It will either happen tonight in Provo, or sometime very, very soon: Dave Rose will win his 200th game as BYU's head basketball coach, and only 14 coaches in NCAA history will have reached that victory milestone faster.
Tonight's home game with St. Mary's will be Rose's 258th game as the Cougars' bench boss. He reached 100 wins in only 134 games-—fastest ever for a BYU coach, and particularly impressive considering he took over a program that had gone 9-21 the season before he took over. If BYU is victorious tonight, Rose will have won his next hundred in only 124 games.
It was after his 100th career win that Rose was asked to reflect on the accomplishment, and on the night of Nov. 20, 2009, following BYU's 83-65 victory at Hawai'I, Rose talked of having watched Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim win his 800th career game (Boeheim last month surpassed the 900-win plateau, as Rose approached 200).
"When you think about a hundred wins, then try to figure out ‘how would you ever get to 800 wins?' it's really amazing," said Rose on that occasion more than three years ago. "But we're 3-0 and that's the most important thing." BYU would go on to win a new program-record 30 games in 2009-10.
I have been fortunate enough to watch Rose coach almost every one of his games from a vantage point usually directly adjacent to the BYU bench. While I have a job to do and am focused on making sure it gets done to the best of my ability, my work location allows me to observe Rose do his job, and that perspective has been equal parts instructive and inspiring.
When Dave Rose enters the court at game time, I tend to notice his interaction with the opposing head coach. Between most coaches, these pre-game greetings are perfunctory and generally nothing more than a quick bit of small talk, if that. Not that Rose has elevated the pre-tip handshake to heights of lofty purpose, but I have always sensed, in those moments, that opposing coaches are genuinely pleased to be working against Rose on that night.
Coaching is a business in which program success or dominance can often be accompanied by ruffled feathers, raised eyebrows or quiet animosity. Rose, having compiled an incredible record in his eight seasons at BYU, has seemingly engendered nothing but respect and admiration from opponents, and in those brief pregame moments in front of the scorer's table, it shows.
Once the game gets underway, Rose is active on the sidelines, but never in a throw-your-jacket, spend-all-your-time-outside-the-coaching-box kind of way. Rose sits much of the time, but depending on the game, seems to stand for the duration (he has two favorite spots: the sideline-baseline corner, and directly in front of me—-I spent a lot of time bobbing and weaving for an unobstructed view). He is a tactician, signaling schemes from the sidelines. He is an occasional foot-stomper (one foot, hard stomp: his signature sign of displeasure). He is into it, all game, all the time.
When a referee needs to be talked to, Rose can do the talking, but as an additional measure of his stature in the profession and the way he goes about his business, even when Rose is making his most impassioned arguments, he is given leeway. Technical fouls are rare. Officials may not always agree with Rose, but they always seem to listen, without feeling compelled to punish him for his passion.
Timeouts are when Rose is at his most impactful. He always gathers with his coaches before he speaks to the team, the group forming a game plan for the on-court minutes to follow. The tenor of the contest will determine the temperature level inside the huddle, but Rose really knows how to command attention during those moments. If I were a player, I would like to be led by a coach like Rose when he is setting up a sequence or laying down the law.
Whether in timeouts or at halftime, Rose is always on the move, tactically. Adjustments are constant, and almost always effective. If BYU has a particular problem in the game's first 20 minutes, that problem is often remedied in the next 20. Likewise, if BYU has an advantage in the first half, expect it to remain an edge in the second half. Under Rose, BYU is 168-16 (91%) when leading at the break. When tied or trailing, the Cougars are 31-42 (42%)—-a respectable win rate when considering how frequently BYU sends its trailing opponents to the loss column.
Rose's endgame strategies are sound. When leading an opponent with 5:00 remaining in the game, Rose-coached BYU teams are 188-5 (97%). When his Cougars have the lead with a minute to play, they have never lost (194-0).
Of active NCAA Division I head coaches with at least five years of experience, Rose is currently fourth in win percentage (77.4%), trailing only North Carolina's Roy Williams, Gonzaga's Mark Few and Butler's Brad Stevens.
Of those four coaches, Rose is the only one who came up through the ranks having checked off all of the following stops: high school assistant coach and high school head coach. Junior college assistant coach and junior college head coach. Division I assistant coach and now Division I head coach. That might sound like a typical coaching career arc, but many in the DI ranks don't have Rose's unique professional perspective. That long coaching journey makes his current status all the more impressive, while his recent victory over cancer makes every milestone so much more worth savoring.
Before BYU played Marquette in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, MU head coach Buzz Williams said this about Rose: "I have the utmost respect for who Dave is as a human being, the utmost. Man, you talk about his story, junior college head coach, assistant coach, Phi Slama Jama (as a player at Houston). Cancer survivor. Just who he is, his beliefs, his morals, I stand at attention in respect for who he and (wife) Cheryl are."
"Then you look at his head coaching record. I think he's got to be one of the top two or three most unheralded head coaches in the country. He's won 78 percent of his games, been coach of the year…been to the NCAA Tournament every single year (except for one season in 2005-06), has coached the player of the year at BYU--had that ever happened before? I mean, I just stand at attention for who he is as a person and as a professional."
Rose's 200th win will further cement that personal and professional legacy, and I sincerely hope that win comes tonight at the Marriott Center. If it does, expect Rose to say something like this:
"When you think about two hundred wins, then try to figure out ‘how would you ever get to 900 wins?' it's really amazing. But we're 5-0 in league and that's the most important thing."