The Wise Old Owl strikes again. As Maryville College issued the speculated upon announcement confirming that after 38 seasons as the head men’s basketball coach at his alma mater, the upcoming 39th campaign would be Randy Lambert’s last, the coach of 700-plus victories in over 1,000 games was away on vacation.
It’s one of those signature bits of Lambert gamesmanship that opposing coaches have seen all too often on the court and can appreciate all too well. In one deft stroke, the program knows its future is secure with a known and respected entity in longtime assistant and alum Raul Placeres.
“Making the announcement now it gives Raul a chance to be directly and visibly involved in the transition. We recruited this year being open that the young men coming into the program would have me as their coach for one season,” Lambert told The Daily Times from his vacation getaway.
The current players, who make up the bulk of the personnel from last season’s conference championship run and NCAA tournament appearance, know where things stand. The recruiting trail is cleared of the snares too often emplaced by uncertainty in a coaching change. A smooth transition laid out all while the coach’s absence from campus on The Day deflects the well wishing until the immediacy has subsided.
The reactions on Monday reminded me of an expression also provoked by a Lambert maneuver. There was timeout on the floor and it was clear from the end of press row that the visiting coach was anticipating the Scots would stick with the established rotation of their big men. He sent his smaller lineup back out to the court fully expecting that they would have an advantage against MC’s bigger but slower post.
The Scots didn’t break their own huddle until the second whistle blew and it took a moment for that coach to accept the fact that Lambert had just put both his big posts on the floor at the same time for the first time. For just a moment, before some softly but profoundly unprintable words escaped, the expression on that coach’s face matched that of a possum just before the driver hears the unmistakable thump under the tires.
And with much the same result that night. There was no audible thump, but Maryville College owned the next three minutes of the game clock and it flattened the upset hopes on that bench.
It was a great decision and even better timing. That lineup, and what it allowed the Scots to do, could have been on display from the season opener, but it wasn’t. It came out of the bag just long enough to take the momentum that night. It took several more games before anyone had anywhere near enough tape to begin really scheming it. By then, the conference’s No. 1 seed resided in Maryville.
That sort of shrewd decision-making has been a hallmark of Lambert’s coaching career. There are already 701 testaments to it in his ledger. Monday’s announcement was just one more little well-thought out and executed play.
The future of the program he has made a year-in, year-out regional D3 power is set.
The future for his career — the role of part-time athletics campaign coordinator — is determined.
If anything, the only downside to the early announcement will fall on Lambert, who will likely endure a series of farewells over the next nine months. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to foresee one conference coach or another presenting Lambert with a rocking chair or two during a pregame announcement or a wide range of additional hands wanting to shake his following every game.
But knowing Lambert, he’s already gaming that, too. The fundraising to renovate Cooper Athletic Center, which among other functions, serves as home to the basketball programs will move to the top of his list after his final season ends. And all those farewells are potential openings on the path of donations leading to renovation land.
For the secret of that Wise, Old Owl is that no matter this title, Lambert loves the game, his school and his players, and will continue to push to bring out the best in all of them.