Joe Legerski is in his 14th year as head coach at the University of Wyoming. He has produced winning seasons all but two years, and the Cowgirls have achieved 20-plus wins seven times. In 2006-2007, their record was a program-best 27-9. Currently, Wyoming is in second place in the Mountain West Conference.
Legerski earned a bachelor’s degree of science in business communication from the University of Wyoming in 1979, and was an assistant coach for women’s basketball there from 1987-1991. He was assistant coach – including five years as associate head coach – at the University of Utah until he took the job with the Cowgirls. Legerski and his wife are the parents of three children.
You have seen such a variety of scenarios in your coaching career at Wyoming, from rebuilding years to record years, and everything in between. What has it all taught you about coaching and basketball?
I have an administration that has hung in there with me and who has supported the process we’ve gone through. Over the years I have been able to have tremendous success, as well as challenges. The administration has hung in there and given us the time to succeed.
What did you do between the time you graduated from Wyoming in 1979 until you came back as an assistant coach eight years later?
I always wanted to coach. I was a business educator in a junior high, and I started coaching at that level. Eventually I had an opportunity to move to Division I 30 years ago as an assistant at Wyoming, and then as an assistant at Utah for 12 years.
When in the junior high, I had to do a bit of everything: I was the trainer, the only coach at practice, and I had to write up a practice plan and execute it.
I started out coaching junior high football, then coached junior high boys basketball. I had girls and boys in track, and I filled the whole calendar year with coaching.
What got you into coaching, and coaching women’s basketball?
An opportunity at the school district where I was at. I was assistant boys coach and the district approached me about being the head girl’s coach, and that was a great opportunity. When I first started, everyone coached high school basketball for 10-15 years, and that was the model.
What did it mean to you to return to your alma mater and coach the Cowgirls?
It was a great opportunity to be a head coach but come back to the school that I’m very fond of. It meant a great deal. I knew the state, I knew the situation here, and there was so much knowledge I already had at what I getting into at this University. It means a great deal to me from both academic and athletic standpoints.
How is coaching in a more rural setting like Wyoming different from coaching in a larger city?
To put things in perspective, there are about 30,000 people living in this community, and there are about 30,000 students at Utah alone. What I learned very quickly is that everybody has unique challenges. The concerns I had when I recruited for Utah were different than the concerns that I have here. That was something that made me very aware that you may not have just one issue at any school, and sometimes you have things to deal with that you didn’t plan on. We are in a rural community, yet will draw 2,500-3,000 fans per game. Everything centers on the University of Wyoming in this state, and that’s a real positive for us.
If someone asked you to define Wyoming basketball, how would you do it?
One of the things we talk about is trying to get better today than we were yesterday. That’s what we set out to do every day. We try to be disciplined offensively and defensively. That’s how I would describe us.
In the end, what I’ve learned that it is a journey. We keep working everyday and moving forward. We have players from all over the world here, and it’s a real plus for everyone.
What are the keys to creating a great team?
One of the biggest keys is you have to come up with is chemistry and talent. Chemistry has to be number one. I know it’s a player’s game, and you need good players, and then chemistry with those players. When you’re 22 years old and you get your first coaching job, you’re ready to take on the world. What you learn after 38 years is that you need players.
For us, one thing we talk about is that we run a motion offense, and everyone has to be a contributor in passing and shooting. Everyone will get opportunities to shoot, but you have to be a scorer and a passer to get those opportunities. Everybody contributes to a win, and each player must strive to do that. A good team needs strong leaders to help with chemistry, and it may or may not be your captains. Whomever it is, everyone else will follow, but a lot of times, the captains will be your leaders.
What are your top three achievements in coaching?
I don’t even view it that way. Here’s the most important thing: 20 years from now, you’re not going to remember winning and losing as much as you will remember friendship, and the moments you had with teammates, whether it’s a road trip or laughing in the locker room. The biggest ting you need to have is a University degree. Make sure you use basketball to further your education.
If you ask about a highlight, it never comes back to me. Two of my former players from Utah showed up to a game this year, and I hadn’t seen them in 20 years. It meant a great deal to me for them to show up. it’s about people.
How do you stay motivated, and how do you motivate your players?
The challenges that every team brings to you. Working with a group is a great deal of motivation, because each and every team is different. You may have some of the same players, but it’s always a bit different from year to year. I’ve always enjoyed the process of being around a team. Young people keep you motivated.
What do you want to make sure your players know before they leave your program?
When they walk out of here, I hope that they know they had an opportunity to represent an institution, to represent the people from the state of Wyoming, and that they know the people here appreciated their effort. It’s a college community, and players are amazed when people recognize them in the grocery store. They have an impact on the people here. they come to understand that, and you see that.
When you do have down time, how do you like to use it?
I spend a great deal of time with family. This job consumes us all. Living in Wyoming is all about being in the great outdoors, so any way we can spend time outdoors, we do so.