3 questions: Mark Coomes
Marcus Jackson caught up with former Illinois assistant coach Mark Coomes
Is there a coach in college basketball today who reminds you of Lou Henson?
I would have to say that some of the older coaches do. I would say a guy like Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, guys that emphasize a lot of the things he represented. From the standpoint of tenure in the Big Ten, Thad Matta has been at Ohio State for so long, guys who dodge the bullets through the course of their careers and maintain a high standard at the schools they’re at, those guys remind me of Coach Henson.
Last year the Big Ten was the best conference in the country. Was it comparable to the time you were coaching in the league (1975, 1985-94)?
I would say it was very comparable. There were so many good coaches and so many good teams. Someone asked me ‘What does it take to be a Big Ten coach?’ Unfortunately, somebody has to finish last and during the tenure I was at Illinois, we had coaches at Northwestern like Bill Foster, who went to a Final Four at Duke. Tex Winter is a Hall of Famer, and they were great coaches but they were in the league when Magic Johnson and Quinn Buckner and Kent Benson and those kinds of players were in the league. We had Eddie Johnson and the guys we had in ‘89 with Nick (Anderson) and (Stephen) Bardo, (Kendall) Gill and Kenny Battle. It’s all about the great players you have in your program. I think it’s up there now like it was in the ‘80s.
What was the highlight of your coaching career?
Being at Illinois in ‘89 and going to the Final Four and having one of the best teams in one of the best conferences in America and being associated with that was great. I also really enjoyed my time as a head coach in junior college (Wabash Valley), especially when I got to coach my son Anthony and we went to the national tournament and he was my point guard. That was a really strong time. Also in 1998 when we went to the NCAA tournament at UIC for the first time in school history. With coach (Jimmy) Collins and (Dick) Nagy and Anthony was our point guard, that was a real highlight, too. Those are my three best memories, they’re not No. 1, 2 or 3, but they’re all really good.