Sunday, July 12, 1998

Buzz Levick--Hall of Fame, July 12, 1998

Levick stays forever loyal to Wartburg

Register Staff Writer


Waverly, Ia. - In the mid-1960s, Buzz Levick figured he had a good idea.

"I thought I'd coach basketball at Wartburg until my three children got out of college, then go back to the high school level," Levick said. "I never dreamed I'd stay at Wartburg for 28 years."

Obviously, it was a good fit.

Levick not only got through 28 seasons at Wartburg in Waverly, he also had plenty of championship teams. His Knights won or shared 14 Iowa Conference titles, including nine in succession from 1967 through 1975.

Now, five years after ending his Wartburg career with a glittering 510-226 record, Lewis "Buzz" Levick becomes the 155th member of the Des Moines Sunday Register's Iowa Sports Hall of Fame. He is inducted in the contributor category.

"He deserves it," said Craig Wierson of Waukee, who played center and forward for Levick's teams from 1970 through 1974. "If I would say anything about Buzz, it would be that his teams were always fundamentally more prepared to play than most teams.

"His mind was, and is, really sharp. He always seemed to get good students and good athletes, and he knew how to help his athletes become good citizens. Also, there always was a good camaraderie between Buzz and the parents of his players."

Levick was a nine-time Iowa Conference coach of the year, a six-time NAIA District 15 coach of the year and three-time NAIA Area 4 coach of the year. He coached 62 all-Iowa Conference players and seven academic all-Americans.

Levick coached a sport in which statistics are important, but said the statistic of which he's most proud is this: More than 98 percent of his Wartburg lettermen earned degrees.

Even in retirement, Levick is still a teacher.

"We meet for breakfast whenever it's possible at 7 a.m. on Fridays in Waverly," said Dick Peth, the former Iowa player who now is Wartburg's coach. "I try to ask him how he ran his program and what it took to be so tremendously successful."

Levick said of the breakfast conversations: "We talk about basketball."

Peth, who had a 16-9 record in his first season with the Knights, said timing was important in taking the job.

"I was three coaches removed from Buzz," he said. "It would have been a difficult task for anyone to follow directly in his footsteps."

Howard Gauthier, Levick's immediate successor, had records of 14-11, 13-11 and 12-13. Marty Simmons, who followed Gauthier, stayed only one season - going 10-14.

"In a couple of years, Peth will have this program back to where it was," Levick said. "I've really been pleased with his work. He's a smart young guy and the players like him."

When to move on

Timing was also important for Levick.

"He knew when to get out of coaching," said his wife, Miriam. "He doesn't miss it."

Miriam said her husband wasn't one to leave basketball at the gym.

"He'd get down in the dumps if his team lost," she said. "If he got beat, it didn't make for a happy weekend at home. By Monday, he'd be looking forward to the next weekend, but it took the rest of the family a little longer."

Of his retirement, Levick said, "I'd had my gallbladder taken out and had some stomach problems. I thought, 'Maybe this is the time to step down.' "

The way Levick announced his retirement didn't follow the usual game plan.

"I handed in my resignation on a Thursday, then my wife and I left at 8 a.m. the next day on a 17-day alumni tour to Germany," he said. "I didn't want to answer all the questions I knew would come about me retiring."

Levick's coaching prowess was well known long before going to Wartburg prior to the 1965-66 season.

It all began at tiny Rinard, where he coached both boys' and girls' basketball for one season after earning his degree from Drake in 1950.

"Rinard is in Calhoun County, west of Fort Dodge," Levick said. "We had a lot of high schools in Iowa then, but very few coaching openings. I felt very fortunate to get a job.

"There were only 33 kids in high school at Rinard, so when we took a road trip we took the whole school. A couple of the guys were injured, so they were my manager and statistician. Six girls weren't involved in girls' basketball, so they were the cheerleaders.

"My boys' team had a 24-6 record. The girls' team didn't win half of its games. I enjoyed coaching girls' basketball, but at the time there was a stigma attached to it. If you were an outstanding girls' coach, nobody wanted to talk to you about a boys' coaching job. So, when I got the chance to coach only boys' basketball, I took it."

Levick's Newton High School teams were state champions in Iowa's one-class system in 1963 and 1964. The 1963 team had a 26-0 record and beat Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln, 66-58, for the title. The 1964 team went 23-3 and slipped past Cedar Rapids Jefferson, 44-39, in the championship game.

Levick left coaching for a year after compiling a 15-year record of 237-101 in jobs at Rinard, LeGrand, Tama and Newton.

After all, what else was there to prove after successive state titles at Newton?

"I was also assistant principal at Newton, and I enjoyed that," Levick said. "In my last year there, I concentrated on being assistant principal and athletic director. There was nothing more for me to accomplish as a coach there."

Stepping up, a new job

Then Wartburg came calling, and Levick was willing to listen.

"I had no problem coaching at the college level," he said. "My only problem was that I had to take a cut in salary to go to Wartburg. But the president told me that if I'd come to the school and stay three years, he'd have me at the same salary I'd be at if I stayed at Newton.

"I got some pretty good raises in those first three years, so it was a good move. I never looked back."

After a 12-10 record in his first season, Levick's 1966-67 team went 19-7 and started the string of nine seasons in which the Knights won or shared the Iowa Conference title.

Obviously, the success made it easier to remain at Wartburg.

"Someone staying 28 years in a coaching job doesn't happen much in college basketball," Levick said. "Coaches usually last six or seven years now.

"I really enjoyed working with the kind of players I had. At Wartburg's (Division III) level, you have to take kids who have some ability, are intelligent and have good attitudes. You then bring them up to another level. At least that's what we were able to do.

"We were fortunate to get outstanding students who were pretty good athletes. Some of those kids were maybe average players in high school, but they were coachable.

"A lot of players in Division I are non-coachable. You can't help them. They think, 'I'm good, so just let me play.' "

Levick said he wonders if the style he used - attracting quality students with some ability, then using strong teaching skills with them - should be employed at the major-college level.

"Maybe that's an area where Division I schools are missing out," he said. "I wonder if they're not missing the boat by not hiring coaches out of high school who have been successful. Those coaches enjoy teaching and they're good at what they do.

"A lot of times coaches at the Division I level have never taught. They've been assistants for a number of years, then just sort of fall into those positions."

What happened with Division I?

While Levick was piling up victories at Wartburg, people wondered why some Division I school didn't steal him away.

One school tried. Not just once, but twice.

"I've thought about it, and I think I would have been pretty successful in Division I coaching," Levick said. "I see a lot of teams with great talent, but they don't have the chemistry that's needed. That's always been one of my strengths - getting kids to play together and feel good about each other."

On the other hand . . .

"In Division I, you not only have to win, but you have to fill the arenas," Levick said. "If you don't put 15,000 people into the seats, you're gone.

"St. Mary's of California, a Division I school, offered me a job twice. But I didn't feel it was right. At the time, there was a lot of disruption on college campuses. On my interview trip, I drove through the California-Berkeley campus and said, 'Do I want this?'

"In the back of my mind, I thought, 'Well, there will always be a Division I job for me in the Midwest.' "

But there never was.

Not even at Drake, Levick's alma mater. The irony of that was he finished his coaching career with a 10-0 record - all high school games - at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines, where the Bulldogs played their home games before moving to the Knapp Center.

Levick expressed no bitterness about never getting the opportunity to coach Drake, but said of his 10 victories in 10 games at the Bulldogs' former home arena, "It may be a record."

Levick, a native of Clemons, played basketball for Drake in 1944-45 before entering military service. After World War II, he played two seasons for Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania, then passed up his final season of eligibility to get his degree from Drake in 1950.

He was destined to be a coach and recalled, "I wanted to coach in Iowa. I felt it was a better situation for me."

Paul Morrison of Des Moines, the athletic department historian at Drake and a longtime friend of Levick, said: "Buzz was what college athletics was all about. He was one of the real gentlemen."

In retirement, Levick's name is still connected with basketball. There's a tournament - the Buzz Levick-Lutheran Brotherhood Tip-Off Classic at Wartburg - held in his honor.

"I've gone to the NCAA Final Four 30 years in a row. and I attend the Wartburg games and other college games," Levick said. "I follow Drake pretty closely, and I watch plenty of basketball on TV."