Why a coach who once upset Duke feels lucky to be at Central Oklahoma
EDMOND — Bob Hoffman’s new boss began his introductory press conference by ticking off the highlights on his basketball resume.
Played for several highly successful teams at Putnam City High. Ranked among the top scorers in the history of Oklahoma Baptist University. Got his first coaching job at Piedmont High. Won an NAIA national title as head coach of the Southern Nazarene women. Coached at all sorts of places, including Oklahoma as an assistant with Kelvin Sampson. Spent the past 11 seasons at Mercer.
“But,” Central Oklahoma president Patti Neuhold-Ravikumar said, “I think most of us remember Bob’s handiwork in Mercer’s 2014 NCAA Tournament win over Duke.”
Some called it the biggest upset in sport that year.
“We’re hoping for a lot of those upsets here,” Neuhold-Ravikumar said.
On the day Hoffman was formally introduced as the new men’s basketball coach, there was a sense from Broncho supporters that they scored a coup. Sure, the Division-II school got a former Division-I coach who's won over 200 games. But more than that, UCO now has a guy who upended Duke — DUKE! — once upon a time.
Only a handful of coaches have beaten Duke in the tournament since Mike Krzyzewski took over the Blue Devils — and UCO just hired one of them.
Thing is, as fortunate as UCO folks feel, no one feels luckier than Hoffman.
“This is an amazing day for my family and we don’t take it lightly,” he said. “This state means a lot to us, and to get to come back … the timing was perfect, and the opportunity is fantastic.”
Hoffman’s Oklahoma roots are many, evidence by the family and friends in attendance Monday morning. His high school junior varsity coach was there. One of the school board members who approved Hoffman’s hiring at Piedmont was there, too.
“Seems just like yesterday,” Hoffman said. “Right, Bob?”
Hoffman glanced toward a man in a suit, tie and cowboy hat — Bob Funk, the co-founder of Express Employment Professionals.
“That was the best hire you ever made,” Hoffman quipped.
While Hoffman’s Okie connections and credentials are strong, he has a largely unknown tie to UCO. He didn’t play for the Bronchos, but he has a degree from the school. He got his master’s in secondary education administration there.
His wife, Kelli, got undergraduate and master’s degrees in education from UCO, too.
“She says she got three from here,” Hoffman said, tongue firmly planted in cheek. “Her two and my one.”
The first place the Hoffmans lived as a married couple was in an apartment near the UCO campus.
“Six hundred yards from this building,” Hoffman said as he stood in UCO’s sports performance center on the north end of the football stadium. “We could see the goal posts.”
He shook his head a bit.
“The full circle is beyond what you could imagine, really.”
Hoffman wouldn’t have ended up back at UCO, though, had he not been fired by Mercer in March. Going into last season, the team finished above .500 for seven straight seasons, but after the Bears went 11-19, Hoffman was dismissed.
Having been at Mercer for more than a decade, having led the program to never-before-seen success, having beaten Duke — DUKE! — most basketball junkies thought Hoffman was a made man in Macon, Georgia.
Even he was caught off guard by his dismissal.
“I’m not sure of all the details of the why,” he said.
“We believe somebody far greater than them let me go. All these things were getting ready to happen in our life that we didn’t know about that we were able to be a part of.”
In late May, Kelli Hoffman’s brother died. Then less than two months later, her mother died. Because Bob had no obligations at Mercer and had yet to land another job, the Hoffmans had the flexibility to return to Oklahoma to be with family.
It was a godsend.
So was the opening at UCO. Less than two weeks ago, Tom Hankins resigned the head coaching position to pursue other basketball opportunities, and as soon as Hoffman heard about it, he contacted UCO athletic director Eddie Griffin.
Rare is the late-summer head-coach opening in college basketball. Even rarer is a quality candidate who has a connection to the program and an affinity for the school.
Hoffman never wore the Broncho blue and gold, but one of his high school teammates, Terry Anderson, played for UCO. Every time Hoffman and OBU played a game at Hamilton Fieldhouse, he felt extra motivation.
“I wanted to beat his tail,” he said of Anderson. “I’m almost sure my best games ever were in this building that I’m getting ready to coach in.”
“I hope that transfers to some wins here.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.