Standing Test Of Time Nic’s Rolly Williams Wraps Up Stellar Coaching Career
Sat., March 2, 1996
At the age of 15, a snot-nosed Kellogg kid named Rolly Williams got a tattoo from a man known as “Sailor Jack” in Spokane.
“It seems like in my life when I’ve made mistakes, they’ve been dandies,” Williams said wistfully, peering at the artwork on his forearm.
A mistake of youth, to be sure, but the tattoo has turned out to be a metaphor for Williams’ life in some ways.
Now at age 57, Williams’ 35th and final season as coach of the North Idaho College men’s basketball team is winding down. The retiring coach faces his final home game against league champion Utah Valley tonight at 7:30 in Christianson Gym before next week’s regional tournament.
The tattoo, which shows a heart pierced by a knife, could stand as an illustration of how Williams feels he was treated by NIC’s administration in recent years, forced out as athletic director in June 1994, despite 30-plus years of dedicated service to the college.
Or, it could represent the excruciating setbacks some of his finest teams have suffered at the hands of rival College of Southern Idaho.
But more accurately, it would reflect that Williams’ teams have tattooed a lot of opponents over the years - 730 of ‘em, in fact - and there’s been a fair share of savory wins over CSI, too.
And, in the final analysis, it’s symbolic of his permanent imprint on a program that was little more than a glorified intramural team that grew into national prominence under his guidance.
So, the wins have been great, huh, Rolly?
“My memories are generally of the players when I think of the positive, good things that have happened,” Williams said, “Not games or wins. The individuals stand out to me.”
Colleagues and players are inclined to think Williams’ career has been more than just coaching basketball. They’ll tell you wins and losses were important, of course, but not the end-all to Williams.
“He’s put his life, blood and soul into the college. He dies North Idaho College and he always wanted it to be successful,” said NIC assistant coach Dale James, a former aide who returned to the sideline this season because it was Williams’ final year.
“If anything is overlooked about him, it’s what he contributed to all areas of the college.”
“This place is where I basically have grown up to be a man. I’ll look back at NIC and smile,” sophomore forward Eric Sanchez said. “As long as you give him (Williams) everything you’ve got everytime you step on the floor, you may not get the minutes you want, but he’s going to respect you.”
At Kellogg High in the 1950s, Williams was named to all-American teams that included players such as Jerry West and, the NIC coach joked, “a few other weak links.”
He arrived as NIC coach in 1961 after a successful career at the University of Idaho and an unsuccessful tryout with a pro team in Hawaii.
“There was very little organized here when I came in,” Williams said. “But it was kind of like an idea whose time had come.”
Williams beefed up the schedule and began recruiting the best players he could find.
During times of racial tension in the 1960s, Williams brought black players to NIC. Later, he expanded his recruiting horizons and landed standout international players.
“I’m not going to suggest that there wasn’t any opposition (to recruiting blacks in his early years),” Williams said. “But nobody ever said anything to my face, so I kept doing what I thought was the correct thing to do.”
He has noticed little change in present-day athletes compared to the ones on his early teams.
“There was a time when kids didn’t question anything a coach said,” Williams said. “There is some value in that, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily the right way to do it, either.
“(Nowadays) sometimes a kid questions you and he’s not necessarily being disrespectful, but he’s legitimately wondering what the hell you’re doing.”
In that vain, Williams has constantly reevaluated his methods, practices and game-planning. In recent seasons, he’s instituted a 1-3-1 trap and relied more on bench players.
“He’s still running some of the same things he’s run forever, like Stack Standard,” said NIC baseball coach Jack Bloxom, who assisted with basketball for 17 seasons. “But then, nobody’s come up with anything better.
Williams hasn’t been reluctant to change, Bloxom said. “I can remember years when Rolly just played six kids and the seventh or eighth guy might as well have been the stat man.”
Under Williams, NIC has produced at least 20 wins in 17 of his last 21 seasons, including this year’s 24-5 club. Only four of his teams posted losing records.
NIC went to nationals in 1978 and 1980, placing as high as eighth.
His fiercest rivals, it turns out, were some of his biggest admirers.
“We had some great wars,” said former Southern Idaho coach Fred Trenkle, now at San Diego State. “It (Christianson Gym) was just a tough place to play, people sitting with their knees in your back and you gotta walk past the students to get to the locker room.
“But the tough part was that he was an awful good coach.”
And, an ethical one.
“The only reason he’s never won a national championship,” explained a prominent coach in the region, “is because he’s never cheated.”
Added Trenkle: “He was always the one who fought for fairness at our (regional) meetings.”
At 6-foot-6 with thick arms and a commanding presence - picture John Wayne in one of those old westerns - Williams probably won more scraps than not.
His booming voice reverberated off the walls of Christianson Gym when he shouted instructions to his players. And so, too, did the voice of wife, Shari, when she saw something worth vocalizing.
“Watch the elbows (No.) 42,” Shari shouted at a visiting player during a February game, rising from her familiar seat behind the NIC bench.
The Williams’s seats will be occupied by someone else next season, a sight that will take long-time NIC fans some time to get used to.
Retirement will free up Williams for golfing, fishing, boating, and family and friends - heck, a tattoo, if he felt so moved.
“I don’t know if I’ll be good at it (retirement), I haven’t done it yet,” a smiling Williams said. “I’ve never been one to take a lot of time off.”
He leaves behind a strong, established program. He takes with him mostly good memories and the satisfaction of a job well done.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: The Williams file Age: 57 College: University of Idaho (1956-61), two-year starter on varsity basketball team; B.S. degree in education, 1961 Professional: Last forward cut from Hawaiian Tropics. Coaching record: 730-313, 35 years at NIC, sixth in NJCAA history. Honors: NJCAA Hall of Fame, Idaho Hall of Fame, three-time regional coach of the year (1969, 1978, 1980), Scenic West Athletic Conference coach of the year (1994). Birthplace: Kellogg Hometown: Coeur d’Alene Hobbies: Fishing, golfing, coin collecting, reading
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