Characters Of The Hardwood

I was blessed to have coached basketball for 39 years. During those 39 years, I met some coaches that seemed bigger than life as I watched them as I jumped from one job to another. It took on a whole new meaning when I actually coached at the same school.


My first coaching job was as a boys’ assistant at Humboldt High School. The first year, another first year coach and I struggled through a tough season. It cost the head coach his job. The principal, Don Overfield, took over as the head coach.


We returned almost everyone from that first tough year. Don’s son was one of the better players on that team. We had a transfer from a near-by school that was really a good player. It was a good year and my basketball knowledge increased as I gained coaching experience.


Don was one of those characters of the hardwood. He enjoyed smokeless tobacco, especially during games. The part I couldn’t believe is Don never spit the tobacco juice. He would put a wad of tobacco in to start the game and exchange it for a fresh batch at halftime. It must have calmed him down. I gagged thinking about it.


I’m not sure I totally bought into it, but Don was convinced if a team was shooting great in warm-ups, they wouldn’t shoot well in games. That was Don’s philosophy. He figured if our player’s shots were missing, they must be tense and focused. That was a good way to look at it because we missed a lot of shots in warm-ups.


The next great character in coaching I was lucky enough to work with was Bob Bargen. I spent two years as his assistant for the boys’ team in Milford, Nebraska. Bob was one of those coaching figures that I had admired when I coached at Humboldt. Working with Bob provided great insight on what made him tick.


Bob was great at working officials. Usually he knew exactly how far he could take it with the officials. He could back off just in time, unless we had a big lead. It was then he didn’t care if he crossed the technical foul line.


I saw him once get a technical from official with bad judgement and bad hair. Bob really didn’t like how he had called the game. With just a little time left in the fourth quarter and Milford safely in the lead, the official ran by our bench. Bob shouted to him, “Too bad about your hair.” It took a few seconds for the comment to sink in, but eventually the official was able to stop the game and give Bob a very comical technical foul.


The absolute funniest exchange with an official came when Bob confronted the late, great Rudy Stoehr, and icon of an official among the high school refereeing ranks. Bob thought Rudy was letting Centennial High School get away with rough play one night in the Milford gym.


Rudy had called a jump ball and Bob had disagreed. He yelled, “Rudy, we are getting hammered, just hammered.”


Rudy heard Bob’s loud pleads. He handed the ball to his officiating partner so he could take the outside position on the jump ball. He walked right at Bob as the two glared at each other. I was sure Bob was about to be given a technical foul.


Instead, Rudy stopped right by Bob, turned around and got into a ready position so his butt was no more than two inches from Bob’s face. I loved Bob’s comment to me. “Think he’s trying to tell me something?” Bob and Rudy were two of the great characters of the hardwood I had the privilege to see in action during the same game.


My first college head coaching job was the women’s basketball at Doane College. My boss was Bob Erickson, the men’s coach. Bob was a big man with a big voice and a big personality. He used intimidation in coaching while handling officials and handling me.


A whole book could be written about this unique college coach. Bob didn’t care about his career won-lost record. He would annually play NCAA I teams, going as far as the University of Southern California to play games. He played the Air Force Academy every year.


Bob would contract these games for the guarantees the teams paid him to travel and supposedly be an easy win. Bob wanted the guarantees for Doane’s semi-annual trips to Hawaii. Sometimes the division one teams didn’t count on Doane’s competitiveness.


A great story Bob told was a trip out west to a NCAA I team. It was Boise State or a similar school. As the story went, late in the game, Doane had the game won before the officials took it away with a series of questionable calls.


Bob was so mad that he went to the official’s dressing room to get in a last verbal blast. They wouldn’t open the door so he kicked it in. About that time, he realized what he had done and hustled off to Doane’s locker room. He had to lay low until he could quietly get his team to the vans for a quick get-away.


I had a triple whammy with Bob as my boss. I was the women’s coach which he grudgingly had to work with sharing gym times. He was my boss but also his daughter was a player on my team.


His daughter played a lot early my second season and her senior season. The problem for her was I had inherited a couple of volleyball players that doubled sports with basketball. When the volleyball season ended, Bob’s daughter’s playing time diminished to almost nothing.


As you might expect, a confirmation was just a matter of time. It came after a game with Midland where she never got in the game. I’ll never forget Bob’s words to me. “Don’t say one word. My daughter’s unhappy, my wife’s unhappy, that makes me unhappy. Fix it.”


I had the weekend to sweat it out. On Monday morning, Bob’s daughter stopped by my office. Just like her father, before I could get a word out of my mouth, she respectfully said she was quitting basketball. Thankfully, that fixed it.


I would lose all credibility if I didn’t mention my fellow men’s coach at Northwest Missouri State University for 11 of my 13 years, Steve Tappmeyer. Having a Steinmeyer and a Tappmeyer as basketball coaches still confuses people to this day. Every once in a while, a good Bearcat fan will call me Tappmeyer. I am always flattered by the mistake.


Tapp was and is a great basketball coach. He is the ultimate teacher, especially with team defense. If my team was struggling on defense, I would sit in on his practice. It was like a clinic, even during the season.


Tapp was one of those coaches that loved practices but wasn’t a big fan of the games. I loved to watch Steve coach games. If it was a close game whether his team was ahead or behind, Tapp always appeared calm on the bench.


When his Bearcats would jump to a big lead, Tapp was much more animated. That may seem backwards in type of behavior but I understood it perfectly. Many times teams will lose intensity with a big lead. Tapp was not going to let that happen. He made sure they stayed intense, no matter what the score.


Northwest was lucky to get Ben McCollum, one of Tapp’s former players, for a replacement when he left Northwest. Ben was lucky to keep Tapp’s coaches, Austin Meyer and Andy Peterson.


Tapp coached at Missouri-St. Louis for a few years before moving back to his home town. Most people don’t know he coached the girls’ team to the state title game, losing only to undefeated Benton.


I’m not sure Tapp will ever go back to be a head coach. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Tapp come back as an assistant coach. I know if I was a college coach that needed an assistant, Tapp would be my first call.


Kim Anderson should have made that call when he took the Missouri job. Cuonzo Martin, Anderson’s replacement, should have made the call, too. With all that young talent, Tapp would be the perfect teacher.


Tapp is in the Northwest Missouri State Athletic Hall of Fame. Recently, he was elected to the MIAA Hall of Fame. Those awards only tell half the story of Steve Tappmeyer. He really was one of the greatest characters of the hardwood I was lucky enough to work beside.

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