Dick Kinzer’s hair is grayer now and longer than Rick Mergenthaler remembered.
Mergenthaler, the first-year Rogers basketball coach, hadn’t seen Kinzer since the late 1960s. The crew-cut Kinzer was coaching then at Helena High School in Montana. Mergenthaler was his student manager.
Kinzer, who coached at Rogers after leaving Helena, is back on the Pirates bench this season, assisting Mergenthaler, and is as animated a contributor as ever.
The new head man is emphatic that he didn’t bring Kinzer aboard as window dressing. A defensive coach, Mergenthaler wanted help with the uptempo offensive game.
“He runs a fast break as well as anybody,” said Mergenthaler. “I’d done it over the years and was not successful.”
Kinzer was the Pirate mentor from the 1971-72 season through 1983. During that time the entertaining Pirates had four topthree league finishes, including a title tie in 1975 by a team that went on to take fifth at state.
Kinzer’s 1978 team also qualified for the regionals.
After stepping down from basketball with an overall 120-161 record, he coached the Rogers girls track team to a state title in 1986 before retiring three years ago.
Pirate basketball teams won just 27 league games and made two district tournaments in the 11 years before Mergenthaler became coach.
It took some persuasion, but Mergenthaler got Kinzer back in the fold.
“When he got to town, he called me (to help),” Kinzer said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ He called back another time and asked me to teach the fast break. That’s my love anyway.”
It began with half-hour sessions at practice. By midseason, Kinzer was on the bench, the coaches parlaying their respective strengths into Rogers’ finest season in nearly two decades. This year, Rogers is back in the regional playoffs.
Credit Mergenthaler, said Kinzer.
“He’s an excellent defensive basketball coach,” he said. “He understands and knows the passing game offense very well.
“He’s a good psychologist and a good motivator. The kids need that at Rogers.”
The two have decidedly contrasting styles.
Mergenthaler is a serious, noseto-the-grindstone coach who can spend hours on defense.
Kinzer is more laissez faire. As a coach, he has stressed a wide-open offense.
His teams were readily identifiable by their distinctively pure shooting style.
“When I first coached, I modeled everything after him,” said Mergenthaler. “Over the years I established my own identity but knew the positive things he does and how he relates to kids.”
Although he stresses this is only a one-year deal, Kinzer is clearly enjoying the moment.
“I’ve had a good time,” he said. “It’s fun working with the kids, and you don’t have all the other pressures of the stuff that goes on.”
Kinzer began coaching all sports in 1955 in Wyoming. He said football was the easiest to coach.
“Before every play someone tells you what to do,” he said. “In basketball, things happen instantaneously.”
In Wyoming, he won a state basketball title and helped build the only track in the county at a school of 75 students.
At Helena, Kinzer’s basketball teams finished second at state in 1970 and won the tournament in 1971, two years after Mergenthaler graduated.
Kinzer still considers himself a better tournament coach, enjoying the day-to-day chess game over the weeklong preparation for one game.
Kinzer laments that his 1975 team, including Tony and Ed Poydras and Bill Wood, won all three games in Seattle, but because of the format then, could place no higher than fifth.
“I guess what I liked least about Spokane is that you went through 10 different ways to play a tournament back then instead of the excitement of one location,” he said.
His 1974 team had the best overall record of any in the city but faltered because guard Bruce Johnson, now women’s coach at Community Colleges of Spokane, was injured playing football and never was at full strength for basketball.
His 1978 team with Paolo Poydras had size and rebounding but, he said, lacked a guard like Wood.
Now Kinzer is back, coaching the fast break, press break and zone offense while Mergenthaler teaches defense and man-to-man offense.
And the Pirates are within a win of reaching state.