Maybe Ron Abegglen has been coaching basketball for 29 seasons, maybe he has coached 553 wins and averaged almost 20 victories a year for his entire career, maybe he has won championships at the high school, junior college, and four-year college level; but when Weber State University's new head basketball coach walked through the 12,000 purple seats in the Dee Events Center Friday, he got goose bumps anyway.
"Do people around here know how good they've got it?" he asked.Abegglen comes to Weber from a background of winning, and a background of background. He's seen more rural roads than a drug smuggler. If you can name it, his teams didn't play there. He's made a career out of faraway places.
He started coaching at the age of 23 in Morgan, Utah, where the cow-people ratio is dead even. After 12 seasons and 232 wins at Morgan High School he moved to Ephraim, Utah, were the turkeys outnumber the cows and the people. After 10 seasons and 212 wins at Snow Junior College he moved to Anchorage, Alaska, where he had to negotiate, for the first time, traffic lights. Anchorage is not, like Morgan and Ephraim, a small town, but it is largely off by itself, city-wise and basketball-wise.
Abegglen stayed through seven seasons and 109 wins at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, an NCAA Div. II program. He won the Great Northwest Conference three times and almost won the Div. II national championship in 1988, when the Seawolves finished as the runner-up.
Now, he's at Weber. Richard Hannan, Weber's athletic director, picked up Abegglen's resume two weeks ago and couldn't put it down. If this guy could average 19 wins a year in Morgan, Ephraim and Anchorage, what could he average in Ogden?
Abegglen told Weber to make him an offer he couldn't refuse. They did. They offered him the job. He told them not to bother with directions on how to find the school. He could read a map; and, besides, Ogden is only 20 minutes west of Morgan. Coaching can be a funny business. Work 30 years and you can move back into your old neighborhood.
"There's a certain appeal to moving back to Morgan," says Abegglen, who hasn't decided yet where his family will take up residence. "I have some great memories there."
One of those memories - great now, although it wasn't at the time - is of the day he packed up his car in Provo, where he had just graduated from BYU, and drove to Morgan as the new head basketball coach and assistant baseball and football coach.
"I thought this big building by the high school was the gym," he says, remembering back to 1963. "But it turned out that was the elementary school and the cafeteria. The gym was this little building off to the side. It was so small it had two 10 second lines."
The coach learned to live with it. He learned to turn it into "one heck of a homecourt advantage."
When they built a bigger gym three years later, he didn't know if he was happy or not.
His relationship with Weber State started then, in the '60s, when Weber graduated from a junior college to a four-year college (in 1962-63) and hired Dick Motta away from Clearfield High School as its basketball coach. Abegglen's Morgan teams would sometimes play in preliminary games to Weber's varsity games, and he was a regular at Motta's practices.
That's when he "got purple," as he puts it, and kept it in the front of his mind that if Weber ever needed a coach, and he was available, he'd be interested.
He came in second when Weber hired Coach Denny Huston three seasons ago; now he's replacing Huston, who won more than he lost (43-42) but got fired anyway. His biggest shortcoming was that he didn't draw a crowd. An average of 8,000 Dee Center seats were empty for every home game.
Abegglen's never had to fill 12,000 seats, so he isn't exactly sure how to go about it. But he knows where he'll start. "I'm going to call all my friends in Morgan to come down and buy tickets," he says. "That ought to take care of the first 200."
Beyond that, he'll see about approaching the job at Weber the same as he's approached the job everywhere else he's been. "I'm a determined recruiter," he says, "If a kid's going to tell me no, I want him to feel bad when he tells me."
He won in Alaska with Utah players - some years, the Seawolves had more Utah recruits than Alaska recruits - and his plan is to go especially hard after the Utah recruits in the Ogden area. He doesn't want to lose the likes of Reid Newey (Utah State), Kendall Youngblood (Utah State) and Kurt Miller (New Mexico) - local players of late who were spirited out of Weber's grasp.
"I don't know what's happened before, but I want to get them here," he says. "I want them knocking on my door."
"This is a place to be proud of," he adds. "This school, this area, this facility. When I walked through those seats to the press conference I really did, I got goose bumps." The coach who's been around had arrived.