The Sunday Conversation
4:31 am
Sun January 5, 2014

Basketball Coach Fights For His Dream Of A Division I Job

Originally published on Sun January 5, 2014 11:13 am

Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.

Elwyn McRoy is an assistant men's basketball coach at the University of Texas-Pan American. He's worked for 12 different college basketball programs since 1997. A recent piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education tells how he's skipped meals, slept in cars, and lived thousands of miles from his wife and kids to work in an industry with short contracts and high turnover.

But McRoy tells NPR's Rachel Martin that despite the challenges, he was practically born to be a coach.

"Both my parents were coaches," explains McRoy. His mom coached tennis and track, and his dad coached football and wrestling. "I don't think [coaching] was a matter of if, it was just a matter of when," he says. "It's always been in my bloodlines."

McRoy got into coaching right after he graduated from Cleveland State University. He made $300 a month working for his former high school coach, then at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, and lived in the dorms.

After about the fifth year coaching at the junior college level, says McRoy, he realized moving up would be harder than he anticipated. "I couldn't seem to get a break at the Division I level. ... Every place I had been I had helped win, helped bring in good players. But it's about who you know."

And he's endured some serious ups and downs. In 2010, he made it to the assistant coaching level at Iowa State — a dream job for a kid who grew up in Big 12 country, and a dream that came with a salary bump. But it turned out not to be a good fit, and after less than a year, he was let go.

"To fall from being a Big 12 assistant, to having to go back to work at Hutchinson Community College, that's about as far as you can fall," says McRoy. That following year, "living in the dorms, eating dorm food, it was a far cry from making almost six figures."

McRoy says his wife has been a "trooper through all of this," standing by him while he chases his dream. He stays in close contact with her and his four daughters when he's on the road, and right now, he's happy.

"I'm loving being employed. ... I don't know if I could have asked for a better person to resurrect my career than [Texas-Pan American coach] Dan Hipsher," says McRoy. "I'm learning a lot of things from him. I feel very blessed, every day."

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Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ELWYN MCROY: Nothing has ever been given to me. Yeah, I've had to work and grind and fight and scratch for every move that I've made. I mean, I'm not going to lie to you, it's not like it's been easy now. I mean it's definitely been a struggle but it's a good struggle.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

That's Elwyn McRoy. He's an assistant men's basketball coach at the University of Texas-Pan American. He's worked for 12 different college basketball programs since 1997.

The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote about Coach McRoy in an article called "Bounced Around," earlier this year. And the piece tells how he skipped meals, slept in cars, and lived thousands of miles from his wife and kids to work in an industry with short contracts and high turnover.

Tomorrow, the college football season comes to an end and sports fans will be turning to basketball. Coach McRoy says despite the challenges, he was practically born to be a coach.

Elwyn McRoy is this week's Sunday Conversation.

MCROY: Both my parents were coaches. My mom, she was a coach for tennis and track. My dad was a football coach and a wrestling coach. So it's always been in my bloodlines. I don't think it was a matter of if. It was just a matter of when.

MARTIN: What was your first coaching job, short term or otherwise?

MCROY: Right when I graduated from Cleveland State University, I got into coaching at Butler County Community College. I went back to Kansas and worked for my former high school coach, Steve Ett(ph). I lived in the dorms with him and made $300 a month.

MARTIN: Three hundred dollars a month and you lived in the dorms.

MCROY: With my head coach.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Wow.

MCROY: Yeah, tell me about it. But, you know, it was also junior college and it was also my first job out of college. I mean I was fresh out of college.

MARTIN: When did you start to realize that this might be a harder journey than you thought it would be?

MCROY: Probably about after about the fifth year that I was in basketball. I couldn't seem to get a break at the Division I level. I had been coaching in junior college for five years. Every place I had been I helped win, you know, helped bring in good players. But it's about who you know, you know, and I mean, the bottom line is if people aren't comfortable with you and they don't really know you from a personal standpoint, you know, it's tough.

MARTIN: Recently, you took a short-term job that had you living in college dorms and eating in the school cafeteria. I understand, I can hear in your voice you're committed to this, this is your passion, this is what you want to do, but that had to have been hard.

MCROY: I tell you what, if there was ever a time when you can see that it was a down time for me, when I wasn't invited back to Iowa State after making it to plateau of my career, so to speak, that was very disheartening. Because I was in a good situation at Arkansas State. I was making good money, we were comfortable, we had a nice house we were living in. But when I had the opportunity to go to the Big 12, I kind of grew up in Big 12 country, being from Wichita, Kansas. It was a pay raise, it was a chance to be at a higher level. And it just turned out, I guess, not to be a good fit. Sometimes that happens in this business. But to fall from being a Big 12 assistant to having to go back to work at Hutchinson Community College, that's about as far as you can fall. And then to end up at Stillman College the following year, living in a dorm, eating dorm food, it was a far cry from making almost six figures from two years prior to that.

MARTIN: How did your family fare through all of that? I mean, you were living separately, right?

MCROY: Yeah. You know, my wife, she's been a trooper through all of this. I couldn't ask for a better woman to stand by me, you know, while I'm still trying to chase this dream. I'm a great guy, you know, but if I'm not coaching basketball I'm probably not as great.

(LAUGHTER)

MCROY: But thanks to technology, with Facetime and I have an iPad and they have a computer there, it helps. You know, it's not the same but anything is better than nothing.

MARTIN: You've got an assistant coaching job now. How's it going so far?

MCROY: I'm loving it. I mean, first of all, I'm loving being employed, OK.

(LAUGHTER)

MCROY: But I don't know if I could have asked for a better person to, I guess, resurrect my career than Dan Hipsher. He's established, you know, he's confident in who he is and what he does. I'm learning a lot of things from him. I mean, I feel very blessed every day.

MARTIN: Does it feel like a long audition of sorts? I mean, there are no guarantees beyond May, right?

MCROY: I mean, that's with any job I've had. You know, so, I mean, for me, it's just another walk in the park. I don't have any kind of reservations about who I am as a person or as a coach. So, I feel confident in what I can do.

MARTIN: Have you set a deadline for yourself? Do you know how long you'll keep taking these short-term contracts before you say, you know what, I tried and it was a good run and I'm going to try to do something else for a living?

MCROY: Well, I mean, I don't know if you can set a deadline being an assistant coach 'cause assistant coaches in this industry normally don't get multi-year contracts. My goal is to be a head coach. Yeah, I know everybody thinks they've paid their dues, but I definitely think I've paid mine. If there was some AD that was willing to take a chance on a no-name guy, I believe I would bring great promise to whatever school that will be. You know, like most people, I just, I need an opportunity.

MARTIN: Elwyn McRoy. He is an assistant men's basketball coach at the University of Texas-Pan American. He talked to us from Tempe, Arizona, a stop on the road with his players. Hey, Elwyn, thank you so much for talking with us.

MCROY: Thank you. And Happy New Year to you and I hope the new year brings much success and blessings to you.

MARTIN: And to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.