The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

December 11, 2013

Mike Pound: MSSU basketball coach deserves accolades

— Whether he likes it or not (I’m guessing he won’t), the accolades have already started pouring in. It is exactly the sort of thing he hates.

It’s not that he doesn’t appreciate the kind words that have come his way, because he does. It’s that he is afraid any fuss over him will take attention away from his players.

So, when it was announced Tuesday that this year — his 25th — will be Robert Corn’s last as the head coach of the Missouri Southern State University men’s basketball team, I chuckled when I read what Robert said when announcing his decision.

“This season is never about me ... it’s about the players and having a fun and productive year.”

He went on to say that while he would be willing to chat about his decision after the season, he won’t discuss it until then.

I’m guessing that if Robert had it his way, the announcement wouldn’t have come until after the season, and it likely would have been made via a note left on the door to his office. Thankfully, folks at MSSU decided to make the announcement now so that Robert can get the sort of proper send-off the winningest basketball coach in the university’s history deserves.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that Robert and I are friends. I met him during his first year at MSSU while I was working at KSNF-TV. Later, when my wife went to work at MSSU, I got to know Robert even better, and our families have become close.

But even if I didn’t know Robert, I would still be a fan of the way he coaches. Robert and I are about the same age (for the record, he is older), which means we both played high school basketball in the same era. Granted, Robert played at a decidedly higher level than I did, but still, I think we grew up with the same basketball values.

Whenever I see Robert’s teams play, I can’t help but think of my coach at St. Xavier’s Catholic High School in Junction City, Kan. Jim Westerhaus was a tough coach who loved it when his teams played tough defense, weren’t afraid to take a charge and dived after every loose basketball on the court.

But Jim also was fair, and he knew when a player needed a pat on the back instead of a kick in the rear. And he also knew that teaching kids to play a game was only part of his job.

I’m a better person because I played for coach Westerhaus, and I know for a fact that the young men who played for Robert are, too.

I’m pretty sure that if you asked Robert what sort of legacy he wanted to leave as a coach, he wouldn’t talk much about wins and losses. Instead, he would talk about his impact on the lives of his players.

Don’t get me wrong. Robert is a competitor. Anyone who has talked to him shortly after a tough loss will attest to that. But he has never placed winning above character. Look back at Robert’s 25 years at MSSU and you will find no hint of scandal. Were all of the players who came to MSSU angels? Probably not. But while they played for Robert, they played by his rules. They respected their university, they respected their coaches, they respected their teammates and they respected the game.

Back in 2001, my wife was an honorary coach for one of the MSSU games. The team the Lions were facing that night was clearly outmatched. Because of that, Robert expected a very physical game. He expected the other team to try get under his players’ skin and get them to retaliate. So, in his pregame speech, Robert warned his players about that, and then he said, “Men, there is a thin line between class and ass.”

I don’t think I have to tell you what side of that line Robert expected his players to be on.

DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA for Mike Pound’s column? Call him at 417-623-3480, ext. 7259, or email him at mpound@joplinglobe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mikepoundglobe.

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