By Jeremy Hoeck
After 25 years, a new coach will be leading the USD men’s basketball program.
The news Tuesday, Sept. 3, that Dave Boots is retiring immediately after a 503-win career with the Coyotes was met with surprise and shock by all involved.
“It was tough for him to tell us and tough for us to hear,” said Trevor Gruis, one of two seniors on the 2013-14 roster.
The 57-year-old Boots amassed a resume full of success: 618 career wins in 32 seasons, seven conference titles, 11 post-season appearances.
And one out-of-the-blue announcement.
“He came down this morning, sat in my office and said he wanted to retire,” athletic director David Herbster said Tuesday night. “It was as simple as that.
“It was one of those things where you had to ask him to repeat it; I couldn’t believe it.”
Neither could many of those who follow the program. Boots, who came to USD in 1989, said in a statement that the time had come for a change. A replacement was not named in Tuesday’s announcement.
“The time has come for a new face and new voice to now lead,” Boots said. “Peggy and I want to thank everyone who supported us and made our experience so enjoyable.
“USD was truly a special place for our family.”
His family inside the basketball program was asked Tuesday afternoon to meet Boots on the DakotaDome football field for a brief meeting.
“We had no idea what it was about,” Gruis said. “We could tell something wasn’t right; that it was going to be something serious.”
Then came the news.
“There were blank stares from all of us. It was like, ‘Did we just hear that right?’” Gruis said.
Making sure to point out that Boots was not fired or forced to retire, Gruis said seeing such emotion from their normally stoic coach really drove home the shock.
“He said it wasn’t hard for him to walk away from basketball, but it was hard to walk away from us,” Gruis said. “That really hit home for us; that he really cares about his guys as sons.”
Even as Boots talked about his love for his players and how he was sad to leave this group, the news was still shocking, according to junior guard Brandon Bos.
“It was a complete 360,” Bos said. “He told us, ‘This is going to be really hard for me to tell you guys.’
“It was really hard to hear, because we could see it was tough for him.”
Especially after such a lengthy career.
Boots’ teams recorded 16 seasons of at least 20 wins, and twice advanced to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight — in 1992-93 and 1993-94.
Since the Coyotes jumped to the Division I level in 2008-09, Boots amassed an 80-72 record. USD won the Great West Conference title in 2010, but has struggled through two years in the Summit League — going 20-38.
“I feel bad for his last two couple seasons, that we didn’t win more,” Gruis said. “I think he gets a bad rap, honestly.
“He’s a family guy and a great mentor,” Gruis added. “People don’t see that; how much he loves his players.”
One of his former players, Yankton’s Jeremy Kudera, agreed, saying Boots was more than simply a coach.
“Obviously, I have mixed feelings. He’s done some amazing things and it’s tough to see him go,” said Kudera, an orthopedic surgeon at Yankton Medical Clinic.
“But I think those closest to him knew the time was coming,” he added. “It was just a matter of when.”
The timing is what surprised him, Kudera said.
“I’m sure Dave is anxious to spend time doing other things,” Kudera said. “It’s just such a sad day. He’s been the face of that program, and in a lot of ways, that athletic department, for a long time.”
The Coyotes are primed for a climb in the Summit League in 2013-14, thanks to four returning starters — Gruis, Bos, Casey Kasperbauer (So., G) and Karim Rowson (Sr., G).
USD’s roster will also see three key redshirts, Trey Norris (So., G), Adam Thoseby (So., G) and Tyler Larson (RJr., G) become eligible.
The program also added a group of highly-touted freshmen, including Bounama Keita, Rico Thompson, Vlad Stoicoviciu and Austin Sparks. Also in the mix will be junior transfer Tavian Pomlee, from Iowa Western.
“Talent wise, we have an excellent group,” Bos said. “Getting to the (NCAA) tournament is our number one goal.
“But basketball will have a whole different feel.”
In terms of where the program turns next (interim coach or assistant promoted), Herbster said “all options are on the table.”
“Whichever decision is in the best interest of the program, we’ll go for that,” he said. “But we’ll certainly look at all options.”
Talking about the next coach is a “strange” feeling for the program, Bos said.
“Behind closed doors, he knows that there’s way more to life than basketball,” Bos said. “He’s more than a basketball coach; he’s a mentor.”
You can follow Jeremy Hoeck on Twitter at twitter.com/jhoeck. Discuss this story at www.yankton.net/.