The sudden retirement of USD men’s basketball coach Dave Boots this week was met with a mixture of sadness, appreciation and downright befuddlement.
It was no secret that the 57-year-old coach, who guided the Coyotes to 503 wins over 25 seasons starting in 1988, was nearing the end of his time at the helm.
But when a coach walks away from his team just weeks before practice is set to start for the upcoming season, that’s not your normal stroll into the sunset, and it begs the question why Boots decided to handle things this way.
Conventional wisdom (and some of his own comments) suggests that he wanted to make sure that top assistant Joey James was hired as the next head coach, though this seems like an extreme and somewhat underhanded way of going about it.
It’s not uncommon for head coaches to want to choose their successor, but typically it’s handled by advocating for that option and then letting the athletic director make the call based on the qualifications of the candidate and, sometimes, the level of respect for the outgoing head coach.
There is no doubt that Boots holds a lot of sway after leading USD through a difficult Division I transition on the heels of a D-II run that included six NCC championships. It is puzzling that he chose not to respect the process and give athletic director David Herbster time to conduct a proper search for the best coach to lead the Coyotes into an exciting new era.
In addition to leaving his players in flux by holding an emergency meeting and telling them of his departure as they prepare for the upcoming season, Boots put the university itself in a tight spot by creating a void of leadership in the men’s basketball program at a crucial time.
Herbster is trying to finalize funding for a new arena that could dramatically enhance USD’s athletic presentation, and the stability and success of the men’s basketball team plays a role.
Given the difficulty of tracking down a qualified Division I head coaching candidate with such a short timetable, he will likely be forced to go with James, a former USD player with no head coaching experience. James could very well turn out to be a fantastic college basketball coach, but he certainly has not earned the right to be the only candidate for a Division I job at this point in his career.
With that the case, it would make sense for Herbster to give James an interim tag for 2013-14 to see how things go as USD seeks to take the next step in the Summit League chase. A season-long job interview, if you will.
The Coyotes would then have the option of opening things up for 2014-15, with James among the candidates. There would be plenty of other interest as well, with Augustana coach Tom Billeter and Auburn associate head coach and Mitchell native Ryan Miller among the names being floated around locally.
USD has a proud tradition of men’s basketball, much of it built by Boots himself. His stoic sideline leadership has put the school in position to have a bright Division I future if things fall in place during a time that still feels transitional in many ways.
It’s unfortunate that the veteran coach chose for his last act as a Coyote to be something that put USD in a bind and potentially jeopardized that future. But he has always done things his own way, and he stuck with that style to the end.