GOING HOME—SORT OF: UAM’s son-father coaching duo return to where it all started
As the late great Yogi Berra is attributed to have saying, “It’s like deja vu all over again.” Of course, Berra is also associated with the saying, “I never said most of the things I said.”
Regardless, when University of Arkansas at Monticello head men’s basketball coach Kyle Tolin took his Boll Weevils to Shawnee, Okla., last Saturday to play Great American Conference newcomer Oklahoma Baptist University, it was like old home week for the Tolin family.
In his second season as head Weevil, Tolin has more than a passing interest in the Bison basketball program. Oklahoma Baptist is Tolin’s alma mater—and he spent 10 years there as an assistant under father Doug before moving to Monticello. In yet another interesting quirk, Doug Tolin retired from Oklahoma Baptist after a 15-year Hall of Fame coaching career last season, is now one of his son’s assistants at UAM and was on the Weevil sideline, too.
It is confusing. So much so that Doug Tolin chuckled Monday, “I’m glad I went to the correct bench and locker room.” In both Tolins’ first trip back to Oklahoma Baptist during the regular basketball season, their still-new school rewarded them with an 80-72 victory.
“We’re obviously glad we won, the family was glad we won and there were a lot of people in Shawnee that were rooting for us that I think were glad we won as well,” said Kyle, Oklahoma Baptist’s Senior Male Athlete of the Year in 2004. “It was an interesting dynamic because a lot of people told us they were rooting for us before the game. It really didn’t feel like when I walked in there that this was a road game; it felt more like a home game.
“I think the people there were just saying, ‘Thank you so much for what you guys did here. We respect how you ran the program.’ The bus ride home is always a long more enjoyable after a win.”
Neither Kyle nor Doug said the victory was bittersweet, especially for a program still struggling for wins. The eight-point triumph improved the Weevils to just 4-8 on the year; 2-4 in the GAC.
“That’s the way competitive athletics is,” Doug noted. “Somebody wins and somebody loses in every game. (The Bison) were trying to win. The word was they had that game marked on the calendar long ago. They put a lot into it. I thought they played pretty well. I had scouted them before; we caught them on a pretty good day—they were ready to play.”
It’s no surprise Oklahoma Baptist was looking so forward to its first-ever game with UAM. Kyle scored 1,026 points in a Bison uniform in 2001-04 and was a part of 119 of Doug’s 401 victories—as a player. As an assistant coach, Kyle was involved in another 263 wins. Father and son were together as coaches when Oklahoma Baptist won the 2010 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Division I National Championship.
In fact, Kyle came to Monticello after helping the Bison reach 14 straight NAIA national tournaments. Not only did the 2010 team win the NAIA national championship, but the 2002 and 2012 teams finished as national runners-up.
Also during his coaching career, Kyle helped the Bison to the highest winning percentage of any four-year university in Oklahoma. The Bison pulled off three straight Sooner Athletic Conference championships from 2010-2012.
“It was obviously different,” Kyle said of Saturday’s trip down memory lane. “You spend 14 years somewhere, then you come back sitting on a different bench and going into a different locker room—I didn’t know what to expect exactly. When we practiced on Friday in there, it was definitely a different feeling.
“It was neat going back there with my dad. It was overwhelming how many people showed appreciation, said, ‘Thank you’ or ‘We’re cheering for you guys today.’ A lot of former players showed up and sat behind our bench. It was cool to see everyone and know that everyone appreciated what we did there during our time.
“I tried to make the trip as businesslike as I could—we were there to prepare our team to try to help them win—but there were a lot of people that wanted to talk to us. I knew it would be a distraction but I tried not to make it that. I wanted to make it a business trip. It’s like I told our guys, ‘We’re here to win a game. It’s a business trip.’ I was as focused as they were on trying to help prepare our team for a win—and we got it.”
Kyle coached and recruited two NAIA national players of the year, three SAC players of the year, six SAC defensive players of the year, 10 All-America honorees, 19 All-SAC selections and two academic All-America honorees.
“One of our guys asked me after the game if this was the biggest win I’d been around,” Kyle smiled. “We had a lot of big wins (at Oklahoma Baptist), whether it was winning to go to the National Tournament or beating a rival at the buzzer and that shot being on (ESPN’s) SportsCenter. Obviously, when you’re somewhere for a while there’s a lot of good memories. That means, hopefully, that we’ve had a successful program.
“I told our guys before the game, ‘It’s not about me coming back here and winning this game.’ We recruited good kids and had good kids in the program. People on campus and the alumni can be proud of how that program was run for 15 years—and now, it’s all about UAM. This is what I’m trying to do here. I poured everything I could into that university for 14 years; now I’m trying to do the same thing here.”
Doug, who was the head coach at Oklahoma Baptist from 2000-15 and joined the UAM staff as an assistant starting in the 2015-16 season, is a member of the Oklahoma Baptist Athletic Hall of Fame, the East Central Athletic Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Basketball Association Hall of Fame and the Norman High School Hall of Fame with more than 700 wins to his credit.
Oklahoma Baptist’s winningest coach, Doug also led the Bison to one NAIA final four finish and five elite eight finishes. Under his watch, the Bison won six SAC regular-season championships and three tournament titles. He is a four-time conference coach of the year, the 2010 NAIA National Coach of the Year and a member of five different halls of fame—NAIA (2015), Oklahoma Baptist University (2011), East Central University (2008), Oklahoma Basketball Coaches Association (2008) and Norman High School (2003).
“I stayed in my own house and helped coach the visiting team,” Doug said. “The whole day was different; there’s no doubt about that. It was kind of weird. There are a lot of good people there, good friends for 15 years that are big Bison basketball fans but who were appreciative of what had gone on there for the last 15 years.
“It was different walking in there. It’s nice to have done it once now. It’s over and we won the game—that made it even better.”
Prior to taking over in Shawnee, Doug won 335 games throughout 22 years as a head coach at four different high schools in Oklahoma, including leading Norman High School to the 1999 state championship—with Kyle on that team as well.
Doug noted last Saturday’s game was most definitely better than the alternative. Had Doug not retired, father and son would be coaching against each other this season.
“If we had coached against each other, that would have been less fun,” Doug mentioned. “It really would have been ugly because both groups of kids would have known exactly what the other group was doing. There would have been no winner in that game.
“I’ve told this story before. There was an official that had called in our league, the Sooner Athletic Conference, and was going to call in the GAC. He told Kyle when he took the job at UAM, ‘I hope they don’t assign me to the game when you come back and play at OBU because I don’t want your mom yelling at me on every call.’ They could have accepted my wife yelling on half the calls but if we’d coached against each other, they couldn’t have gotten any of them right. I was thankful that I was sitting on the bench I was sitting on Saturday and not the other one.”
Still exploring the new relationship, both father and son said this year on the bench has—so far—been enjoyable. It’s been more to the retired coach’s liking, however, he laughed.
“I’m here every day but I don’t come in as early as I used to go in.” Doug explained. “I used to go to the office at 8 or before, spend all day, then go watch games or recruit. Here I don’t recruit but I’m here to help run practice and I do at least one scout a week. If Kyle thinks I can help and the university thinks I can help, I’m glad to come over here and try to help.”
On game days, though, Doug said he’s still adjusting to his new role. It’ll take a while after 37 years of being the head coach, he smiled.
“I’ve got to sit down more,” Doug explained with a laugh. “I can’t talk to the referees like I used to or like I want to at times. It’s different, there’s no doubt about that. The referees don’t want to talk to an assistant, regardless of whether you know them, how well you know them or have talked to them for 15 years—they pull that assistant card on you.
“On the outside, it may look really different but the conversations we have during the game are a lot like the conversations we used to have. Instead of me saying, ‘What do you think?’ it’s him asking me that.
“We oftentimes come to the same conclusions. Sometimes we do what I think we ought to do and sometimes he does what he thinks we ought to do. The conversations are pretty much the same.”
Followers of UAM men’s basketball are certainly hoping those conversations produce the same history for the Tolins as did Oklahoma Baptist.