SOUTH JORDAN — In a room decorated floor to ceiling with the kinds of mementos one might find in the scrapbook of a meticulous, sentimental soccer mom, Bingham girls basketball coach Rand Rasmussen delivered an emotional goodbye to his players.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do because I totally enjoy coaching this basketball team,” said Rasmussen, with his voice cracking as he wiped away tears. “I’ve loved every kid that’s bought into the system that I think is the right one. But, something has to change and I think this is the right time for me.”
Rasmussen explained how coaching kept him from being the grandfather and husband he feels he needs to be.
“I thought of my wife," he said. "For 37 years — (as I’m) trying to get you guys as prepared as I can — she’s home with the two dogs,” he said. “She means absolutely everything to me and that is why I’ve resigned as the head girls’ basketball coach at Bingham.”
The second-longest tenured girls basketball coach in the state is walking away from the sideline just 38 games away from the all-time wins record. He acknowledges that some might not understand why he's willing to walk away from the profession when so close to what for many coaches would be a career-defining milestone.
But as those who know him can attest, he's not one to worry about what other people think.
“When you’re a young coach you put all your emphasis on winning,” Rasmussen said while explaining that he’s more concerned with teaching life lessons.
A three-sport athlete himself, Rasmussen is competitive, driven, strict, loyal, sarcastic, brutally honest and a fierce advocate for women's athletics. Very few people have no opinion of the man who paces in front of his bench coaching with the same intensity regardless of the score.
“I show my affection in different way that most people do – I’m sure,” Rasmussen said during the girls’ basketball class. “I call a spade a spade and sometimes that’s offending. If any of you were bothered by it — I apologize today, because that’s not the intent.”
Love him or hate him, his success is undeniable.
In 24 years as a head coach, he's earned 465 wins and 97 losses. His record in the state tournament was 47-23. His teams have made 13 final four appearances, earned 14 region titles and four state championships.
He's coached two Gatorade Players of the Year and 73 all-state athletes. Fifty-six of his players have earned college scholarships.
He's actually spent 43 years on a sideline, and for seven winters he coached both boys and girls as an assistant.
“He’s like, oh gosh,” Bingham senior Madison Aulai-Roe, her eyes red and wet with tears, said. “He’s like a father figure to me. He’s been there so much in my life. He’s helped me so much in basketball that I can’t even begin to explain.
“He’s more of a friend that’s looking out for us. He’s more than a coach — he’s a friend.”
He treasures every tape, every thank-you card, every stat sheet, every scorebook. T-shirts and jerseys hang from the ceiling honoring the accomplishments of the program's alumni.
"The journey and the stuff you go through along the way is 10 times more important than breaking a record," he said to reporters Thursday before making the announcement to his team. "If I have to break a record to show that I'm a good coach, then I'm in this for the wrong record."
But when all is said and done, he hasn't dedicated his life to women's basketball for any of the records.
He did it for the hugs.
"Girls hug," he said when asked why he never did what many coaches do and move to coaching boys after having some success with female players. As an assistant baseball coach, he said he had the chance not only to coach his own sons, but also work with high school boys. And while it's rewarding, it's different.
"I've just really enjoyed the girls," he said smiling. "They just want to have a great experience, love their coach and have great camaraderie. They're much more open about how they feel you treated them."
Rasmussen has been a high-profile and, at times, a polarizing figure in high school sports. He speaks his mind, and he isn't afraid to offend. Even as he exits, he makes sure people understand that he thinks we're making some mistakes with the way we push our children into year-round athletic commitments.
"It's obviously gotten to the point where everything has gone to year-round, and I think it's wrong," he said. "I've promoted multi-sport athletes my entire career here."
He said forcing children as young as 12 to work with personal trainers and commit to a single athletic endeavor isn't good for the child and it isn't good for sports.
"I think that's hurt athletics," he said. "Everyone wants to keep up with the Joneses. He's playing 80 games, then I have to play 82. Something's got to give."
While some might not shed a tear as Rasmussen exits, others understand what their coaching universe is losing.
"He's made me a lot better coach," said Layton head coach Van Price. "I don't know if I was a very good coach until I learned how to compete against Bingham."
He considers Rasmussen one of his closest friends, but he couldn't stand him when he first met him.
"They don't know the person," he said of his friend's critics. "They haven't taken the time to get to know him. Most people see a very competitive coach on the floor. He's a little old school, almost a military atmosphere."
Price, whose teams have played Bingham every year for 24 years on New Year's Eve, gets emotional when he talks about Rasmussen leaving the coaching ranks.
"You lose a coach who is in it for the girls," said Price, who is the only active coach who has been on the job longer than Rasmussen at 25 years. "He wants those girls to have something in life that they can learn from when they played basketball for him — how to be successful, how to overcome trials. He can push them to their limits, and they learn they can go farther."
The last time they had lunch — before that New Year's Eve game — he asked Price if he knew their record. Price didn't, but of course, Rasmussen did — Bingham 17, Layton 11.
"No one else has beaten him 11 times," Price said laughing.
The two friends met in the semifinals of the state tournament with Bingham owning a 23-1 record and a No. 1 ranking. Layton upset them and ended the Miners' season. It was a bittersweet moment for Price.
"I was the last coach to beat Rand Rasmussen," said Price. "That's something good because not many coaches beat him."3 comments on this story
Rasmussen reflected on his loss to Price with a smile. His only sadness was that he wouldn't be coaching the eight seniors who made his final season one of his most enjoyable.
He acknowledged he will miss his fellow coaches and he will miss his players. He will miss the strategy and the competition. But most of all, he will miss the work.
"The highlight to me is going to practice everyday," he said. "The games are over in 32 minutes. It's no big deal. Practice is where you see the growth in the kids."