Jon Teitel's "Coaching Greats" Series: UL Monroe's Mike Vining

August 11th, 2011
In the latest installment in his "Coaching Greats" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with former UL Monroe head coach Mike Vining, who remains the winningest coach in Southland Conference history. During his time at UL Monroe Vining won 401 games and led the Warhawks to seven NCAA Tournament appearances. Having resigned before ULM moved into the Sun Belt, Vining (elected to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame last summer) now works for former player (and current Monroe mayor) Jamie Mayo as his Executive Administrative Officer.

Jon Teitel: You played basketball for Coach Lenny Fant at UL-Monroe. What made Fant such a great coach, and what is the most important thing you ever learned from him? 

Mike Vining: The greatest thing about him is that he was a players' coach.  He did not scream and holler to get his point across. We cared so much about him that we did not want to hurt him by losing.  I learned patience and the importance of having a family atmosphere. 

JT: You were also a pitcher for a baseball team that won conference titles in 1964 and 1966. Which sport were you better at, and which sport did you enjoy more? 

MV: I was probably a better baseball player, but felt closer to my teammates in basketball.  I never had a desire to coach baseball. 

JT: After college you spent two years in the Army. What did you do in the Army, and what impact did it have on your life? 

MV: I was a transportation officer, and later worked in special services.  In 1970 I was sent to Vietnam, where I was put in charge of special services.  

JT: In 1971 you became head coach at Bastrop (LA) High School, where Calvin Natt helped lead your team to a 35-1 record and a two-point win over McKinley for the 1975 4A state title. Could you tell at the time that Natt was going to become a star, and what did it mean to you to win the title? 

MV: Calvin was a star even back then: he just whipped up on people.  We were state runner-up in 1973 and lost in the quarterfinals in 1974.  The title meant a lot to me because I thought we should have actually won it 3 years in a row. 

JT: In 1981 you led your alma mater to the NCAA Tournament in your first year as coach (Donald Wilson and Terry Martin each had a double-double in a seven-point loss to Iowa). How were you able to come in and be so successful so quickly? 

MV: I was an assistant there for three years and recruited a lot of the guys on that tourney team, so we had a close bond.  I also had Coach Fant close by when I had any questions.  Lute Olson was coaching Iowa; we had a chance to win it but just did not have the firepower.  The reporters asked me if I was planning to move on, but I was just happy with the job I had! 

JT: What are your memories of the 1986 NCAA Tournament (Armon Gilliam scored 16 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the UNLV win)? 

MV: We played them at 11AM.  I told my team that while it was a big deal to us, the Rebels would probably rather have been sleeping in!  We played well for 10 minutes, then missed a dunk and it all fell apart. 

JT: What are your memories of the 1990 NCAA Tournament (Steve Scheffler scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Purdue's win)? 

MV: I will never forget that game. There were 40,000 fans in Indianapolis and most of them were cheering for Purdue.  We were up by two at the half, and as I walked across the court you could hear a pin drop because everyone was in shock!   

JT: What are your memories of the 1991 NCAA Tournament (Christian Laettner scored 22 points in the win for eventual champion Duke)? 

MV: We were only down by five at the half but Duke had a lot of depth. When they substituted Billy McCaffrey for Bobby Hurley, there was not any drop-off. 

JT: What are your memories of the 1992 NCAA Tournament (Harold Miner scored 23 points in the USC win)? 

MV: That was the first time that I thought we were better than our seed and could beat our tourney opponent. They had a freshman (Tremayne Anchrum) come off the bench and have an unbelievable game (16 points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes). 

JT: What are your memories of the 1993 NCAA Tournament (Acie Earl scored 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the Iowa win)? 

MV: Earl was a 7'1" post man, and our best player was only 6'5".  The tournament refs did not call it as close as they did in the Southland so Earl intimidated us inside. He would whack our players while blocking their shots and not get called for a foul. 

JT: What are your memories of the 1996 NCAA Tournament (Tim Duncan scored 10 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Wake Forest win)? 

MV: Duncan was not feeling well so he only played 20-25 minutes.  We were down big at the half, but our press defense started clicking and we got back in the game.  That was another one that I thought we had a chance to win. 

JT: In 2002 your 7-footer Wojciech Myrda set an NCAA record by finishing his career with 535 blocked shots (Jarvis Varnado broke his record in 2010). Was Myrda the greatest shot blocker you have ever seen, and what was his secret to blocking shots? 

MV: He was by far the best shot blocker I have ever seen. He had a knack of going directly to your hand. He went up and just tipped the ball rather than swatting it out of bounds.  His father was a good player on the Polish national team. He had a knack for blocking shots with the opposite hand of whatever shot the opponent used, but I had him work on blocking everything with his right hand, which made him a lot better during his final two seasons. 

JT: You are the all-time wins leader in Southland Conference history, and the only other coach besides you to win 200 Southland games is current UL-Lafayette coach Bob Marlin (your grad assistant coach at UL-Monroe). What makes Bob such a great coach, and do you think anyone will ever break your record? 

MV: They probably will not break my record because coaches do not stay 24 years at one place anymore. They either get fired (if they are bad) or move on to a bigger school (if they are good).  Marlin was a competitor who helped us with recruiting. He has been successful everywhere he has been.  He preaches the same thing as Coach Fant: family atmosphere, play hard, play together. 

JT: Future NBA lottery pick Wesley Johnson signed a letter-of-intent with the Warhawks back in 2005, but changed his mind after you resigned. Would Johnson have been the best player you ever coached, and would you have stayed as coach just to get the chance to coach him? 

MV: Johnson might have been more talented than Calvin, but Calvin had so many intangibles.  I told everyone that I was not coming back. Our expenses were increasing but our budget was not.  I told them that I was not going into the Sun Belt Conference; I just decided that I had enough and retired.  Johnson's parents wanted him to come here but his brother was trying to talk him out of coming here from day one. He might have talked him out of it even if I had not left.  

JT: You currently serve as Executive Administrative Officer to Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, who played point guard for you in both high school and college. How do you like the job, and could you ever imagine Mayo becoming mayor back in the day? 

MV: I could imagine Jamie being mayor because he has been a leader from Day One.  Calvin scored and rebounded, but Jamie had a feel for the game and a feel for the players.  He played every sport: he was a point guard, a shortstop, a quarterback, etc.  We have stayed in touch since his playing days and when I retired from coaching he was already the mayor.  I almost hired him as an assistant back in the day, so I tell him that he is indebted to me for not doing that!  I went to China with him and some other city officials as part of an exchange program and on the way back he asked me if I wanted a job and started mentioning it more and more.  One year later he asked me to go back to work because he thought that I could help him, and at that time I felt like I could accomplish more by working for him.  I realized after getting there that my mind had become stale over the previous couple of years. It is all about recruiting. I sell everyone on his ideas and make sure they get done.  Now he is the head coach and I am his point! 
Vining is also on Jon's list of best coaches in Sun Belt history.

Arkansas State: Dickey Nutt (1995-2008) 189-187, 1 NCAA tourney, 2 conference titles, 1-time conference COY
Arkansas-Little Rock: Mike Newell (1984-1990) 133-60, 3 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, 2-time conference COY
Denver: Dick Peth (1985-1997) 221-123, 2-time conference COY
Florida Atlantic: Sidney Green (1999-2005) 54-121, 1 NCAA tourney, 1-time conference COY
Florida International: Shakey Rodriguez (1995-2000) 79-66
UL Lafayette: Jessie Evans (1997-2004) 118-80, 2 NCAA tourneys, 4 conference titles
UL Monroe: Mike Vining (1981-2005) 401-303, 7 NCAA tourneys, 7 conference titles
Middle Tennessee State: Bruce Stewart (1984-1991) 141-76, 3 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, 1-time conference COY
North Texas: Johnny Jones (2001-present) 172-132, 2 NCAA tourneys, 2 conference titles
South Alabama: Ronnie Arrow (1987-1995, 2007-present) 189-144, 3 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, 3-time conference COY
Troy: Don Maestri (1982-present) 471-355, 1 NCAA tourney, 6 conference titles, 5-time conference COY
Western Kentucky: Edgar Diddle (1922-1964) 759-302, 3 NCAA tourneys, 10 conference titles, 1-time conference COY