In his opening statement after his final victory as a Division I head coach, Roger Reid referenced his Southern Utah basketball team’s 3.4 grade-point average.
Reading the transcript, I chuckled. In the old days at BYU, that comment would have been interpreted as a shot at coaching rival Rick Majerus, who was always touting Utah’s academic prowess. In this case, it came across somewhat as an effort to justify a losing record. Yet I prefer to believe that in saying the Thunderbirds were not “like 90 percent of the athletes in this country,” Reid was just expressing how much he liked this team.
Reid supposedly retired Thursday, as SUU administrators allowed him to exit gracefully with his five-year contract expiring. I’d be surprised if he’s truly done coaching at age 64, because much like football coach Ron McBride, Reid lives for this stuff.
His legacy in Utah college sports is an interesting one. Technically, he failed at both BYU and SUU, judging by the way things ended. The ultimate outcomes were surprising, because at various checkpoints, Reid appeared to be building a program with staying power at each school.
Like McBride at Utah, Reid is one of those coaches who becomes more appreciated after he’s gone. It took BYU 18 years to top Reid’s achievement of playing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, which he did twice.
In five seasons at SUU, Reid never could produce a winning record — even in conference play. Having gone 9-9 in the Summit League in his first season with a makeshift team, Reid seemed likely to contend for championships in the years to come. SUU’s inability to do so supports the theory that Reid (and Bill Evans before him) had a very difficult job, recruiting as one of six Division I programs in the state and playing in a Midwest-based conference with a demanding travel schedule.
SUU will have a much better opportunity in the Big Sky Conference, and it’s too bad that Reid will not be able to coach in that league.
The school might have fired him last March, but I’m glad he got one more year. You know, he almost pulled this off. Entering the Summit League tournament as a No. 6 seed, SUU beat Oakland in overtime. Then, with No. 1 seed Oral Roberts having been eliminated, the Thunderbirds trailed South Dakota State by one point at halftime. I could picture Reid triumphantly getting back to the NCAA Tournament and saving his job, but it didn’t happen.
With leading scorer Jackson Stevenett sidelined by an ankle injury, SUU crumbled in the second half of a 63-47 defeat.
The tournament showing summarized Reid’s years in Cedar City — and possibly his entire athletic career, dating to his days as a Triple-A shortstop. Reid and the Thunderbirds may not have gone where they wanted to go, but they overachieved to get as far as they did.