Rodney Watson:The man behind Saluki Basketball

By Gus Bode

Reporter Gabe House sits down with men’s basketball assistant coach Rodney Watson to talk about his job and the past season.

Daily Egyptian:To begin, you are an assistant coach for the men’s basketball team. What exactly are your responsibilities in that position?

Rodney Watson:There are a whole host of responsibilities. Between the four of us [coaches] it’s probably a six-page list. It ranges from recruiting, and, specifically, I’m more involved in scheduling right now, overseeing academic issues; we all look over those. Certainly practice, scouting, assisting with day-to-day operations, so the list just continues on and on.

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DE:I noticed you are also the dean of Missouri Valley Conference assistant coaches. What does that entail?

RW:That just means I’ve been lucky enough to stay at one place longer than those other guys and I’ve got a little more principle into my mortgage than the rest of the guys in this league.

DE:How have you managed to stay at SIU for 17 years now?

RW:I’m just lucky and fortunate. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here with coach [Bruce] Weber, Matt [Painter] and now Chris [Lowery]. It’s just something that has been really fortunate.

DE:And SIU has accomplished a lot in your tenure:Eight MVC championships, a 321-180 record and 12 postseason appearances. How gratifying has that been for you?

RW:It is really gratifying. This is a special place and it’s been amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish. We’ve won an average of over 20 games a season, we’ve graduated our guys and we have good guys on top of it. In all reality, this is the pinnacle of basketball. You joke about student-athlete because you use the term very flippantly, but in all reality, that’s what you are when you come here. Once in a while you have a guy make it in the NBA, but for the most part, guys are coming here to get an education, be successful on the basketball court and put them in a position where they’re successful later on in life.

DE:Since you have been here there has been something of a revolving door of head coaches. Have the transitions gone smoother than you would have expected?

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RW:You would think so. Because of the hire of Weber, who is such a good man, and the last thing they would have needed in replacing coach [Rich] Herrin is to bring in a knucklehead. It was a very smart hire, and of course, once coach Weber got here it’s been very smooth. The system has stayed the same, the terminology has been the same and the philosophy has stayed the same.

DE:Speaking of Weber, how closely have you been following his success with the Illini?

RW:Really closely. He’s like a brother to us. He put his heart and soul into this program and he’s the most generous guy I’ve ever been around, certainly in this profession. To see the success he’s had, you feel great for that guy. He’s still very much a big part of what we do here.

DE:You also had the chance to coach SIU’s current head coach Chris Lowery from 1990-94. What kind of player was he?

RW:He was a great player and it was really evident. Ironically, when he really made his mark was in Chicago his freshman year when we played Oklahoma State. That’s when it was really obvious what type of player he was. He’s the same type of player as he is a coach. He’s very tough, very smart, he has forethought and he thinks things out. The thing that really impressed me was that he seemed to know what coach Herrin was thinking before any of the rest of us even heard what he was about to say.

DE:Did you ever think he would be SIU’s head coach and is that something of an odd twist of fate?

RW:It has been an odd twist of fate. I wouldn’t have thought he’d be a head coach here more than anyone else. Once he got in the coaching profession at Rend Lake and Tim [Wills] and I talked about it quite a bit. Obviously, I was checking to see how he was doing and Tim said this guy is special. He really knows what he’s doing, he knows how to recruit and he knows how to work. He’s really going to be good someday and Tim was right on the money.

DE:Bruce Weber was an assistant coach under Gene Keady at Purdue for 18 seasons before beginning his head-coaching career. That time frame is similar to yours, so is there any chance you are considering head-coaching opportunities?

RW:Oh, absolutely. I think anybody in this profession thinks about running their own program. But the thing for me is I’m smart enough to know that the grass isn’t always greener somewhere else. I’ve seen too many people leave a great job like the one I have, go to become a head coach somewhere and then can’t wait to get back to being an assistant. So this has really built itself into a great program, and this is a great opportunity here. I want to be smart with any move that I make, but I’m just glad to be one cog in the wheel here.

DE:Well, it sounds like you will be here next season so what are you expecting out of the Salukis?

RW:We’re going to be young and it’s scary when you don’t have a senior on your team. But it’s also really interesting to see how Tony Young and Jamaal Tatum have improved their game since they stepped on this campus. Obviously, there has got to be a maturation process from a leadership standpoint. Success comes a lot from experience. Fortunately, those two guys have had a lot of experience. It will all come down to getting out of it what you put into it. This last group put a lot into it, and if this team is willing to put that much into it, they’ll have a great deal of success.

Reporter Gabe House can be reached at [email protected]

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