Mike Saylor knew his Terre Haute South coaching career would be concluding soon.
But he didn’t want it to be ended by Terre Haute North in the semifinals of the Class 4A Northview boys high school basketball sectional.
That’s how it happened Friday night, however, when his Braves lost 73-52.
Afterward, Saylor — who announced last year that this would be his final season at South — bid farewell with class and dignity.
“I was mentally prepared for it,” he told me afterward. “I wanted to win and keep going [in the state tournament], but obviously we didn’t. So that’s the end of it.”
Saylor, 50, finished with a 103-69 record over seven seasons as the Braves’ head coach after serving 14 seasons as an assistant to Pat Rady. South has had only three head coaches in the sport — Gordon Neff, Rady and Saylor — since its doors first opened in 1971.
“My dad [Arnold] always told me that if you’re going to do a job, do it right,” continued Saylor, a 1978 graduate of South. “And I’m confident that I did the best I could do and did it right. I feel good about the job we’ve done here in seven years.”
Saylor’s favorite accomplishments over the past seven seasons?
“The main things were helping kids and getting kids scholarships,” he replied. “The final four [in 2005], the final eight [in 2009], being in the sectional finals four out of seven years, the two Pizza Hut [Wabash Valley] Classic championships [in 2004 and 2007] … they were great. Another one of the things I’m most proud of was the way the kids developed while they were in the program.”
Saylor and his wife Patricia have three daughters — Victoria, 15; Sofia, 12; and Andrea, 10 — and his family is where his focus will be in the immediate future.
“I was [Indiana Basketball Coaches Association] Coach of the Year three years ago and I hope I can be ‘Dad of the Year’ and ‘Husband of the Year’ for the next 30, 40 years of my life, hopefully,” he mentioned.
But that doesn’t mean Saylor will push South basketball out of his life completely.
“I’ll be a South fan until they pull the plug on me,” he promised.
Saylor also hopes the school administration finds the right person to replace him, whoever or whenever that may be.
“Of the three guys that we’ve had [as head coaches] over the years … we have poured ourselves into the program,” he explained. “It’s really been a big part of our lives and I hope that’s what they get — a full-time guy and not somebody who looks at it as a part-time endeavor. A stepping stone [to a ‘big-time’ job] is fine if you’re going to pour yourself into it. But part-time is not fine. You want to give everything you’ve got to the kids.”
As expected, Saylor enjoyed many final conversations as a head coach Friday night. One was with North coach Todd Woelfle during the postgame hand shake.
“I just said ‘good luck,’ ” Saylor relayed. “I hope those guys go far. They’re Terre Haute guys. They’re friends. They’re not enemies. They happen to be opponents on the basketball court, but they’re our [Vigo County] school corporation brothers. We certainly hope they come out of the [sectional] tournament.”
“I just congratulated him on a great career at Terre Haute South,” Woelfle said. “He and I spent a lot of time talking basketball and I wish him nothing but the best of luck.”
Saylor also addressed his disappointed players in the Northview lockerroom.
“I just told them they’re special to me and I love the coach-player relationship as it goes on throughout the years,” he said. “I just wanted to remind them that they’ll always have my support and friendship. I think one of the main goals at this point is to get [Derek] Shouse and [Anthony] McGill [college] scholarships. We’ll also host open gyms until they get somebody new in here.”
Although Woelfle’s mind was focused on preparing for the Patriots’ sectional championship game tonight, he gladly offered his views on Saylor.
“I’m not going to miss coaching against his teams because he runs a very unorthodox style,” he said with a respectful chuckle. “But I will miss the communication. Being coaches of the two high schools in Terre Haute, he and I have a lot of similarities in some of the things that we go through, so I’ll miss bouncing ideas off of him.”
For what it’s worth, I’ll miss Saylor too, especially when he’d come over and yuck it up with me at the press table. Most coaches (not all) are too worried about their team or their opponent to fraternize with the media before a game, but not Mike Saylor.
See ya at a game soon, Mike.
David Hughes can be reached by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.