VERMILLION, S.D. | Although Dave Boots called Tuesday’s decision to retire from coaching one of the toughest things he’s ever had to go through, he said it wasn’t a spur of the moment decision.
“The timing could have been different, but I don’t know if there is ever a good time to this,” said Boots, who informed the University of South Dakota basketball team of his plans late Tuesday at the DakotaDome. “Peggy (his wife) and I had talked a lot about it through the summer. To be honest, I was very close to wanting to do it again, I wasn’t burned out from coaching.
“But I kind of felt like, OK, a lot of good things are going to be happening to USD basketball. The new arena, a great group of kids and some good, talented kids. Maybe this is the best time to turn it over to someone else, get a new voice and a new face.”
Boots, 57, coached USD basketball for 25 seasons, becoming the winningest coach in program history with a 503-235 record (.681 winning percentage). Under his tutelage, the Coyotes rang up 23 consecutive winning seasons, played in 10 NCAA Division II national tournaments, won six North Central Conference titles and made back-to-back trips to the Elite Eight in 1993 and 1994.
In 32 seasons as a head basketball coach, Boots has racked up 618 victories and his 603 at the NCAA Division II level rank 14th all-time. He is a seven-time conference coach of the year honoree.
Boots also oversaw USD’s transition to a Division I program and entry into the Summit League.
“When we went to Division I it was a dream come true, to be able to coach (in Division I) was a great experience,” said Boots. “I wanted to get us through the transition and through the end of (his son) Jordan’s career. There are good players in this program for the next coach to continue to move forward on the road we’re on. I think those things are in place.”
The Coyote basketball team went through a weightlifting session before being told to report for a meeting with Boots. It was there that an emotional Boots told his team he was retiring.
“You could see how much the school and the players meant to him,” said Coyote junior guard Brandon Bos. “He didn’t tell us about why it was time for him to retire. It is something he felt he had to do and that is the way those things happen. We are not the first team to have this happen to them.
“Coach was huge in my recruitment. I remember my visit and I got to know him a bit more and got to see a different side of him. He is a great coach and a better person. I will never forget what he has taught me the last few years. A lot of basketball-wise and life in general.”
With returning players like Bos and co-captain Trevor Gruis, plus a group of highly regarded newcomers, the Coyotes appear poised to make vast improvement in their second season as a fully eligible Division I program. That’s one of the reasons the announcement came as such a surprise.
“I played three years for him and would have loved to make it four,” Gruis said. “It was a huge surprise. No one wants to see him leave. He knows how to coach different personalities. Growing up in basketball you can’t coach everybody the same. Coach was able to get the most out of everyone and that is what makes him a great coach.”
USD athletic director David Herbster, who has spent a dizzying last 24 hours dealing with the announcement, said he is weighing different options.
“The timing was more a surprise than anything,” said Herbster. “Whenever he would have come in and said that to me it would have been a surprise.
“One thing you can appreciate about Dave Boots is that a lot of times coaches don’t know when to hang it up. I still felt like he had some years left but only he could answer this question.”
Herbster quoted legendary basketball coach John Wooden.
“He said be quick but don’t hurry. That’s what we’re trying to do now,” Herbster said.
With practice set to begin on Sept. 28, that doesn’t leave much time to get a successor in place.
“We start at the end of the month so we’d like to think we can have the direction of the program solidified by then,” Herbster said. “He (Boots) has a great class coming in with a lot of talent and chemistry. That probably made it even harder for him to step aside.
“USD basketball has seen a lot of promise of what can be done, with a new facility, the move to Division I and the Summit League. I don’t think they’ve scratched the surface for what they can accomplish. We owe Dave a lot for getting us there. I don’t how many teams during their Division I transition who have won conference tournaments and also been named coach of the year.”
One name being thrown in the fire is Joey James, a member of Boots’ staff for the past 10 seasons and a former Coyote player.
“I will always pull for our guys, but that is David’s decision. He’s been great to work for and that’s a decision he’ll have to make,” said Boots. “I will support whomever gets (the job) and do everything I can to help.”
Boots isn’t sure what he’ll do with all of his free time. Chances are, however, this was his last coaching stop.
“You never say never but this is where I wanted to coach,” said Boots. “I can’t see myself coaching anywhere else.”