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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Sidelines: Billy Key

  • In an office full of coaches, there was only one 'Coach.'
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  • In an office full of coaches at the Gale Bullman Multi-Purpose Building, there was only one Coach.
    At some point over the last few decades I remember using that phrase in a column to describe Billy Key, who passed away last week.
    It still holds true today.
    Indeed, to a lot of us there was only one Coach.
    In talking about other coaches, one would say "Coach Martin" or "Coach Finley" or "Coach Broyles." But when you simply said, "Coach," it was understood... you were referring to Billy Key.
    That was the respect that Key commanded.
    I started working at the Daily News as a high school kid in 1978.
    I was a little intimidated when I was first introduced around the then-UMR coaches office. As a junior high and high school student I had sat in the bleachers watching the Miner football and basketball teams and I had seen these guys on the sidelines yelling at players and officials. Coming from the small communities I had lived in prior to coming to Rolla, UMR seemed like a BIG deal to me.
    And 40 years later, it still does.
    They used to look the other way as kids played basketball at the Bullman Building when the gym floor wasn't in use. I remember playing there one day before Coach Key brought his Miners out for a men's basketball practice.
    I stayed and watched practice - it was the 1970s so I'm sure my shorts were very short and tight and my socks were pulled up to my knees - and at the end the players began shooting free throws. I wandered over to where my favorite Miner - Bob Stanley - was shooting and asked him if I could rebound for him.
    That was a highlight, actually getting to rebound for Bob Stanley.
    Stanley was one of the great players Coach had at UMR and played on Coach's greatest team, the 1975-76 squad which won the then-Missouri Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) championship and advanced on to the NCAA Division II National Tournament.
    There was a time many of us remember when Miner basketball was an event. Before cable TV, before ESPN, if you wanted to see basketball... pretty much you had to leave the house to watch a game. And I remember the Gale Bullman Multi-Purpose Building being completely full - including the upstairs bleachers - for Miner games.
    And center stage was Coach on the UMR sidelines. He could stomp his foot louder than anyone I've ever heard before or since. When he was not happy with an official's call - or when one of his players made a bonehead play - that foot stomp would reverberate throughout the gym. If I would have tried that I'd have broken a bone in my foot.
    Page 2 of 3 - Away from the court Coach was very mild-mannered, and to a young kid like myself even grandfatherly. As a teenager trying to do my job he made sure I got cooperation from his staff. If I had ANY problems, I was to come see him. Very seldom did I have to, but he was there if I needed him.
    Coach was a wealth of basketball information and didn't mind sharing it. While he was still coaching and I was working at the RDN I probably went over to his office about once a week during basketball season and just sat in his office and talked basketball or his team's personnel. His door was always open, although he probably got tired to explaining things to a kid when he had other things to do.
    But he never got tired of basketball. One time UMR's former sports information director Gene Green told me a story about being on the road with Coach. Gene said about 3 in the morning the telephone in his hotel room rang. A little startled, he answered it.
    It was Coach on the other end. "Gene, are you watching the game on TV (the game of the week was being replayed for night owls)?"
    "No, Coach, I'm sleeping," Gene replied.
    "Well, get up and turn the game on. It's North Carolina vs. Kentucky. You're missing a heck of a game!"
    That was Coach; he loved the game.
    But Coach was no pushover. I've heard stories when he had to get stern with his staff. And I've seen him in practice and games; he could certainly let his feelings be known loud and clear.
    When writing a story about Coach earlier this week I was talking to one of his ex-players, Stan Shuemaker, on the phone. I told him I remembered one timeout during a game when Coach threatened to put Stan on a bus and send him back to Paducah. Stan laughed and said, "He threatened to put all of us on a bus and send us back home at one time or another."
    But most all of those who played for Coach loved him. That will no doubt be on display today during his funeral service.
    And his athletic department staff had the same respect. They had the same problems with him that many of us have with our bosses; it was still an employer/employee thing. And he had to make decisions he, nor his staff, wanted.
    But back in the day I had off-the-record conversations with probably all of the coaches at one time or another during my time at the RDN. And I'd say every one of them professed their respect and friendship for Coach.
    Page 3 of 3 - As do I.
    As long as I serve this community as a sports reporter, in my mind there will only be one Coach.
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