Friday, February 10, 2017

Hildebrand, Part III: Let's hear it for your Demons

         (Third in a series)
         In 15 seasons as Northwestern State's head basketball coach, Tynes Hildebrand's teams won 191 games and were competitive and entertaining. No question, though, he wished the Demons had won a lot more.
         The overall record was eight games below .500 (at one point, it was 22 games above .500), marred by two poor seasons at the end. The coach's intensity and ability never wavered, but the talent level fell off.
One of Tynes Hildebrand's favorite coach/player ties
is with very successful Notre Dame coach Mike Brey.
          It was a tough job because (1) Northwestern was a mostly regional school, recruiting from nearby and (2) the basketball competition, especially within the state, was strong, with a cast of well-regarded coaches.
           In the Gulf States Conference (all in state) alone, coaches included Ralph Ward (McNeese State), Beryl Shipley (Southwestern Louisiana), Lenny Fant and then Benny Hollis (Northeast Louisiana) and Scotty Robertson (Louisiana Tech) -- all consistent winners in their careers.
         NSU also had yearly rivalries with strong independents Centenary (which had several head coaches in Hildebrand's time) and Louisiana College (where Billy Allgood got as much from regional talent as any of the coaches).
         Eventually Dale Brown came on and made basketball at LSU more important than it had ever been.
        "What a great group of coaches," Hildebrand noted recently.
        The GSC rivalries were hot, gyms were often packed, and with the start of the state tournament in Shreveport in 1961, the game was more popular than it ever had been in Louisiana.
        Northwestern, like the other schools, had its natural rivals -- LC was one -- but none as fierce as Louisiana Tech and Centenary. That threesome, in the 1950s through '70s, was called the "Pine Cone Rivalry," especially by The Shreveport Times sports editors/columnists Jack Fiser and Bill McIntyre. 
       When Hildebrand took over as NSU's coach, it was only a year after Robertson became the Tech head coach. Thus resumed a matchup that began with Natchitoches vs. Shreveport Byrd High.
        "I really liked Scotty," Hildebrand said, a statement which might surprise a few folks. "We were very competitive, we competed hard, so maybe how I felt about him might not have showed.
        "I always have had a lot of respect for Louisiana Tech. Their people always had a lot of pride in their school; they wanted the very best for it. I thought that was admirable."
         Robertson left Tech -- and the duels with Hildebrand -- for the NBA, becoming the first coach of the expansion New Orleans Jazz in 1974, only to be fired after only 15 games (1-14 record).
         Says Hildebrand: "I respected Scotty as a coach; he got a raw deal in the NBA ... nobody ever got more of a raw deal in the NBA than he did."
         Robertson, however, stayed in the NBA for the next couple of decades as a scout, a couple of other head-coaching stints and mostly as an assistant coach. Hildebrand was in the game, and athletics, even longer.
         Significantly, Hildebrand's first NSU team got the best of Tech and Robertson. The 1965-66 Demons were, in fact, the best team Hildebrand had, percentage-wise, in his 15 years -- 18-7 (.720) -- and, more importantly, the conference championship.
         This, after the previous Demons' team was 9-17, including a 30-point loss to Tech near the end of the season.
David Clark
         But at the start of 1966, Jan. 3, in its first GSC road game under Hildebrand, NSU went to Ruston and beat Tech 73-68 and followed with a victory over a very good Centenary team -- led by hook-shooting Tom Kerwin and "The Ringgold Rifle," Barrie Haynie. 
         Later in the season, the Demons won at McNeese and then Southwestern Louisiana (USL) ... and a surprising conference title was theirs.
         That team was led by David Clark, a sharpshooting forward who had also starred for Hildebrand at Natchitoches High, had a couple of savvy seniors -- point guard Lester Lee, also of Natchitoches, and burly Billy Ray of Ringgold (Haynie's high school teammate) -- and one sensational freshman.
         James Wyatt was a lean 6-foot-5 forward -- the first "major" recruit signed by the coach not long after he took the job.
         It is noteworthy that Hildebrand recruited the two players who for almost 40 years were 1-2 on NSU career scoring and rebounding lists: Wyatt and Billy Reynolds. 
James Wyatt (40): The best rebounder
in NSU basketball history.
         Both were from small schools and led their teams to state championships. One was a natural for NSU; the other a "steal" of sorts.
         Wyatt was from tiny Belmont, where several Demons' stars in the late 1950s had played. His 50-point game in the 1965 Class C title game set the state-tournament record and was the top performance of the Top Twenty's six-year stay in Shreveport.
         "Louisiana Tech thought they were going to get him," Hildebrand recalled, "but I was from Sabine Parish, and I knew I had a great chance to recruit him." 
         He did, and Wyatt was an instant college star. As David Clark was, he was a three-time all-conference player.
         "I would get mad at him because I thought he would be out of position, not lined up right when a shot was taken," Hildebrand said, "but he'd float to the other side of the basket and he'd have the rebound. Just had a great knack for knowing where shots were coming off."
         Wyatt could score inside and out, and his career rebound total (1,549) is 399 more than anyone else in NSU history, including nine of the top 13 single-game totals at the school. He had three 30-rebound games.
         "I took him out early in one of those," Hildebrand said, "and I always wondered how many he could have had that night."
         Reynolds was from Calhoun, which he led to the Class B state title in 1973, and it is located almost halfway between Ruston (La. Tech) and Monroe (then-Northeast Louisiana). But somehow Hildebrand and his staff out-recruited those schools for Reynolds.

         A lithe small forward, his 2,009 career points eclipsed Wyatt's 1,874 and Reynolds' 26.4 points-per-game average as a senior is the school record. He was a Seattle SuperSonics' draft pick in 1977.
         Among the other notable players of the Hildebrand coaching era at NSU:
         • Charles Bloodworth: A 6-8 power forward from Natchitoches, he transferred from Southern University to  integrate the NSU program in 1968-70, was twice all-conference and was drafted by NBA and ABA teams.
         • Vernon Wilson: A sharpshooting guard from Logansport (1970-73), he led the Demons in scoring in all three seasons he played, averaged 20.6 points a game, earned All-America honors, and his jersey No. 24 was retired.
         • Lee Arthur Smith: He was a forward from Castor, La., who played only one season (1976-77) because he was also good at another sport. He could throw a baseball with some velocity. He gave up school for fulltime duty with the Chicago Cubs, and wound up as baseball's all-time saves leader (478) for more than a decade. 
          "He could have been an NBA player if he had chosen basketball," said Hildebrand. "He could have been great at track -- shot put/discus. Phenomenal athlete. He was 6-5 and powerful."
          • Mike Brey: He played point guard at a national high school powerhouse, DeMatha Catholic in the Washington, D.C., area, and his Hall of Fame coach there, Morgan Wootten, knew Hildebrand and set him up to recruit Brey to Northwestern. After three years, Brey left NSU when Hildebrand left coaching and transferred for one season to George Washington, then embarked on a remarkable coaching career.

            • Dan Bell: A guard from Huntsville, Ala., he was a leader -- with Reynolds -- on Hildebrand's last good team (17-9 in 1976-77, the Demons' first year in NCAA Division I). He returned as NSU  head coach for six seasons (1988-94), and his first team beat Kentucky. Yes, it did.
            One other player gave Hildebrand a vivid memory. Pete Gray was a 6-2 center from Marthaville, La., undersized (obviously) but rugged and skilled inside the lane. When Louisiana Tech and 7-foot center Charlie Bishop were about to come to Natchitoches in 1968, Hildebrand told Gray, "There is no way he can stop you."
          Gray that night completely outplayed Bishop -- "ran circles around him," said Hildebrand -- and the Demons won a close game. "That was one win I really enjoyed," said the coach.
           Two other significant Hildebrand-NSU connections were assistant coaches Don Beasley and Derwood Duke.
           Beasley had been the 1959 Class AA All-State quarterback at Natchitoches High, and also an All-State basketball player coached by Hildebrand, and then started at QB for NSU.
           He came back to NSU as Hildebrand's coaching assistant before moving on to several major-college stops, then returned in 1985 -- with Tynes as athletic director -- as NSU head coach for three seasons. Unfortunately, that also resulted in NCAA probation and penalties for the program.        
           Duke succeeded Hildebrand as Natchitoches High's basketball coach, two of his teams narrowly missed winning state championships, and then followed Beasley as Tynes' top assistant at NSU. He went on to earn a doctorate and became superintendent of Natchitoches Parish schools.   
          Hildebrand's 1968-69 team finished its season with a notable first-ever matchup against Grambling State -- traditionally all-white school (although integration had begun) vs. all-black. It was a best-of-three NAIA district playoff series; Grambling won Game 3 at NSU.
           In a similar NAIA district playoff in 1973-74, NSU beat Xavier twice in New Orleans to advance to the NAIA national tournament -- then a longtime, prestigious event in Kansas City -- where the Demons went 1-1 and finished 21-9, the most wins for a Hildebrand NSU team.
        Again, connections: Tynes was invited to the training camp of the 1972 U.S. Olympic basketball team by legendary coach Hank Iba, and worked there with Bob Knight. (That was the ill-fated team, lost -- robbed -- of the gold medal by the Russians and the officials in Munich, Germany.) And he could call two more coaching giants, John Wooden and Don Haskins, friends.
         One coach who was inspired by Hildebrand, among other coaches, was the last Centenary coach he faced, Tommy Canterbury.
          Like me, Canterbury was a freshman at Louisiana Tech the year Hildebrand began coaching at Northwestern State. More than a decade later, they were coaching opponents ... and friends.
          "I looked at those [older] guys differently," Canterbury said, "because I could not imagine coaching against Tynes and some of the others.
          "I always thought he was the epitome of a solid program-building coach -- not too high, not too low. He loved the sport so much ... and we all did things together."
         Canterbury said the influence of television, shoe-contract deals and other outside factors "changed coaching" near the end of Hildebrand's tenure and perhaps made it more difficult.
Coach with Pesky Hill, a Shreveport resident who was
one of the SIDs at Northwestern in the Hildebrand era.
     "He was the kind of guy you looked up to, an old-school type coach. ... I always called him Coach Hildebrand. I wouldn't go up to him and say, 'Hi, Tynes.' He had earned that respect."
         Another personal confession: For nine years -- four as a Tech student, five as the sports information director at Centenary -- I did not root for Hildebrand's teams. 
          But when a person always treats you kindly and cordially and is cooperative with the media, as a sportswriter, you take note of that. So it was with Coach Hildebrand, and so it is.
          "Write about the great sportswriters and SIDs over the years at the schools and newspapers [in the state]," he included in notes he sent to me recently. 
          That's a generous thought -- and excluding myself -- I agree.
          (Next: Innovative athletic director, mentor)


  1. From Don Landry: He was always very competitive in everything he did. I had taken a couple of teams during the summer on tours in Central America. It was a great experience but the competition was not very strong. One year Tynes won the honor to coach the Gulf South Conference all-star team on a trip to Central America. I explained to him that we would win every game on the schedule. But he could not relax and enjoy the trip until we had won every game.
    We played one game deep into Guatemala. The local official explained that because of their location they seldom saw good basketball and they wanted us to play our best regardless of the score. We scored over 150 points (it may have been as high as 180) and everyone at the game loved this USA team in their city.

  2. From Pesky Hill: OK, I loved all three of the blogs on Coach Hildebrand. However, this one has been my favorite (and not because my pic is at the bottom).

  3. From Teddy Allen: More good stuff. This is like an extended “Whatever Happened To …” thingy.

  4. From Jimmy Russell: Pete Gray was an excellent player night in and night out. ... I think Tynes coached one style as a high school coach and after his second year at NSU he abandoned his coaching style for the fastbreak type of game. ... I heard him speak at a clinic one time and got some great ideas and drills from him which I used and it helped my teams.

  5. From Joan Fiser: Interesting read. I hadn't thought about Tom Kerwin in years. I don't watch much basketball, but my daughter and her boyfriend like the Warriors and occasionally attend games (expensive tickets).
    Thanks for mentioning Dad [Jack Fiser]. I was always amazed at his memory for sports -- games, scores, players, coaches, etc., even after his stroke. You obviously share that ability and love for athletics.