Jon Teitel's "Coaching Greats" Series: North Dakota State's Erv Inniger

December 21st, 2010
In the most recent installment in his "Coaching Greats" interview series, CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with former North Dakota State head coach Erv Inniger. Inniger, who played at Indiana, won 244 games in fourteen seasons at NDSU and the Bison had thirteen consecutive winning seasons under his tutelage. An associate athletic director at the school since retiring from coaching in 1992, Inniger will retire from that role next month.

Jon Teitel: At Berne HS your team went 67-0 over three straight regular seasons. Was your team just more talented than everyone else, and how did you do in the playoffs?

Erv Inniger: We actually went 67-0 in junior high; the HS team went 67-12 over the same time span. As a small school, we had almost everyone rooting for us during the state tourney. I was lucky to be on some great teams.

JT: You went to college at Indiana where you were a pitcher on the baseball team and captain of the basketball team that won the 1967 Big Ten title. Which sport did you enjoy more, and which one were you better at?

EI: I always thought that my best chance for a pro career would be in baseball. Back then freshmen were ineligible for the varsity, and one of the things I asked for when accepting an offer from IU was to be able to play baseball. I threw my arm out early in my career and never had the same velocity. I played with a lot of guys on the basketball team that went pro, like the Van Arsdale twins.

JT: What are your memories of the 1967 NCAA Tournament (Glen Combs scored 29 points in a nine-point win by Virginia Tech, then Indiana had a seven-point win over Tennessee in the consolation game)?

EI: I had broken my wrist one month earlier against Michigan State, so I actually did not get to play in the tourney. Lou Hudson had also broken his wrist and played with a cast the year before, so the Big Ten instituted a rule saying that you could not play with a cast.

JT: You played two years in the ABA, and as a rookie in 1968 your Minnesota team lost the Eastern Division Finals to eventual champion Pittsburgh and MVP Connie Hawkins. What was the biggest difference between the ABA and college basketball, and where does Hawkins rank among the best players you have ever seen?

EI: The speed and athleticism is there for every game. You had to be on every night. For me to come from a small town and be drafted in the 6th round to play pro ball was a dream come true. Hawkins was unbelievable. He could play any position on the court and had gigantic hands. I tried to stop him on a layup one night and he kicked me in the chest!

JT: In 1978 you became head coach at NDSU and proceeded to have 13 straight winning seasons. Why did you take the job, and how were you able to remain so consistent throughout your career?

EI: Looking back at those years, we really had some great players. We had a big strong league, but I came in with a quick team. I surrounded myself with good coaches, and recruiting is such a key. Half of our team would come from Wisconsin because so many schools out there did not offer scholarships. Those kids really gave their heart and soul to the program. It is so different today because there are so many teams out there.

JT: In 1981 you won the NCC title and finished third in the Division II regional. How big a deal was it to win the conference title, and what are your memories of the regional?

EI: Championships just do not come along very often. It is hard to win at any level. It was a big deal to play in the regional because we had not won a conference title in a decade. There were people greeting us in the airport when we got back!

JT: In 1983 you had a two-point loss to Morningside in the NCAA regional title game. How close did you come to winning the game, and what was the feeling like in your locker room afterwards?

EI: The hardest part was for the seniors who knew that it was their last game. It was probably my best team, and to be one game away from the Final Four and not make it was devastating. We missed a couple of crucial shots down the stretch., but there is not much that I would have changed. Some nights the ball will drop and some nights it will not.

JT: You are the winningest men's basketball coach in school history. What made you such a great coach, and do you think that anyone will ever break your record?

EI: I hope someone breaks my record. That is what they are for! I go back to one thing: I had great kids. They are all successful today and they have become great citizens in life.

JT: Your son Bart was captain of the 1992 Bison basketball team, and your son Brett played at Concordia College. What was it like to coach your son, and do they credit at least some of their success to genetics?

EI: I hope so, at least a little bit. It was an honor to coach Bart. I was unsure how it would go, so I did not offer him a scholarship at the start, but he earned it through his hard work. As a father I got to see him every day for five years, and I am extremely proud of what he accomplished. Brett wanted to play for me, but went to JC and had a great career. I got to see most of his games in person.

JT: After retiring from coaching in 1992 you remained at NDSU as an associate AD for development, but you announced that you are retiring in January. How have you liked being associate AD, and what do you hope to do in the future?

EI: This is a pretty easy question for me. I loved going to work every day as a coach with a passion, but when the opportunity came along it just felt pretty good. Nobody grows up wanting to be a fundraiser, but I was truly blessed to help kids get an education and improve the facilities. I am at a great university where I received great opportunities. The toughest five years of my life were trying to raise funds to go to the Division I level, but I am proud to see what we have accomplished.

Erv is also on Jon's list of best coaches in Summit League history.

Centenary: Larry Little (1971-1976) 100-33

IPFW: Dane Fife (2005-present) 64-85

IUPUI: Ron Hunter (1998-present) 202-165, 1 NCAA Tournament, 1 conference title, 2-time conference COY

North Dakota State: Erv Inniger (1978-1992) 244-150, 1 conference title

Oakland: Greg Kampe (1999-present) 181-161, 2 NCAA Tournaments, 2 conference titles, 2-time conference COY

Oral Roberts: Scott Sutton (1999-present) 204-139, 3 NCAA Tournaments, 4 conference titles, 2-time conference COY

South Dakota State: Scott Nagy (1995-present) 270-178, 4 conference titles, 5-time conference COY

Southern Utah: Bill Evans (1991-2007) 208-223, 1 NCAA tourney, 3 conference titles, 1-time conference COY

UMKC: Lee Hunt (1989-1996) 95-99

Western Illinois: Jack Margenthaler (1981-1992) 153-159, 1 conference title, 1-time conference COY