Winning part of McKendree coach's legacy

Wednesday, February 20, 2008 | 11:36 p.m. CST; updated 6:38 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Harry Statham’s teams have averaged 26 wins a year and won 20 or more games 32 times during his 42-year tenure.

COLUMBIA — Adolph Rupp. Dean Smith. Bob Knight. Though each name is synonymous with coaching excellence, they have little else in common. There is one bond, however: They all have less career wins than McKendree (Ill.) coach Harry Statham.

Statham is in the final week of his 42nd season at McKendree, where he has racked up 959 wins for the Bearcats since his first season in 1966. The mark is the record for coaches at four-year colleges.

Today's game

No. 12 McKendree (21-6, 11-1 in the Amercian Midwest Conference) vs. No. 20 Columbia College (22-6, 10-2 in the AMC WHEN: 7 p.m. WHERE: The Arena of Southwell Complex

Statham’s philosophy is to bring in players who are more than just student-athletes. For him, he wants his players to take that title one step further.

“I’ve always felt that good citizens make for a better team,” Statham said. “So that’s what we strive for. Good people first, then good students, and finally, good basketball players. We try to get players that are similar in makeup, and just a team of good guys.”

It’s a winning formula. Statham’s teams have averaged 26 wins a year and won 20 or more games 32 times during his tenure, and in 2003, McKendree advanced to the Fab Four, the NAIA’s version of the NCAA Final Four.

“Coach Statham does a great job of just recruiting guys that fit his school and his program,” Columbia College coach Bob Burchard said. “Being consistently good for such a long time is so difficult. The coaching business is not an easy one, it’s not easy to get jobs and it’s not easy to keep jobs. Most schools have down times, and I think that’s the mark of his success there, has been his ability to stay on the peak for such a long time.”

Although Statham has a knack for finding players that fit in his program and the university, it’s obvious that none fit in the tiny community of Lebanon better than Statham himself. In today’s cutthroat world of coaching, Statham brings a fresh perspective and a commitment to success that has spanned more than four decades.

“It’s a great place to work, they treat me well and it’s a comfortable place to be,” Statham said. “I don’t have a lot of the outside interference of people trying to tell me how to coach, and it’s just been an enjoyable time for me since the beginning.”

All 959 of his wins have come at McKendree, and it’s hard for most to understand why he wouldn’t want to try his hand at a more prestigious program. While it may be perplexing to some, the reasons are crystal clear for Statham.

“The only place I’d want to go would be a major Division I program, and obviously, you don’t go straight from the NAIA to Division I in one move,” Statham said. “I don’t want to be an assistant coach somewhere for a long time. I don’t want to go to a Division II program and take my chances or a low Division I program and take my chances with a program that’s down and you’ve got to rebuild a winner. One job isn’t worth all that. I can get the kind of players I want to work with where I am, and at a lot of those schools, with my kind of players, you couldn’t win. I’d probably have to give up some of the things I hold dear, but right now I’m happy, so if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

For Lebanon residents and McKendree fans, the feeling is mutual. The Lebanon City Council showed its gratitude by renaming a portion of Alton Street, which runs along the eastern edge of campus, “Harry Statham Way.” He also takes the floor twice a week during basketball season inside Harry Statham Arena.

Statham’s team this year averages over 86 points a game and leads the nation in 3-point shooting percentage, while sitting alone atop the American Midwest Conference standings at 21-6 overall and 11-1 in conference play. Today’s game looms large for both teams, as the winner will likely capture the conference title. For No. 12 McKendree, a win would clinch the conference title. For No. 20 Columbia College, a win would mean only a date with 7-18-1 William Woods on Saturday stands between them and the conference crown.

“Every year is a big game with us, or so it seems,” Statham said. “Usually it comes down to Columbia and McKendree being somewhere in the hunt for the conference. I learned a long time ago in coaching though, every game counts the same. Whether it’s extremely tough games or extremely easy ones, the moment you don’t prepare like you know how to, it comes up and bites you. If you try and overprepare for someone though, it distracts your preparation, so we try to stay in the middle and do them all the same.”

For Statham, though, only one thing is for certain tonight. No. 960 won’t be easy.

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