When it comes to careers, nothing compares to college basketball coaching. For every perk, moment of glory and hint of success the job offers, there is a pitfall, roadblock and stressor to overcome. Casual college basketball fans look at coaches and see men in fancy suits on sidelines raking in multi-million dollar salaries from institutions of higher learning. Those attenuated to the world of college basketball coaching, though, know there's much more that plays into the career behind the scenes.
For starters, there's the long months of recruiting, when coaches stay in their offices until the wee hours of the night making one last call or traverse the country staying in meager accommodations all in an effort to woo an 18-year-old prospect. The hectic in-season travel schedule would be enough to drive any person to the madhouse, with long trips being made oftentimes in less-than-impressive buses or tiny jets. And of course, there's the constant concern that at any moment, an allegation of impropriety by the NCAA could bring the career you spent a lifetime building to its collapse.
Understanding the nature and pressures of college basketball coaching, it's a wonder that any man chooses to pursue it as a career. Yet every year, hundreds of passionate candidates compete for the handful of coaching positions available at colleges in the United States. In 2003, Richie Schueler was one of those young men.
Raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Schueler had the unique opportunity as an undergraduate to play for a hall of fame coach in Jim Crews at the University of Evansville. Seeing Crews' leadership and success, Schueler decided to give coaching a shot and found an opportunity to do so at Austin Peay State University. A path that many college basketball coaches have traveled down, Schueler served as a graduate assistant coach at Austin Peay during the 2002-03 season while earning his master's degree in sports administration.
For a graduate assisting opportunity, Schueler arguably came close to hitting the jackpot. That year, the Governors were undefeated at home. With a 23-8 record, the team earned a berth to the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament. Although Austin Peay lost its first game in the tournament to a Louisville team coached by another legend, Rick Pitino. "It couldn't have been a better year," Schueler reminisced.
From an outsider's perspective -- and Schueler's himself -- his coaching career was on the fast track. After leaving Austin Peay -- having completed his one-year graduate assistant position -- Schueler had a brief stint at Wilmington College of Ohio. Then, Schueler headed east to St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, NC. An assistant at St. Andrews for four years, in 2008, Schueler struck basketball coaching gold when he was named head coach of the program. "I had some options to go elsewhere as a Division I assistant coach. Then they offered me the job. I didn't know if I I would have another oppourtnity to be a head coach. When you look around, you see people who have wanted to be a head coach for years. Coaches are in their 50s and want to be a head coach, but never get the opportunity. So, I had to take the job."
The talking heads around Schueler, however, advised him against taking the job. "People told me it was the worst Division II coaching job in the east cost. They told me not to take it. St. Andrews has the worst scholarship situation in the league. The school had been battling accreditation issues for years. The facilities were poor. You couldn't keep kids there more than two years, because they would transfer out. People told me it was a graveyard job," Schueler said.
Yet, for those who would give their life to be a head coach, a so-called "graveyard" job is worth taking. "Me being a competitor, I thought that since I had been there for four years, I knew the tricks on how to succeed there," Schueler explained.
During his head coaching tenure, the tricks Schueler had in his toolbox allowed him to begin to dig St. Andrews' basketball program out of the graveyard. In 2010-11, the program won the most games it had since 2000. Throughout his tenure, Schueler boasted a 100 percent graduation rate amongst his players.
Then, that pesky "accreditation issue" that those in his coaching circle warned him of resurfaced. For some time, St. Andrews had been facing academic accreditation issues. In order to put those issues to rest, the school partnered with Webber International University. The problem with this move from an athletics standpoint, was that Webber International University was not a member of the NCAA, but rather, the NAIA. Given this, the NCAA wouldn't allow St. Andrews to remain a member unless both it and Webber International applied for NCAA membership. Rather than engaging in this process, St. Andrews made its exit from the NCAA.
With that exit came the greatest curveball Schueler's coaching career ever could have been hit with. Team morale dropped. Recruits who had signed with St. Andrews believing they would play for an NCAA Division II institution either red-shirted or transferred. For all the rebuilding that Schueler did, the transfer from the NCAA to the NAIA made the program ineligible for post-season play. "When everything is taken away from you when the NCAA drops you and you have eight kids who are heartbroken, it is like the rug is ripped out from underneath you," Schueler said.
Schueler decided to take that heartbreak and his energy away from coaching. "You pour so much of your heart and soul into any coaching job. With the situation at St. Andrew's, you had to pour your heart and soul into it even more. You're hovering around making $35,000 a year and you're missing out on living a normal life in a bigger town." On top of this, the turbulence surrounding St. Andrews brought the cutthroat nature of coaching into Schueler's perspective. "For me, I could've taken another head coaching job, but I was exhausted. You put all of your eggs in one basket and sacrificed so much of your personal life to do it. Then, you finally get that time to shine and it's all ripped away from you."
Giving up on his life's greatest passion doesn't come easily for a college basketball coach, however. Perhaps the only constant in a college basketball coach's lif are the up's and down's faced throughout a career. At a point, though, each coach faces the decision as to whether the up's outweigh the down's, and to what extent a semblance of a personal life can be sacrificed. Recognizing this, these days, the 34-year-old Schueler would welcome the chance to coach again, but with a simple caveat. "If a great opportunity comes along, I'm taking it. However, I've learned that from a career standpoint, you can't neglect your personal life. It may come back to burn you."
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