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Schermerhorn Finds Life Is Good as Coach at Riverside

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bob Schermerhorn’s office at Riverside Community College is nothing special and that’s OK with him.

There’s a desk, but your sixth-grade teacher had a nicer one. There’s a phone on the desk, but it’s standard issue. There also are a couple of chairs in case anybody stops by to talk hoops.

Framed programs from Schermerhorn’s days at UC Irvine, Southern Utah State and Arizona State decorate the walls. Current media guides are stuffed in a box in one corner of the room. Cans of tennis balls rest in another.

The real work is done down the hall, in the ancient gymnasium.

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Floor boards creak and groan as you walk across the court. They are sweet sounds to Schermerhorn.

“It would take a very good job for me to leave here,” he said a few days before the State basketball tournament, which begins for the Tigers today at the Bren Center.

Riverside has become comfortable for Schermerhorn.

He still considers Orange County--where he played and later coached at Orange Coast--home. He would love to return some day. But for now he’s hunkered down at Riverside.

Things couldn’t be better.

The Tigers, 29-6 this season, won 20 or more games for the third consecutive time in Schermerhorn’s five seasons and advanced to the State tournament for the second year in a row.

“It’s a community college that identifies with a community,” Schermerhorn said. “I’ve tried to lean on the tradition. I told the kids, ‘If we win Saturday night (in the championship game) and we put a white banner on the wall next to Tark’s, I’ll retire.’ ”

He’s only kidding.

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Jerry Tarkanian’s Riverside teams won three consecutive State championships from 1964 to 1966 and went 146-23 from 1961 to 1966. As good as Schermerhorn’s team is, it’s not favored to win the title this weekend.

“Number 44 (Raimonds Miglinieks) over there and Darryle Flicking, the leading scorer in the history of the school, have made me a good coach,” Schermerhorn said, pointing out two of his best players.

“There’s nothing this team does good, but there’s nothing they do bad. They’ve got great chemistry and, I’ll be damned, they keep winning.”

Schermerhorn should be used to winning by now.

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His first head coaching position was at Canyon High in 1974-75. The team was 7-18 his first season, but 20-6 by his fifth.

His first community college job was at Chaffey. The team was 5-23 his first season, but 17-14 by his second.

When Chaffey dropped its program, Schermerhorn joined Bill Mulligan at UCI and became his chief recruiter for two seasons.

He jumped to Southern Utah State, then an NAIA school, in 1983-84. The team was 14-14 his first season, but 21-6 by his fourth.

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His only failure was at Arizona State in 1988-89, but he didn’t go out without a fight and that remains as memorable as any coaching experience he has had.

He returned to the community college ranks the following season. Riverside was 17-16 his first season. With a victory over Columbia (31-4) today, the Tigers can win their 30th game.

What’s missing?

“I still would like to be a Division I coach,” Schermerhorn said. “Probably common sense-wise I should think that way.

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“I’m 50. If I could get a job and a five-year contract and I thought I could win there . . . I don’t know if it’s ego or what . . . The game is the same. Whatever business you’re in you’d like to be at the top. We all want to be at the top level.”

One day, after leaving an ideal situation at Southern Utah State, losing his job as interim coach at Arizona State and landing the job at Riverside, Schermerhorn found himself at a tournament at Dixie College in St. George, Utah.

Over breakfast with veteran Cypress Coach Don Johnson, Schermerhorn sought some advice.

“One thing he told me was not to be afraid to have a large staff and let those people do things,” Schermerhorn said.

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Now, he has four assistants, including Bob Russo and Mark Soderberg, a center who played for Lute Olson at Marina High and Adolph Rupp at Kentucky.

“Russo is really good,” said Mulligan, now coaching at Orange Empire Conference-rival Irvine Valley. “He has had really good guys helping him.”

Over the years, there have been so many helpful friends in coaching.

First and foremost, Herb Livsey stands out because he got Schermerhorn started in this racket in the late 1960s.

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From Mulligan, Schermerhorn said he learned to deal with people.

“I remember when he was interested in the Southern Utah job,” Mulligan said. “I told him, ‘Drive up there and hang around until the (athletic director) sees you.’ ”

It worked and Schermerhorn quickly turned sleepy Cedar City into a basketball-mad town. He left only when an assistant spot opened at Arizona State.

When he got to Arizona State, he got a look at the cutthroat world of Division I athletics.

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“The program had just come off severe probation,” Schermerhorn said. “It’s a tough town to coach in. ASU is the whole town. Plus, up the road we had that damn Arizona, one of the top programs in the whole country.”

In the end, it was too much for Coach Steve Patterson, who resigned at midseason.

“The team manager came into the gym and said Coach Patterson wants to see you,” Schermerhorn said. “I could see he had tears in his eyes and he said, ‘I’m going to resign. You’re going to coach tonight against Cal.’ I was excited, but I felt bad for him. The kids were tight and confused. They didn’t understand.”

Arizona State won only two of nine games in Schermerhorn’s brief stint, but one was against UCLA.

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No matter what happens, he’ll always have that victory. Besides, the Sun Devils haven’t beaten the Bruins since then.

“No regrets,” he said, trying to sum up 26 years of coaching. “There are pluses and minuses at every level.”

One gym, two hoops, a dozen good players--that’s all Schermerhorn wants or needs.


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