Weber State's Rahe is college basketball's hidden gem
Randy Rahe has won two-thirds of his games as coach of the Wildcats
Ravell Call, Deseret News
OGDEN — In 2006, college basketball underwent extensive changeover within the coaching ranks. That year, 46 coaches acquired positions with mid-major programs.
Subsequently, 18 have been fired or resigned; 11 advanced on to more esteemed schools including eight in major conferences – Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Colorado, Marquette, Oregon State, Providence and Texas A&M, while 17 coaches continue to pace the baseline seven years later.
Nestled in the 2006 hiring class is Weber State coach Randy Rahe. During his time in Ogden, he's accumulated the second-highest winning percentage (66 percent), the third most wins (139) and his 88-24 Big Sky record is the highest conference winning percentage (79 percent) among all 46 coaches.
Rahe, 52, deflects his success.
"I've learned to surround myself with good people — it starts with my staff and then our players," said Rahe, whose team is 20-5 and 14-2 in Big Sky play this season. "I think once you put that together, it's hard for me to screw them up too bad."
Rahe, whose short stature is better equipped for the pummel horse than a basketball court, was raised in a farming community in Bancroft, Iowa, in the 1960s with four "unbelievably competitive" brothers. He quickly realized, "If I don't fight they're going to kick my (butt)."
"He's a little guy, but he gets mean," Wildcats guard Scott Bamforth explained. "He's going to have it every day, and if you don't bring it, you're going to stand out because you're going to be the only one that's not."
Each passing achievement is unexpected for Rahe considering his first coaching position was a "Hoosieresk" high school with an enrollment of 70 students K through 12.
"I had seven kids on my team and nobody above 5-10," he said. "I needed to get the superintendent and the janitor so I had enough guys to scrimmage. But I loved it — I had to figure out ways to win games."
Rahe eventually joined current Utah State coach Stew Morrill at Colorado State in 1991 and spent the next 13 years enriching his knowledge.
"From him I pretty much learned everything," Rahe said.
After 18 years as an assistant, Rahe inherited a Weber State program in a midst of a rapid glissade. The Wildcats posted a 39-47 record, winning only 18 conference games in a three-year span before his arrival.
"My whole goal was: I want us to have a chance to win the league every year," Rahe said. "We want to be at the top. I wanted consistency, so every year we were going to be in the hunt."
He began constructing a successful framework in recruiting. Rahe's vision prioritized morally sound character, emphasizing education, and reflected his hard-working, passionate mentality. The prototype has produced 18 all-conference players and 19 all-academic members, and in 2012, Weber State earned a perfect score of 1,000 in the NCAA APR (Academic Progress Rate).
"I think he sees how tough (players) are and if they're a team guy," WSU guard Davion Berry said. "He knows how to recruit guys that buy into the system."
With the disciplined structure, changes blossomed immediately. In his first year, Rahe guided the 'Cats to a 20-11 record and an NCAA tournament berth. His original intentions flourished with three regular-season titles while never finishing below third-place.
"I'll always remember him long gone from here," Bamforth said. "He did it the right way, everything he did, he did it for the team. He's a mentor and he's had an impact on a lot of people's lives. I'm just glad to be a part of that."
Rahe has garnished the third-most wins and is tied for the most BSC titles in school history. However, perhaps unjustly, he's scrutinized as merely a regular-season coach.
Five consecutive years, Rahe's teams have lost in the conference tournament, twice on their home court as the top-seed. In 2010, WSU relinquished a 20-point halftime lead to fourth-seeded Montana in its 66-65 defeat.
"That was easily the toughest loss we've had since we've been here," Rahe said, noting he occasionally flashes back. "We've moved beyond it, but I'll never forget that game for as long as I live.
"We screwed up," Rahe continued. "We were in position and didn't get it done and sometimes you have a helluva season and you don't win the right game. We're hungry to get back. It's what motivates us. We're going to get back over the hump — it's going to come."
Returning to the NCAA tournament would only intensify his legitimacy as one of the premier mid-major coaching candidates. Albeit, even now, speculation of larger programs luring Rahe from Weber is a perpetual concern despite his 2010 contract extension that stretches to 2017.
But for Rahe, his wife Laura and his two sons — Luke and Kade — Ogden is home. Reminiscent of his Iowa upbringing, it's deeply instilled within his heart.
"When Weber State hired me, they took a chance on me. I've always felt a great deal of loyalty," Rahe said. "If something ever did happen it would have to be something pretty special, and I haven't found anything — and I'm not looking. My family and I love Ogden. The people here have been tremendous. I really appreciate where I'm at. I feel like I have one of the best jobs in the country.
"Never say never. But, right now, I love where I'm at."
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