Friday, March 03, 2006

The Ultimate In Basketball Sadness: Garner, the Last Drake Coach To Have a Winning Season, Fired In Missouri; Dogs End 19th Straight Non-Winning Year

Two things happened this week that, to me, are very much intertwined.

Gary Garner [left] was dismissed Wednesday as the basketball coach at Southeast Missouri State.

The next night, Drake wound up its 19th straight season without having a winning record.

Talk about hopelessness.

Garner, 62, closed what probably is his final season as a collegiate coach with a 7-20 record.

Drake was outscored, 62-44, in the last half en route to a 72-63 loss to Indiana State in the preliminary round of the Missouri Valley Conference postseason tournament at St. Louis.


Sad for Garner. Sad for Drake.

Garner, of course, was the last Drake coach to have a winning record.

His 1986-87 Bulldogs went 17-14, and it's been downhill ever since for a school that's tried just about everything to stop the bleeding.

Garner was fired after his 1987-88 team went 14-14. Since then, former North Carolina State assistant Tom Abatemarco, interim coach Eddie Fields, former Iowa assistant Rudy Washington, former small-college winner Kurt Kanaskie and former Iowa coach Tom Davis [right] have taken turns losing.

This was the 100th season of Drake basketball, and it was supposed to be a celebration.

Instead, it turned into a funeral.

It was awful.

Drake went 12-19 and lost 11 of its final 12 games. It was Davis' third season with the Bulldogs after becoming the winningest coach in history at Iowa.

Athletic director Dave Blank talked Davis, who had been forced out at Iowa, into coming out of retirement so he could take a shot at ending Drake's misery. His records the first two seasons were 12-16 and 13-16.

Blank has already accepted a new job at Elon University and will be gone next month. Davis told the paper he'll be back next season, saying only that his health might cause him to change his mind.

It's a long time between now and next season, but I think I know what I might do if I were Davis.

Again bringing up the matter of health, I'd say next October when practice is under way that I'm sick of losing. That would be too late for the new athletic director to hire a replacement.

I'd suggest that the coaching job be turned over to Keno Davis [Tom's son, who is a Drake assistant] for the 2006-2007 season.

That was the idea all along, wasn't it?

Then I'd continue to spend some time in Des Moines to see how Keno and the other staff members handle the team and the season. But I'd also put in more days at my home on the golf course in Iowa City.

Believe me, when a guy gets into his late 60s, living on a golf course and not having to worry about recruiting point guards and power forwards, and drawing up a game plan to stop Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock sounds pretty damn appealing.

It would be nice to say that the future of Drake basketball looks bright. But it's not.

It's obviously the toughest coaching job in the Valley.

The academic restrictions placed on athletes are rigid, attendance again is sinking, the Maury John tradition has been forgotten and Drake has fallen far, far behind Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa -- the other Division I schools in the state.

Things certainly aren't as bad as the 6-21 record Washington had in 1991-92 and the 2-26 record Kanaskie had in 1996-97. Davis' staff has tried hard to improve the situation.


I thought I saw some light at the end of the tunnel a year or so ago.

Now I'm not so sure what I see.