Can you believe it? Two national championships in three years and I’m not talking football. It’s amazing enough to know that football has six national championships since 1998. With all respect to football, it’s more amazing what the Bearcats have done in basketball.
First, it’s almost unheard of for a “football school” to succeed like Northwest has in basketball. Since 1957, one school has eight basketball national championships in basketball. It’s Kentucky Wesleyan and they don’t even have a football program.
Why has Northwest succeeded in basketball? I’m sure there are several reasons, but I only want to talk about one, the coaching.
There isn’t a coach alive that hasn’t felt the sting of criticism, but it would be hard to find fault with the coaching job Ben McCollum has done for Northwest. I’m amazed at the style of ball they play. Their defense is obvious, but I have never seen a team more patient and more efficient than the Bearcats. The first 15 seconds of the shot clock means nothing to them.
I haven’t interviewed Ben, but I can think of five factors that have made him a great coach. Ben played two years at Northwest Missouri State University. He was a point guard. I read one time that point guards have to make over 200 decisions every game. They better be the smartest player on the team.
The problem for Ben was he didn’t play that much. When he played at Northwest, Scott Fleming and Kelvin Parker, both All MIAA players, anchored the guard positions. I do remember one game when both got in foul trouble. Ben came into the game and took over the team like he had always been a starter. Even being a point guard on the bench may have helped Ben see the game in the eyes of a coach.
The second factor as a player, Ben had to play defense the way his head coach, Steve Tappmeyer, demanded. Tapp was the best defensive coach I have ever been around. Other teams better have their hard hats on when Tapp’s Bearcats came to town. I suspect Ben picked up a lot of his defensive philosophy from his two years as a player and two years as a graduate assistant for Steve Tappmeyer.
I am taking a huge leap with the third factor in Ben McCollum’s development as a great coach. That part of the puzzle is filled by David Moe. Moe’s father Doug was a pretty famous NBA coach (Nuggets). David’s own resume is pretty impressive.
He was a graduate assistant on the 1988 Kansas National Championship team. He was an assistant coach for Texas Tech, Colorado and the Philadelphia 76ers. He also was a scout for the Nuggets and Hornets.
David Moe loved to talk basketball. He coached 10 years at Emporia State. Every time his team would come to Maryville, he would look for me, even though I was a womens coach, and spend time just talking basketball.
In 2004, David Moe hired Ben to be his assistant coach. Moe was a little off-the-charts type of coach. It was a totally different style than Tapp’s. It gave Ben another perspective of coaching. I think Moe also turned a lot of the practice and game planning over to Ben.
Ben once told me of the effects of a loss to Northwest. It was a game at Emporia. With the score tied, Emporia hit a three quarters court shot to apparently win the game. However, it was ruled to have come after the buzzer due to an error of the timer.
Moe was so depressed, he turned the next week’s practice over to Ben. Ben must have done well because they recovered to play in the championship game in the MIAA tournament against Northwest. That was in 2008.
When Tapp left Northwest at the end of the 2008-2009 season, the fourth piece for Ben fell into place. The main characters were the athletic director at Emporia, Kent Weiser and Northwest’s athletic director, Dr. Bob Boerigter. Ben applied for the Northwest head coaching job, but he was only 27 years old.
Dr. Boerigter called Kent to get an idea of how Ben was doing. Dr. Boergiter told me that Kent had hoped to name Ben as the next Emporia coach.
It was pretty well known that David Moe would not stay at Emporia State much longer. His wife had already moved back east. Kent wanted Ben to succeed him, but timing wasn’t on Emporia’s side. Moe stayed until 2011. How much different would the basketball world be if Ben was the Emporia coach?
Dr. Boerigter took a huge leap of faith and hired a 27-year old assistant with no previous coaching experience. I guess what surprised me the most is Dr. Boerigter hired someone close to Tapp. It was pretty well known that Tapp and Dr. Boerigter had their differences.
In 2010, Ben McCollum was introduced as the new coach at Northwest Missouri State University. Ben had the opportunity to bring in his own staff, but he did a very intelligent thing. In my opinion, it was the final factor in Ben becoming a great coach. He kept Tapp’s assistant coaches, Austin Meyer and Andy Peterson.
Austin had been a freshmen when Ben was a senior player for Tapp. Andy came in as a red-shirt freshmen when Ben was a graduate assistant. Together, the three began to build the program.
Just from watching a lot of Bearcat basketball, Ben is his own man. He has a great defense, but it’s not the same as Tapp’s. He is a great game-planner, but it isn’t the same as David Moe. Ben is his own man and unique coach. He has built two national champions that couldn’t be more different in their make-up.
There’s one thing that has been consistent since Ben first won over 20 games in the 2011-2012 season. He has had great point guards. I guess it takes one to know one.