For Roebuck, it was time for retirementOK, conspiracy theorists, step back, take a deep breath and join the world of reality.
By: Wayne Nelson, The Dickinson Press
OK, conspiracy theorists, step back, take a deep breath and join the world of reality.
On Tuesday, University of North Dakota women’s basketball coach Gene Roebuck apologized for remarks he made at a UND Boosters luncheon about North Dakota State fans, calling them “racist blowhards.”
On Friday, he announced this will be his last season coaching the UND women’s basketball program — exactly seven days after making the controversial comments.
The apology and retirement announcement are not linked. Far from it. Roebuck sending former NDSU coach Amy Ruley a Christmas card has more validity than claiming the UND coach resigned because of the apology.
“The conspiracy theories are just what they are,” Roebuck said after UND lost to Utah Valley on Saturday. “(UND Athletic Director) Brian Faison and I have been in discussions about this since last spring.”
The exact date? It was May 5, when Faison and Roebuck met during the coach’s annual evaluation.
“I didn’t want to make the announcement before the season and I didn’t want to make it after the season,” Roebuck said. “I appreciate Brian for respecting that. Brian and (UND) President Kelley have done an exceptional job of guiding us through this transition phase. They have had insensitive comments hurled at them and their families. That’s not right.”
There was speculation that Roebuck would coach one more season, giving him a chance to experience life in the Big Sky Conference. Then again, there was speculation that he would call it quits after successfully leading UND through a difficult five-year Division I transition.
“How many 65-year-old coaches are there in Division I basketball?” Roebuck asked.
Roebuck addressed his retirement after Utah Valley beat UND 58-54 in the Great West Conference opener.
It was business as usual after the game, Roebuck explaining the loss and still looking forward to the rest of the season. Then, he talked about his retirement — and became emotional in doing so.
After covering an old-school, tough love, bring-it-on coach for years, his quivering voice and a few tears may be my biggest memory of Roebuck’s career, one that saw him build a Division II national power before leading UND trough the Division I transition.
“I have always put the women’s program first and I am very proud to have coached a great group of young women,” he said.
The timing of his announcement may not have worked in his favor, given the last seven days.
But it makes sense. His announcement will allow more time for UND to select a new coach, one that won’t have a late start in recruiting. An earlier announcement likely would have been a season-long distraction.
There are five remaining home games, just the right amount of time to recognize his accomplishments.
Until his final game, Roebuck will be asked repeatedly about his favorite memories. He’ll give this answer:
“It’s about the players that I coached,” he said. “I think I’ve prepared them for life. That’s the most important thing for me.”
Roebuck never thought he’s coach at UND for 25 years.
“I’m a guy from Velva, N.D., living in Devils Lake coaching junior college basketball,” he said. “The only thing I told myself when I got the job was to do the best I can. I had no goals set. I coach a team to win.
“They responded in my first year. And once you win, then you get the fans out and other recruits start looking at your program.
“I never had any thoughts I would be coaching this long. Let’s face it, you have to win to stay. That’s it.”
So, what’s next?
Life in Bemidji awaits as his wife, Karolyn, has lived in Bemidji the last two years.
But there will be some coaching ahead — and perhaps fishing.
“When this (season) is over, I going to teach one of my grandsons to be a Major League player,” he said. “Then we’ll all sit back and relax.
“And I’ve always asked if I fished. I always said, ‘I’m not old enough to fish.’ I don’t know, maybe I’ll start fishing.”
Nelson is the sports editor for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.