CLOVERDALE, Ind. — The state’s winningest active high school basketball coach has stories. Lots of them. They spill into one another like water in a stream, connecting the important people and places of Pat Rady’s life.
A half-dozen times in a two-hour interview in his tiny coach’s office at Cloverdale High School, Rady stops. He’s talking too much about himself, he says. Assured that was the intention of the visit, he continues. His stories come in humorous bursts, various flashpoints of 49 years and 717 wins in coaching. He becomes emotional when talking about his own high school coach, Ed Orrill. He speaks glowingly of his wife of 47 years, Margaret.
Again, he interrupts himself. There is something that bothers him. It is the perception that a man who just turned 72, has coached for nearly five decades and is third all-time in wins must just be hanging on, inspired by records and personal glorification.
It’s the challenge that drives him. Not necessarily to win games and championships, but to mold a team and make it one.
“Nothing is more satisfying than seeing a group of young men come together and be like this,” said Rady, holding his fist tight. “That’s the challenge.”
The wins trickle in slowly these days. Cloverdale won three games last season. The team is 3-11 this year, the wins coming by a total of four points. Though Rady would never say it, Cloverdale’s teams the past two years have been among his least talented.
Rady, who serves as a substitute teacher at the school two or three days a week, came to this Putnam County community of 2,100 with the thought of staying three years. He’s going on Year 9.
Principal Sonny Stoltz, a 1985 Cloverdale graduate, was on the committee that hired Rady in 2004. He was coming off a 24-year stint at Terre Haute South, a program he led to the final four in 1991 with Indiana standout Brian Evans as its top player.
“He had over 600 wins when he came here,” Stoltz said. “But from that first time we talked to him about the job, he’s never brought up individual accolades or numbers. When he won his 700th game, we had to tell him that it was OK to celebrate it. It’s never been his intention to come here and break records.”
Rady laughs now, looking back at the inauspicious beginning to his coaching career. He was 23 years old when he took his first varsity job at tiny Bainbridge in 1964. A native of nearby Roachdale, Rady graduated from Hanover College in 1963 and taught one year at New Albany, where he coached eighth-grade basketball.
After his first Bainbridge team finished 6-14, the young coach told his players they would make the semistate the following year if they stayed together and kept working. But Rady didn’t know if he was cut out for the job. A few weeks after the season, he told principal Glen Steele that he might be best served finding a more experienced coach.
Later that day, Rady was visited by Larry Steele (no relation to the principal), a skinny sophomore who later went on to play at Kentucky and in the NBA with the Portland Trailblazers.
“Coach, how come you are a hypocrite?” Steele asked Rady. “You said we are going to be a good team and make the semistate and now you don’t want to coach us?”
Rady marched back into the principal’s office and asked if he could rescind his “resignation.” It was only years later that he learned Glen Steele had called in the starting five to ask if they wanted Rady back and sent Larry Steele to talk with him.
The following year, Bainbridge went 24-3 and won the sectional and regional, losing 78-74 to powerhouse East Chicago Washington in the semifinal round of the semistate.
“He was a very demanding coach,” said Larry Canada, a senior on that semistate team. “He was a stickler about conditioning. You kind of loved and hated him at the same time, but you’d run through a wall for him.”
Loyalty is a common theme with Rady. He tells a story about his high school coach at Roachdale,. It was Orrill who gave Rady is first coaching “job,” allowing him to coach the sixth grade team as a junior in high school. When Orrill was let go as coach, Rady wasn’t going to go out for the team as a senior.
“Basketball has to mean something more to you than who you are playing for,” Orrill told him.
Rady’s eyes fill with tears when he recalls how Orrill called him after Roachdale defeated Greencastle in the sectional, a team Rady promised the coach they’d beat a year earlier if they had the chance again.
“Where would I be without him?” asks Rady, who still sees Orrill at least once a year. “That’s what I mean. I’ve had so many people believe in me in my life, for whatever reason.”
Why does Rady keep at it, long past when most coaches his age have hung up their whistles? He says, half-jokingly, that he doesn’t hunt, golf or fish. That he wouldn’t have anything to do with his spare time other than bug his wife of 47 years, Margaret.
To watch Rady at practice tells a different story. These hours after school is what he loves the most, and what he’ll miss the most when he’s done coaching. “Don’t make a $1,000 move for a 10 cent shot,” he says to one of his guards. Later, while the team is shooting free throws, he jokes that he’ll need to buy new orange paint for the rims.
“It’s in his blood,” said Chase Haltom, who played for him at Cloverdale and is now a volunteer assistant coach. “As long as he has that passion and drive, he’ll be successful. You know he’s successful because so many of his former players come back to see him. He’s one of the good ones.”
Patrick Rady, his oldest of two sons (younger son Michael lives in Danville, Ill.), has been an assistant with him for 16 years, the last five at Cloverdale. He seems a likely successor to his father when Rady decides it’s time. But Patrick is in no rush to see him go. Their time together coaching has brought them closer together.
“I think the reason he’s been able to do it so long is that he never brought it home with him,” Patrick said. “It is his life, but it doesn’t consume his entire life. He knew how to get away from it. That’s as important as anything to his longevity.”
When Rady was a freshman at Hanover, he was cut from the basketball team. He spent the year traveling to high school games, taking notes and interviewing coaches. Somewhere between his coaching stops Bainbridge, Winchester, Southmont, Shelbyville and Terre Haute South, he lost that notebook.
When he does give up coaching, he may buy a new notebook. He’d like to visit the practices of other coaches, go to games that he hasn’t been able to for 50 years.
“The only thing I can remember before I wanted to be a basketball coach was a cowboy,” Rady says with a laugh. “For 60 years, it’s been a huge part of my life. Mr. Orrill told me all those years ago to be a student of the game. You can always learn something new about this game, no matter how long you’ve been around it.”
Those close to him say they’ve learned more about life than basketball from Rady. That’s perhaps the ultimate compliment.
“He’s there to make boys better men,” said Cloverdale athletic director J.J. Wade. “I’ve heard him say a million times, ‘The world doesn’t need better basketball players, it needs better fathers and husbands.’ He has a way of bringing the best out in people and that’s what coaching is really all about.”