David Adam

Sunday Conversation with Loren Wallace

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jul. 22, 2017 4:40 pm Updated: Jul. 22, 2017 10:18 pm

It has been 15 years since Loren Wallace coached from the sidelines at Blue Devil Gym.

Wallace, who turns 73 in August, coached basketball for 33 seasons. His teams won 682 games and never finished with a losing record. He is 21st in coaching victories in the Illinois High School Association record book. He coached in Litchfield, Nokomis, Lincoln and Bloomington before spending 13 seasons in Quincy, where his teams won 263 games. His time in Quincy was unquestionably successful but ended in a controversial manner.

The IHSA suspended him for one year, starting with the 2002-03 season, for violating recruiting bylaws in regards to securing the enrollment of transfer Brooks Allen. However, an appeal later uncovered that Wallace exerted no undue influence on Allen's enrollment, and the IHSA eventually reduced Wallace's suspension to 15 games so he could return to coaching. He resigned after the conclusion of that season.

He and his wife, Barb, now live at the Sunbird Golf Resort in Chandler, Ariz., where they lived for six months each year beginning in 2003 before selling their home in Quincy and moving west full-time in September 2014.

How is your golf game?

I was hoping you wouldn't ask. We play here a lot on our golf resort. It's an executive course, par 66. I play pretty well here, but not when I get on the longer courses. I'm an 11 handicap on this course here. We play three or four times a week.

Do you miss those steamy, hot Midwest summers?

Around here, it's blue skies all winter and all summer except for maybe a month during monsoon season. That's the only rain. It's gorgeous out here. We got back (to Arizona two weeks ago). Barb said to me as we were driving to the airport, "This is one of the reasons I like Arizona, because all I'm seeing is corn and beans." She missed the desert, the beautiful sunsets. Everybody makes fun of when we say "it's a dry heat" out here, but we have 7 percent humidity. When we got back to Illinois, that humidity slapped us in the face. We weren't used to it. You get back here, and the sun's shining and the humidity is gone. It's 110 degrees, but we can tee off at 7 and home by 10, and if you do have any work, you do it in the mornings.

Do you miss basketball?

Not really. I'm in a situation where I get to watch a lot. I still substitute teach one day a week, enough to keep me in contact with the kids and keep me young. As a result, I'm with the basketball coaches in each of the high schools. I work at three of them, and there are two others. We just talk things out, look at plays. I can go watch the games. It keeps me involved enough.

You're still getting a little basketball?

It's just perfect. When I retired, (grandson) Kendall was just starting in high school, and we didn't miss a game home or away. When he went to UNLV, we went to Vegas a lot and made a lot of away games. When he got out, (grandson) Mitchell was coming in, and we saw him win four state championships (at Mountain View High School). That kind of filled any void I had. Now I've been away from it long enough that I haven't had any problems.

Did you always know you wanted to coach basketball?

Yes. I was in the fifth grade, and I was sitting in health class with my basketball coach, Dale Dougherty at Jerseyville. He called me up to his desk, and he mentioned, "You'd make a good coach." It stuck with me. I started thinking about that. Teaching fit in to what I wanted to do. I enjoyed working with kids.

So how did you get into coaching?

I took job as the freshman coach in Litchfield. I loved it. They moved me up next year to assistant basketball coach at the varsity level. I was working with a guy from Collinsville named Harlan Scheidle, who played for Vergil Fletcher. We were hunting buddies and poker buddies, and it worked out well. When I got that job at Litchfield that first year, a man named Richard "Chick" Bishop was the regional superintendent. He really liked my coaching. I had every plan to continue going back to Litchfield, and he called me and said, "I want you to go to Nokomis." That blew me away. It was only 20 or 30 miles away, but I had no thoughts of that at all. I got the job because he recommended me. After four years at Nokomis, he recommended me for the job at Lincoln. Barb and (son) Jeff and I were in Illinois recently, and we were in the car and I said, "We're going to Litchfield." I wanted to see Chick. He's in failing health. He was just tickled to death. We almost missed the plane (back to Arizona) because we talked so much.

When was the first time you really knew of Quincy?

I was at Lincoln when we played Quincy in 1978. We thought we had the game won. It was just a shoo-in. Dave Pettit made a shot falling out of bounds on the right baseline to tie the game (for Quincy), but we won in overtime (54-50). We thought we did a great job of defending Keith (Douglas), and Pettit hit an impossible shot.

What do you remember about the sectional championship game between Quincy and Lincoln at Decatur Eisenhower in 1981?

(QHS coach Jerry) Leggett and I both kind of figured who won that game would win the state tournament. There were counterfeit tickets being sold for that game. There was police all over the place because they knew about those tickets. It was just a mob. Eisenhower only seated 2,800. Actually, Eisenhower was supposed to host the game at Millikin (University at the Griswold Center), but Millikin had it booked. The IHSA called Leggett and said, "Where you want to play?" He said Western Illinois. I said, "Hell, no. There's no way we're going over there." Then the IHSA asked me, and I said, "How about the Springfield Armory?" And Leggett said no way. So the IHSA said, "If you can't agree, we'll play it at Eisenhower."

You were at Lincoln for 12 years and then three at Bloomington. How did you learn about the Quincy opening?

(Quincy school officials) called me and asked if I would be interested. At first, I said no. I was happy there. I was the dean of students, and my wife had a nice job on the Illinois State campus. We were happy. They called back and said, "Would you at least come over and take a look?" Barb and I went over and sat through the interview, and we enjoyed what was said and the situation they were presenting us, so I said we would consider it. You talk about scouting? They had people come over and sit behind the bench during the games I coached.

What did you enjoy about Quincy?

The community for one. It's a large small town. It's 40,000 people. When you look at the surrounding area, it's isolated, but it's got everything you need. It was a great place to raise a family. I enjoyed the outdoors part. I was raised as a hunter and a fisherman. You don't get that much on the prairie flatlands.

What didn't you enjoy about Quincy?

The administration change. When that changes, a lot of things change. You had a faction of administration that was ... I have to be careful how to say this. I once interviewed for a job in Belleville, and it was going to be a considerable raise. (The superintendent) said,"My idea of the perfect coach would be one at (Belleville) West that wins 15 games, and one at (Belleville) East that wins 15." I asked, "How many do you want to lose?" He said, "Oh, 15." Quincy realized basketball there was special. The community was involved and wanted to be a part of the program and let the coach do the coaching. That's why it was successful. You had coaches who put that procedure in place, and it was the same philosophy I had. With the backing of the community and administration, that was made to be successful. There also was a faction that was wanting to bring basketball down rather than bring the other sports up. I had told our booster clubs, "If you allow this to happen, you will never get it back." I still believe that. Oh, you might have one year with special kids, and it's really big, but you're not going to be the program everyone is looking up to.

Who was the best player you coached in Quincy?

I'll never answer that. I coached a lot of good players in Quincy. Some were great in one area, some in others. I had some really good players who bought into the system and dedicated themselves to me. I had some good ones at Lincoln and Bloomington, too. I wouldn't do that to a player.

What was your most memorable game in Quincy?

There's so many of them. We won our 1,500th game over Manual at Peoria, and (center Tom) Lepper didn't even start. He had a bad ankle. George Milsap went wild in that first quarter with a couple of dunks, and Lepper couldn't sit any longer. He said, "Get me in there." Lepper was going crazy. He was jumping higher than George was, and he was on the bench.

Why was Quincy so successful?

The players want to play and be a Blue Devil. They would dedicate themselves at a young age, and you had the community support to help with that. You had the administration support for some time. That did leave for a while. That's why I'm saying if that program goes, it's difficult to get it back. You look at the Centralias and Collinsvilles, and they haven't been able to maintain it. More classes in the state doesn't help. You have four in basketball and eight in football, and if you are asked who the champion was, you probably don't know if your team didn't play for the title. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, you didn't have that. Everybody knew. Also, in Quincy, if you took the job, it was a 12-month job. You had to work it throughout. At a lot of other schools, you play basketball, and then you go play golf. You have to work with young kids. You have to make sure you put in the time, or it will catch up with you.

Do you like what you see in high school basketball these days?

No, I don't like it at all. Let me give you an example. When I was coaching at Quincy, I didn't allow my players to play AAU ball. I told the players that you will be in the same tournaments, we will travel and we will play so you're seen all summer long. We went all over the country to the same tournaments the AAU teams were playing in. That AAU has gotten so powerful, they're like agents. They're not like coaches. They have the connections to the schools, and it makes it almost impossible to keep a great player. Two or three years ago, we had a freshman (in Arizona) who was 6-foot-11. He was everything. He could get the rebound, lead the fast break. He was the top freshman in the country. Seemed like Dad really had his head screwed on straight. The next year, he's at a prep school that hired his dad and the AAU coach, and they also brought in another 7-footer. That prep school was ruled ineligible, so then he transferred to a California prep school. He had two years he didn't get to play. He'd be the top player in the country right now. That goes on in that AAU ball.

What about the play on the floor?

The 3-point shot came in, and from that point to now, it has changed the game. Your game really revolves around the 3-pointer, like Brad Underwood at Illinois. He's a friend. He wants you to get that shot off. That shot opens up the whole floor and makes it more fun for the fans and for your shooters. A lot of kids get involved.

Would the ball press be effective against all this 3-point shooting?

I think it would. It won't let you get the shot off that quick, and they can't make those long passes against you, if you run it correctly. Sometimes, no defense works. We had a game like that against Peoria Central. Everybody who touched it shot it and made it.

Have high school players changed?

They have, because the parents allowed them to change. Everything now, they think they're going to be a Division I player. That's their main objective. It takes a special coach to work with players. I think Andy (Douglas, the current QHS coach) does a good job of that. He communicates well with the adults and the players. It takes that kind of coach to be successful in today's world.

Would you have to change the way you coached to succeed today?

There would have to be changes. The world's changed. We're much more media minded. There's a lot more interest that goes in different areas that you have to curtail a little bit. I'm talking about other things like computers, video games. They have more money now. There's a lot of competition for their time.

When you think back to your time in Quincy, what comes to mind?

When you look back at it, I have the state record for most consecutive winning seasons. I never had a losing season. I never wanted one, so I worked as hard as I could and tried to get the kids to do the same. I have absolutely no regrets coming to Quincy and seeing my grandkids be raised there. I also can remember two or three of those times when the bus broke down on a winter night on the way home from the Quad Cities. Those are nights you don't forget, but we were young.

Did what happened at the end of your career leave a sour taste?

It just didn't have to be. That time, it's just a blur. A lot of things came to a head. There were some untruths, some stuff that wasn't quite the way the public should have viewed it. It was frustrating. As far as saying that ruined my feelings about Quincy and my time, absolutely not. I still come back every year. I loved being there. It's still the same community.

So what do you do now?

I walk three miles every day, then I work out for an hour and a half, then I go about whatever work Barb has for me. We are still both Cardinals fans, and we try not to miss any games on TV. But it's Barb's world. She just lets me live in it.

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