Randy Rahe has been around college basketball long enough to know what gets a coach all kinds of wins and what gets him too many losses, what gets him tossed out the door. He doesn’t even have to play the games. In a general sense, he’s already aware.
“Talent you can trust is what you need,” he says. “Kids who don’t show up every day get you beat. Soft kids and knuckleheads, guys who are into their own deal get you beat. I want guys who practice their butts off.”
That last thing is pretty much what he’s gotten at Weber State, where Rahe’s piled up a record of 118-66. In six seasons, his teams have gone 74-21 in Big Sky play, winning three titles. He’s won 20 or more games four times, including this year’s 23 victories, a total that could and should increase Tuesday night in the conference tournament.
“I want our guys to be tough, to compete hard and play together, to share the ball and get everyone involved,” he says. “We’ve been fortunate to get those kinds of players, guys you can trust every day.”
Foremost among them, Damian Lillard.
In the case of the junior point guard, Rahe admits he blew past Weber’s norm: “He’s above our level. We’re talking about an NBA guy here.”
Lillard is, indeed, ridiculous. The kid out of Oakland has lit up most opponents, landing among the nation’s scoring leaders. Eight NBA scouts were on hand at one recent Wildcat game. And what causes Rahe to beam the most … Lillard is still ascending.
“Damian’s got a lot of ability,” he says. “But his intangibles are off the charts. In 22 years of coaching Division I basketball, he’s the hardest-working player I’ve ever been around. It’s almost a sickness. He’s addicted to getting better. We have to kick him out of the gym.”
On Friday, Lillard stayed at work long before Weber’s actual practice started and long after it ended. When he was sidelined with an injury last season, he built up his body and became a more explosive player.
“He’s exactly what we’re looking for,” Rahe says. “He never wavers.”
His coach is equally relentless.
Rahe grew up on a farm in Iowa, where his father needed his five sons — a full squad — to haul their weight. He learned the value, the necessity, of that effort. He learned also that he preferred basketball to moving sprinkler pipe.
He played the game, and then, when he was a junior on his high school team, was asked by his coach to assist him with a junior high team.
“I was bit by the bug,” he says.
After graduating from Iowa’s Buena Vista College, Rahe coached the small prep school circuit in Colorado, also working college camps. He assisted at Colorado College, Colorado and Denver University before Stew Morrill hired him at Colorado State. Thirteen years later — seven at CSU, six at Utah State — Rahe’s apprenticeship under Morrill was complete.
“Stew taught me how to coach, how to recruit, how to run a program,” Rahe says. “He’s had the greatest influence on me.”
When Morrill (6-foot-8) and Rahe (5-foot-7) were together at CSU, while playing a game at Utah State in Logan, Aggie fans started calling the duo Yogi and Boo-Boo. True story.
After all that time, Rahe sought a new experience somewhere else. When Ray Giacoletti offered him a lead assistant’s job at Utah, he took it, saying that leaving Morrill was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
A couple of years later, Weber State hired Rahe as its head coach. After 17 years of working and waiting, he jumped.
That first year in Ogden demonstrates what you need to know about Rahe. He kept only three players, scoured the country for “high character” guys, and brought in 10 fresh recruits. “They were kids who were hungry,” he says. “They came in with great attitudes. They learned to fight and got tougher and tougher.”
Rahe’s team won the Big Sky title in that first season before getting blown out by UCLA in the NCAA Tournament. And that’s where his program remains now — almost always in the fight for a league championship, trying to win the big game, often dancing on the edge of the biggest dance.
Rahe is hopeful this is the year the Weebs return, with his once-in-a-generation player, although having lost the chance to host the conference tournament to Montana makes the task much harder.
“We want to get back, bad,” he says. “I want it for my guys. You want to have the ultimate success. … We had a bad game [against Montana] the other night, but we feel we’re good enough to beat anyone on any court.”
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Gordon Monson Show” weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.