be accurate. He talked to his kids and he talked to them about a lot of things.

What else do I know about the guy? He’s fiercely loyal to friends, former players and his coaching staff. He consistently brought kids into the program who were courteous and fun to work with from a sportswriter’s perspective. And most of them have gone onto significant accomplishment since they’ve left USD.

Of all the stats surrounding his body of work, the one I find most impressive is his record in the NCC. He was 216-114. In what was most often a meat-grinder of a league, no other program in the conference over that extended period of time could measure up to that.

Like the people I quoted in Wednesday’s story about him, I sorta had a feeling this was coming in the next few years but I expected, especially after it became apparent that there were many parts of coaching a Division I basketball program that he genuinely enjoyed, that he was going to be directing the program for the immediate future.

He leaves behind a cupboard that is far from empty. With a strong cast returning led by senior center Trevor Gruis, this season promises to be the one where the Coyotes leave the lower end of the Summit League and venture toward the middle or higher.  How strange it will seem for longtime followers of USD basketball to see someone other than Dave Boots directing that effort.