I’m trying to think of the word that best sums up my immediate reaction to the news that Sam Duane Jr. has stepped down as Tempe Corona del Sol’s boys basketball coach.
Surprised? No, that’s not nearly strong enough. Stunned? Yes, but still not quite there.
There you go.
Why would a coach who has won four straight state championships resign when he arguably has the two best players in the state – center Marvin Bagley III and point guard Alex Barcello – on his roster for the next two seasons? Why not go for five and then six consecutive titles? Set records no coach will ever break in Division I.
Duane said he resigned in order to spend more time with his family and pursue his administrative degree. Almost immediately, other angles were pursued on social media. Was Duane quitting to take a job on Bobby Hurley’s staff at Arizona State and give the Sun Devils a better chance to land Bagley and Barcello?
Duane said that’s not the case. And you know what? I believe him.
Think about it. If the ASU rumor was true, why would Duane lie about family and professional reasons? He simply would wait for Hurley to make the announcement and then say it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. No one would blame him for moving on.
There’s just no logical reason to send out a release saying one thing if he was headed to ASU. Makes no sense.
I’m going to take Duane at his word. Could there be some behind-the-scenes reason for his departure? Possibly. But he’s always been straight with me before, both on and off the record, so I’m not about to question his integrity now.
Being a high school coach is demanding and exhausting and the pay is negligible. One coach told me he added up his hours after a season and figured he was making 98 cents an hour.
Duane was a head coach for 12 years. That’s a lot of nights away from family and other pursuits. Sometimes, it’s just time.
Besides, what else is there left for Duane to accomplish? He was just named the National Coach of the Year by Maxpreps.com. The four straight state titles are a pretty nice legacy. And while Bagley and Barcello will miss him, they’ll get along just fine without him.
So will Corona. It is the premier program in the state. Applications will flood the email of athletic director Dan Nero. As long as Bagley and Barcello stay put, Corona will be the favorite to win the state title in 2016 and 2017.
A personal note: I always appreciated Duane’s self-deprecating nature. It’s a quality he inherited from his father, who won 663 games but always understood the players were more important than the coach. When I tried to interview Sam Duane after his son won his first state title four years ago, he waved me away before finally relenting and offering a few – and I mean a few – words.
Duane understood. It was his son’s day. And the players’ day.
Sam Duane Jr. is just as modest. It was never about him, even as he won state championship after state championship. That’s why he wasn’t just the most successful coach in the state but one of the most popular among his peers, too.
So good luck, Sam. It will be weird not to see you on the court – and your dad a couple of rows behind the bench, still barking at officials after all these years. I’d suggest Corona name the basketball court in your honor but your father’s name is already on the gymnasium. And I’m guessing that’s the way you prefer it.
Meanwhile, enjoy a normal life for a while. You’ve earned it.
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