Now in his sixth year as head coach at Ohio, Bob Boldon has led the Bobcats to numerous program milestones. They were Mid-American Conference regular-season champions two years in a row, earned a program-best 27-win record and put up the most points in one season in program history. Ohio has advanced to post-season play four times under the in-state native, and several players have earned honors and broken records. In winning their conference opener Saturday, the Bobcats are 12-0 – one of only three unbeaten teams left in Division I.
Boldon was a standout point guard at Walsh College and led the team to the NAIA Final Four. He remains the school’s assists record-holder. Boldon was an assistant coach for 10 years under three different head coaches: Karl Smesko, Jodi Kest and Jerry Scheve. He was head coach at Youngstown State for three years before signing on with the Bobcats, turning a Penguin program that was 0-30 into a WNIT participant at the end of his tenure.
Boldon earned a Master’s Degree in liberal studies from Indiana in 2003.
You’ve become known as a turnaround expert. How has that process evolved?
Each time, it’s a unique process. I don’t think there’s an exact formula, or a time in which the process takes; it takes as long as it takes. In particular, at Ohio, this staff has been amazing, and it’s been great having them with me the whole time. It can be a grueling process, and there are a lot of bad days. You need a staff that believes in you and keeps the energy going.
You’ve got to take the jobs they’ll give you. When I got the Youngstown job, I was excited. I applied for the Ohio job, and when they released the list of applicants, it sat at 100 and I thought I had no chance. But a lot of them didn’t want to deal with (the rebuilding process). I was just grateful to be given a chance.
What are the characteristics of a Boldon-coached team?
I like to think we take care of the basketball and that we play hard. Throughout the years we’ve got it down pretty well – though not as well as I’ve hoped – but we’ve typically been in the top 10 or 15 in three-pointers. If we don’t turn it over, we tend to shoot it more than other teams do.
If I walked into an Ohio practice, what would I see?
What you wouldn’t see is a lot of standing around. People are very active, and practices are 75-85 minutes long. We do quite a bit of shooting, we play five-on-five every day, and we see a lot of interaction between the staff and players and coaches. We are all trying to help players get better.
Our fundamental job is to make every player as good as she can be. It doesn’t always feel good, because we’re often telling them what they don’t do correctly, but I applaud (my staff) because they have to be willing to tell players what they’re doing wrong. It takes a good player-coach relationship to be able to express that effectively. If you don’t have a good relationship with kids, they’ll tune you out. As a new coach, sometimes you have to deal with “the old coach didn’t do it that way” thinking. It’s almost easier to coach the players you recruited because of the relationship you built through recruiting. Both times I took over a program I initially knew more about those I had recruited than those who were on the floor. Relationships take time and you have to build trust; often times the previous coach wasn’t successful and that’s why the new coach is there.
How do you approach goal-setting with the team?
It’s pretty basic: we try to win every game we play. Our goal is to win the next game we play, and in order to do that we have to make improvements from previous game, whether we win or lose.
How do you define success? How do you define a successful season?
For a successful season, you have to look back and say, what could this team accomplish, and did it accomplish that? Too often we get caught up in, did you win 20 games, which is an arbitrary number to represent success and I don’t know why. Being 11-0 can mean different things for different teams.
If we won 22 and could have won 26, you have to take that into account and whatever comes with it. If that gets you a league championship, your boss will be happy with that, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. We have to take into account how well we played our schedule, because a lot of factors go into who we play and how we played them.
How did you begin coaching women? What is fun about coaching women?
Karl Smesko is a very good friend of mine, and when he had the women’s job at Walsh he asked me to be his GA. We won the national title that year, and he made it seem like coaching was easy. I just enjoy coaching. I often get asked if would rather coach women than men, and and I don’t really care – I just like coaching. At this point I’d rather coach women because I have strategies that work, and it wouldn’t be good to start over at my age.
How has the game changed since when you played it?
The biggest difference from playing is the hand checking and the way you can guard. You used to be able to be way more physical. We used to chuck cutters, and you can’t do that now. The game has been moving to position-less basketball, and we’ve played that way for years. Now other people are catching up. I don’t necessarily like it (position-less). Everyone is shooting more now, and all five positions are shooting threes.
Have young people playing the game changed much from when you played?
I think that for young kids the game has become more structured. There are less kids out playing basketball in parks because it’s harder to get into gyms. I don’t know why, but gyms are locked up now, so everything is coach-run. When that happens, it hinders the development of kids.
When I was growing up, every good player had access to a gym. Now, that’s not the case. Maybe part of it is we have a heightened sense of security, but it’s lead to less open gyms and more team-run stuff. Everything is set for kids, so they aren’t as good of thnkers as they used to be.
How are you different now than when you first started coaching? What are the keys to evolving in the coaching profession?
When I started I thought I had to be a really good X’s and O’s person, and now I know I need to be a really good communicator. I’m still an X’s and O’s person, and it’s important to get your kids on a plan that works. But if you can’t communicate with your kids what the plan is, it won’t work. If you can’t get them all on the same page, then you might as well throw your plan in the trash.
What do you want players to take from your program when they leave it?
I hope we’ve installed a work ethic in our players and encouraged them to be able to do things on their own. That we’ve not been enablers and crutches to lean on, but challenged them to do more than what they thought they could do, bot on and off the court. And that we’d given them the confidence to take on the world. My biggest fear is that someone graduates and feels like we didn’t push her hard enough. For example, I wish I would have had a coach who told me to go hard with my left hand. When a player graduates, we went to know she’s the best she can be. With women, once they graduate, their basketball career is most likely over. I want to make sure we’ve enabled them outside of the basketball floor and have taught them about hard work and coming to your job even if you’re tired or hurt. I make sure they’ve prepared academically, and that we’ve pushed them to get A’s.
Is basketball life?
At times it has been. It’s been kind of a roller coaster. At times it’s been my whole life and at times it’s been too much. One of my biggest challenges is to have some balance. That I’m still treating my family and friends properly. There were a number of years where my life was dictated by winning, and I had a hard time with losing -I didn’t handle it really well. I’m trying to find some balance to that, but not a lot, mind you. I don’t want to have too much balance in my life. I don’t know how good you can be with too much balance. I try to do a good job being balanced, but I don’t want to do too good a job because I’d be a terrible coach.