Friday, October 19, 2012

Get Out There and Dance

I lost one of my idols recently and America lost a true hero.

A few weeks ago, Bob "Cocach" Stevens died after 88 years of life. He was born and raised in Indiana and served his country as a pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps. He fought in both World War II and the Korean War. His service made him an American hero, but that is not the only reason why he is my idol.

After his service to the country, Coach returned to college, completed his degree and went on to do one thing he truly loved: coached basketball. He spent several seasons as an assistant at Michigan State before being given then head coaching job at South Carolina University. After turning the program around, Coach was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Men's Basketball Coach of the Year. He coached one of my favorite sports.

But that's not the only reason he's my idol.

In 1962, Coach Stevens became the head coach for the Oklahoma Sooners. Under his one-year tenure he went 12-13 and was reportedly "pressured" to resign. While he didn't have success winning at OU, Coach did introduce a new form of offense that is seen in most schools today. He called it the "go-go" offense, because when his team got the ball, it was time to go, he would say. It was a little non-traditional in the 1960s.

In 1997, Coach also worked on the staff for the Oklahoma City Calvary, a member of the Continental Basketball Association, the basketball minor leagues at the time. The Calvary held off the Florida Beachdogs four games to two that year to secure the CBA championship. Coach proudly wore his ring until the day he died.

But that was not the only reason he was my idol.

Coach's claim to fame was discovering the then unknown rebounding talent of a undersized kid at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Okla. After his coaching days were over, Coach opened his own scouting service, helping NBA teams find and evaluate talented college hoops players. Coach was watching a Southeastern Oklahoma State game in the mid 1980s when a skinny kid named Dennis Rodman was clearing the boards for the Savages. The Detroit Pistons made him their third pick of the second round in 1986. He went on to a great career with five NBA championships, led the NBA in rebounds for a record seven consecutive years and was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year twice. Rodman may owe his career to Coach. Probably not, but maybe.

But that's not why he was my Idol.

Coach and I shared the same birthday in November, which gave us a lot in common but it was not the reason he was my idol.

Coach Bob Stevens was my idol because he knew how to live life. He lived it to the fullest every day. Each and every day, including his last, Coach woke up and did what he loved to do.

You see, Coach loved the lake. He owned a 42-foot boat and each weekend during the summer, he would make the two-hour drive south from Oklahoma City to his boat dock for the weekend. During an interview once, he told me during the warm summer months he loved to spend time on the lake and during the cold winter months he loved to spend time in the basketball gym. It was a perfect marriage of hobbies.

Every weekend, he would drive across the lake, tie up his boat and catch a ride with the shuttle to the Tanglewood Resort, have a few cocktails and dance with the ladies. That's the thing Coach really loved to do was dance with the ladies. He was smooth on the dance floor, too. And he was smooth with the ladies. Last week, many of those ladies paid tribute with photos of Coach on Facebook.
I got to see Coach at least once or twice a year during the last six years. We even spent a long night of celebrating our birthdays together (neither of us probably remembered much from the party, although for completely different reasons). But he was out there every weekend, looking for a good time, trying to find a dance partner, trying to celebrate the life he'd been given.

On a recent cool Autumn Monday, Coach's body was found near the marina where he boat was moored. Nobody knows exactly what happened, but Coach didn't make it on his boat after a night at Tanglewood. He died in the chilly waters of Lake Texoma doing what he loved to do.
Coach didn't want a funeral. He wanted people to get together and celebrate his full life, something he did for 88 years.

While we won't see his smiling face on the lake next summer, I can guarantee you that Coach will always be remembered. His spirit lives on. He taught many of us that life has too much to offer to be sad and lonely and to stand on the edge of the dance floor. If he were alive today and the music of life was trying to get us down, I'm sure Coach would say, "get out there and dance."

That's exactly what I plan to do. And that is why Coach Bob Stevens is my idol. And he should be yours too. Rest in peace, my friend.

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