It was May 28, 2007, the final day of Operation Hardwood IV. After six days of competition, we are playing in the championship game. It’s been an incredible week at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait City, Kuwait. I am one of eight coaches that made the trip and it has been a tremendous experience for all of us.
Now there is just one final game before we board the plane and head back to Dulles airport in Washington, D.C. My opponent in the final game is my good friend, Skip Prosser.
I had known Skip for many years. We came from similar backgrounds. We were both high school coaches who drove the bus and taught class. While we may have had different coaching influences, we both shared an appreciation for our roots. It was something we talked about often.
Over the years we each experienced our share of success, but our relationship got stronger through our own trials and tribulations. Two years ago we became physiologists for one another. Both of us had difficult years. We shared a lot of thoughts and ideas and really leaned on each other a lot.
Those conversations meant a lot to me. I learned a lot of great lessons as a coach and I learned a lot of about Skip.
So many things stand out about the person he was, which began with his demeanor. Skip always handled himself like he was still coaching at Wheeling Catholic high school. While he had a great presence as a person his personality was very unassuming. For all his accomplishments on the court, he never presumed to be better then the high school coach who was struggling to get through a season. He really never took himself too seriously.
In the past year we had spoken more often, as I was in the process of joining the NCAA Rules Committee. Skip had spent the past two years on the committee and this September I would begin my first. We discussed various aspects of the rules, but more importantly Skip took time to prepare me for the process.
Needless to say it was pretty easy for me when I was told I had one invitation I could extend to travel to Kuwait for Operation Hardwood. I remember laughing to myself when I was told to consider asking a coach who was well grounded and would both understand and appreciate what we were about to embark on. Of course I didn’t know then that my invitee would be my opponent on the final day of competition.
We had a great staff in Kuwait. Along with Skip and me Ed Conroy (The Citadel), Jim Crews (Army), Dennis Felton (Georgia), Fran Fraschilla (ESPN analyst), Mike Lonergan (Vermont) and Reggie Minton (National Association of Basketball Coaches) made the trip to Camp Arifjan (May 22-28). It was a great experience for everyone involved.
It gave us all a great perspective and served as a great educational experience as well. I learned a lot on that trip, including something that really surprised my about Skip. I learned that he had never been to South Bend for a Notre Dame football game.
Skip’s connection to Notre Dame goes back to the 1970s, when Digger Phelps was the head coach. Working those summer camps Skip met Pete Gillen whom he would later follow to Xavier. There he would establish himself as an outstanding coach. It struck me as being funny that his coaching roots took him back to Notre Dame, but he had never been back for a football weekend.
We spent a lot of time this summer talking about the rich tradition and the pageantry that is Notre Dame football and Skip was genuinely excited about being able to attend his first game. Unfortunately that never happened.
It upsets me to think that Skip won’t be attending a Notre Dame football game. He won’t be working the sidelines. He won’t be taking the time to share a thought. But he will continue to make a lot of people smile. He will continue to make a lot of people laugh. He will remind all of us what is good about the coaching profession.
The younger generation of coaches should take note of his style. His was a refreshing style.
Only a handful of people will be able to say they saw Skip Prosser coach his final game. It wasn’t in front of an audience of millions in March. Instead it was in front of a small crowd in a gym in the Persian Gulf.
And that’s exactly how Skip would have wanted it.
I feel privileged to have coached against Skip in that championship game. His team won that day, but to suggest that he went out a winner would be missing the point.
Skip Prosser always was a winner!