(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally appeared on TAPInto Greater Olean, an online, hyperlocal publication produced by students at St. Bonaventure University. Cameron Hurst also covers the SBU women’s basketball team for the Times Herald.)
Addressing the media in Dayton, Ohio last March, after his St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team’s upset victory in the NCAA Tournament’s “First Four” over UCLA, coach Mark Schmidt dedicated the historic win to one group of SBU alumni in particular.
“When I got the job here 11 years ago, you hear stories about 1970 about how if (Bob) Lanier was healthy, they would’ve taken down UCLA,” Schmidt said of the 1969-‘70 St. Bonaventure team, which many believe would have defeated the Bruins and head coach John Wooden had a knee injury not sidelined the All-America center, that year’s No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft.
Added Schmidt, “This win is for those guys who didn’t get the chance to showcase their talents.”
A thousand miles away in his North Port, Fla. home, Larry Weise, the architect of that historic team, was emotionally moved.
“(The 65-58 victory) was nice and it was nice what he said as far as dedicating that game to the Final Four team,” said Weise, who owns 202 career victories as St. Bonaventure’s head coach. “I was very touched by that. It was a class move by Mark.”
With a 79-56 victory over George Mason on Sunday, Schmidt surpassed Weise, winning his 203rd game. Weise couldn’t think of anyone more deserving.
“(Schmidt) has done such a wonderful job,” he said of the 55-year-old coach.
Bill Kalbaugh, a co-captain on that team that advanced to the Final Four, echoed Weise’s sentiments.
“Mark is excellent,” Kalbaugh said of Schmidt, who was appointed coach in 2007 after the program went 24-88 over the previous four years that came in the aftermath of a 2003 recruiting scandal.
“We went through some tough years there for a while, and Mark got the job and he’s brought it way back to where it should be.”
“It’s a satisfying feeling to see somebody like Mark come in and elevate (the program) again and do well,” Weise said of the program’s recent prominence.
He would know what basketball excellence looks like.
A 1958 St. Bonaventure graduate, Weise said his coaching philosophies came from his three years of playing under legendary Bona coach Eddie Donovan, fourth on the program’s all-time wins list with 139 victories.
“I was very fortunate playing for Eddie,” Weise said. “He was a very good coach. He treated us really well. He was very fair, and it was a joy playing for Eddie, and we won.”
Nicknamed “The Sheriff,” Weise helped lead the Bonnies to the National Invitation Tournament when he was a junior.
“The NIT was much bigger then,” said Weise of the event, noting that at that time the NCAA Tournament was only accepting three Eastern at-large teams.
“The chemistry that we had among the players and the talents of the different players,” he added. “... I knew what it took to win. I knew what I was looking for as far as players are concerned. I knew the chemistry I was looking for. ... The players I recruited were pretty much similar to the players I played with.”
Following his graduation and a sixth-month stint in the service, Weise returned home to East Rochester High School to teach physics and coach the jayvee basketball team. When his mentor, Donovan, left St. Bonaventure in 1961 to become head coach of the NBA’s New York Knicks, Weise’s next opportunity arose.
“I applied for the job; I interviewed for it, and I got it,” he said.
At 24 years old, Larry Weise became the youngest college basketball head coach in the country at that time.
Weise led the Bonnies back to the NIT in 1964. And soon they’d be back in the NCAA Tournament after Lanier, a future Naismith Hall of Fame center, opted to sign with St. Bonaventure over Canisius in 1966.
Another commit in that recruiting cycle was Kalbaugh, a native of Troy, New York.
“Larry was a lot of fun to play for,” Kalbaugh said. “There weren’t a thousand rules. It was to be on time and do your job, which I really appreciated. Come, practice hard, be on time, and things will work out. And, they did.
“We weren’t overburdened with 9,000 offenses and defenses. Basically, option number one, two and three was to get the ball inside to (Lanier). Bob was a good enough player and good enough person that if he was double-teamed, he would find the open man. But that’s what Larry demanded in practice –getting the ball in to Bob.”
During the 1967-‘68 season, the Bonnies were undefeated (23-0) before two losses in just their second NCAA Tournament appearance in program history ended their season.
“I got a rude awakening when we went to the tournament in Raleigh, and we got beat pretty handily by North Carolina,” Weise said, of the 91-72 defeat before a consolation loss to Columbia. “The lessons I learned at that time I learned to correct. And, when we went back when Bob Lanier was a senior, we had a chance to win it all.”
Kalbaugh and Lanier led the Bonnies to the program’s best season in 1969-‘70, culminating with a No. 3 ranking in the Associated Press poll and a trip to the NCAA Final Four.
The debate still exists as to whether St. Bonaventure could have unseated UCLA as national champion. But an injury to Lanier’s knee in the East regional finals and a subsequent loss to national runner-up Jacksonville handed UCLA its third straight title.
“We had a chance to win it all, and unfortunately he got hurt,” Weise said. “That hurt our chances.”
Three seasons later, after finishing the 1972-‘73 season with a 13-13 record, Weise resigned as head coach to become full-time athletic director, a position he had technically held since 1966.
At age 36 and with 202 victories in 12 years, the time had come.
“The program was just getting bigger and bigger,” he said. “I couldn’t do everything anymore, and I was exhausted, to be honest with you. The kind of exhaustion where you get a good night sleep it doesn’t help.”
And, though he now oversaw the basketball program from an administrative level, Kalbaugh, an assistant coach under successor Jim Satalin, noted that Weise did not try to coach the team from the athletic director’s office.
“He was never overbearing about it, that ‘you should be doing this and you should be doing that,’ ” Kalbaugh said. “Every once in a while, he would give you some advice in a very non-threatening way. Little things. Not in any way intimidating.”
As athletic director, Weise’s crowning achievement was St. Bonaventure’s admittance into the Atlantic 10 Conference.
“At that time, you either belonged to a conference or you got left out,” he recalled. “It was like a train going through the station: Either you get on or it’s going to pass you by. That was a situation that I faced at that time. We couldn’t get into the Big East, because we didn’t have a television market, so we were scrambling. Everybody was scrambling for a conference.”
And, with a new conference came the growth of women’s sports.
“We needed six women’s sports to qualify in the conference,” he said, noting that he oversaw the implementation of volleyball, softball, field hockey and soccer to St. Bonaventure’s athletic offerings. “We started small, and then we kept growing, and by the time I left, we were doing very well.”
Weise retired in 1993.
A father of four and a grandfather of 10, Weise is an avid golfer and bowler and spends a majority of his time in Florida with his wife of 60 years, Julie.
As for his 48-year-old record, Weise couldn’t be more pleased that Schmidt is the one to break it.
“Records are made to be broken, and I couldn’t think of a more deserving coach than Mark.”