Coaches of GV: Ric Wesley

GVL/Kevin Sielaff - Head coach Ric Wesley reacts as the clock winds down during the game versus Findlay at the University of Findlay on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL/Kevin Sielaff – Head coach Ric Wesley reacts as the clock winds down during the game versus Findlay at the University of Findlay on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017.

Kellen Voss, Print Associate Editor

Ironically for a man who has been leading teams since the late 70s, Grand Valley State men’s basketball coach Ric Wesley said one of the best days of his life was the day he was cut from Central Michigan’s baseball team.

After pursuing a college baseball career at CMU and ultimately getting cut from the junior varsity team, Wesley walked into the varsity basketball coach’s office the very next day and volunteered his services as a student assistant to the Chippewa basketball team

“That changed my life,” Wesley said. “Getting cut from the baseball team was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. It put myself in a different place, instead of thinking of myself as an athlete, I thought about what it meant to be a coach.”

Working under Walt Schneider and Central Michigan Hall-of-Famer Dick Parfitt, Wesley learned a lot of valuable lessons before taking an assistant job at Iowa State, where he got to work with Iowa State Hall-of-Fame coach Johnny Orr for 14 years.

In Ames, Wesley got to coach some quality players, including future NBA players Jeff Horneacek and Fred Hoiberg, who went on to become coaches themselves.

Under Orr, Wesley learned that coaching was not just about managing X’s and O’s; it was about having fun, not being too controlling and building relationships with players to help their confidence grow.

“Coach Orr was a very much a player’s coach — a fun-loving, optimistic, positive guy who woke up every day fired up and ready to go,” Wesley said. “His optimism and love of life rubbed off was really quite infectious and really rubbed off on the players. You really gravitated towards it. He got out of their way in a lot of ways, realizing that it was a player’s game.

After a 40+ year postseason drought, Wesley was a part of a coaching staff that led Iowa State to six NCAA tournament appearances, including a Sweet 16 run in 1986 that helped the Cyclones gain national relevance. 

For all of that postseason play, Wesley didn’t feel a lot of added pressure and credits his mentors at his alma mater for helping him stay calm and collected.

“I really think I had some great training at Central Michigan,” Wesley said. “By the time I was a senior, I really felt like more of a graduate assistant coach. The coaches gave me a lot of responsibility, and I was close with a lot of players, so it was a pretty seamless transition for me, really. When I went to Iowa State, I was ready to go.”

After 14 years, Wesley took a job as an assistant coach at Lamar University in Texas, where he helped direct the offensive attack and lead the Cardinals to the best scoring average in the Sun Belt Conference during the 1996-97 season. 

With Wesley on staff, Lamar posted its best win total and longest stretch of winning seasons in over a decade. It was on that staff that Wesley felt that he truly matured as a coach.

“For a long time, it felt like I was one of the youngest guys out there,” Wesley said of his time at ISU. “When I went to Lamar, a friend of mine was the head coach, who was the same age as me, and I became an established coach. I was no longer in the learning stage, and had much more power in what I was doing and enjoyed my time there as well.

Wesley’s last stop before coming to Grand Valley was as an assistant at Southwest Missouri State, where he honed in his recruiting skills by tapping into some talent at smaller schools.

“The tough thing there was we really didn’t have a lot of great players close to us,” Wesley said. “We had trouble recruiting even though we had a great product. We ended up doing quite a bit of junior college recruiting there. That’s where a lot of good players were.”

After being an assistant in some form for almost 30 years, Wesley came to Allendale because it was a chance to prove himself as a leader where he had some family.

“I wanted to be a head coach,” Wesley said. “I really enjoyed being an assistant as well, but as you get older, you realize (head coaching) is why you get into the job. When the job (at GVSU) came open, I worked my networking group. My oldest niece was in school here at the time, and in talking about how nice the school was, and I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity.”

A family man first, Wesley wanted to make sure his kids had graduated high school before he took the GVSU job. It was also a perk that he got to see his parents and his wife’s family in the stands consistently for the first time in a while.

“Coaching can be really difficult on families,” Wesley said. “My parents were older, and coming back here was just a great thing for them because they could come to the games after I had been out of the state for 23 years. The family part of it has been really great — it’s carried us through and it’s made this place a tough place to leave.”

Wesley’s resume has been quite impressive at GVSU, as he has led the Lakers to the Great Lakes Region championships and subsequent NCAA Elite Eight berths twice (2006-07 and 2007-08). GVSU has also won three GLIAC regular season championships, a trio of conference tournament titles and five GLIAC Divisional championships during Wesley’s tenure. 

Grand Valley State has made six NCAA Tournament appearances since Wesley took over the program prior to the 2004-05 season, and his 327 wins are good for 2nd all-time in program history.

For those who dream of going into coaching, Wesley recommended starting as a student assistant if you want to get into the coaching business to show coaches how badly you care about the sport you love. 

“Bring value to yourself by bringing value to the program,” Wesley said. “The guys that are successful at this are the ones that you don’t have to tell what to do. Be resourceful, and don’t think that you’re owed anything. That’s why a lot of student assistants make good coaches cause they have a student mentality. They just work their fanny off. The most driven individuals continue to advance.”