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Coaching turnover hasn’t fazed successful Whitworth men’s basketball program

UPDATED: Tue., April 30, 2019

By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

In the middle of the 1985-86 season, the Pirates men’s basketball team did something that was remarkable at the time: They beat Central Washington.

Oblivious to its significance was Warren Friedrichs, the team’s first-year head coach. He was just glad to win a home game.

“We were 11 down with 11 minutes to go, we had a halfcourt shot at the buzzer to win it, and I’m like, that’s great, we won a home game,” Friedrichs said this week. “Arnie Tyler was our track coach at the time, and he said, ‘Coach, you don’t understand, we haven’t beaten Central Washington in at least a decade.’ ”

The upset was a fitting highlight to the first year in an impressive streak of sustained success and coaching stability for the program. Last week, after Matt Logie left to take the head coaching job at Division II Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego, Damion Jablonski became just the fourth Pirates coach since 1985, when Friedrichs was hired.

By contrast, 15 different men coached the Pirates between 1940 and 1984. Only one – Dick Kamm, whose teams went 110-99 in eight seasons – won more than 84 games at Whitworth.

Friedrichs, Jim Hayford and then Logie oversaw 662 victories at Whitworth, 54.1% of the program’s total of 1,223.

They built and then sustained a following of fans, something that Friedrichs said was crucial to lasting success.

“You need to develop a fan base that will sustain itself,” Friedrichs said. “If your teams are not well-coached or give away games, you’re gonna lose some of the support. If you lose some of the student support, that hurts you.”

It also helped, Friedrichs said, that Whitworth – from a Division III standpoint where there are no athletic scholarships – is a highly recruitable destination: strong academically, a beautiful campus and a great mission.

But all three coaches pointed to leadership as the primary reason that Whitworth has been so successful on the court during their combined 34-year tenure.

“I came to Whitworth as a young coach, and giving advice to my assistant coaches the most important thing in any job is the leadership,” said Hayford, now head coach at Seattle University. “And at Whitworth … between (President Bill Robinson) and (former athletics director) Scott McQuilkin and then (President) Beck Taylor, Whitworth’s just always had great leadership, and so it’s a lot easier to excel in whatever role you have as a leader when there’s good leadership behind you.”

Friedrichs said he would see Robinson roaming the sidelines at football games during his tenure in the 1990s. And, when Friedrichs’ Pirates reached the NAIA Division II championship game in 1996, Robinson canceled classes so fans could attend.

They did. Six buses arrived in Nampa, Idaho, for the title game, which the Pirates lost to Idaho’s Albertson College in overtime.

“Bill was a pro-athletic guy, and then Beck Taylor, he’s very similar,” Friedrichs said. “They are just willing to go to bat for you when you need it.”

When Friedrichs retired as basketball coach in 2001, the program had leveled off from where it was in the mid-1990s, finishing 13-12 in his last year.

But Friedrichs left behind Brian Depew, a sophomore-to-be who ended up being the program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,013 points. He is still the only Pirates player to eclipse the 2,000-point mark.

“When I got the job, Warren said, ‘I’m leaving you a good team,’” Hayford said. “Warren left things better than he found them, and I was able to start with success. It wasn’t a rebuild.”

Indeed, Hayford’s team’s averaged 21.7 victories during his 10 seasons at Whitworth, including five NCAA Tournament appearances. He left for Eastern Washington after a 28-2 season, the best single-season winning percentage in school history.

“When I handed it off to Matt (Logie), I left things better than I found them,” Hayford said, “and having three successful coaches in a row like that, none of us have ever had to dig out of a hole.”

Logie’s teams reached the NCAA Tournament seven straight times until the most recent season, and he left Whitworth with a 194-35 record.

“The reality is, this basketball family has been so tradition-rich for so long, that there’s just great support, a great template in place,” Logie said. “When you surround that structure with great people, you can accomplish great things.”

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