His incredible career took him from one of the most iconic basketball rosters of all time to pro hoops in Australia, from an NBA championship to NAIA volleyball championships alongside his wife and finally to the head coaching job at Missouri.
Wayne Kreklow and his wife, Susan, announced their retirement in July after 19 years of coaching the MU volleyball program to national prominence. The Kreklows led the Tigers to 15 NCAA Tournaments and two SEC titles.
Last week, Wayne temporarily came out of retirement to chat with The Missourian about life after coaching, his days as a Boston Celtic and more.
Q: How has retirement been treating you so far? Any new hobbies?
Kreklow: “It’s been short enough that we’re around town, and people ask me, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing?’ And I’m going, ‘Well, so far it’s been really glamorous.’ What we’ve done for the last four weeks is we’ve cleaned up two garages. We’ve cleaned out like three closets. We’ve taken like three trips to the dump, to the recycling center. So far it’s not what I think everybody figured: ‘Where are you going to travel? Are you going to Greece, going to Europe?’ It hasn’t quite been like that. So that right now is what we’ve been doing, trying to do a lot of stuff that we haven’t been able to do for the last 20 years because we’ve been too busy.”
Q: Once you do have the time, what would you like to do most with the glamorous retired life? Where do you want to travel most?
Kreklow: “We’ve always been really active. We like doing things. We love to bike, so we’re trying to gear up for that. Actually, our big retirement purchase has been a little teardrop camper, believe it or not. We took it on a test run a couple weeks ago. I had a nephew get married up in northern Minnesota, so we towed it up there, took a test run. We plan on using that quite a bit. I figure our plan is we’ll chase weather. Susan and I, neither of us are cold weather people, so we figured that while it’s warm, we’ll kind of use the teardrop camper and head out to a lot of places. When it gets cold, we love going to Mexico. We’ve been doing it for years, so we can see that in our future. Our oldest son is a traveler — that’s the kind of the term they use now, a traveler — and right now he’s in South Africa. Just took off on his own. And so he’s going there to southeast Asia and then to Bali, then to Australia. So you know, there’s some talk about maybe hooking up with him somewhere, too. One of my bucket list things always been Tahiti. I’ve always looked at those kind of islands as someplace I’d always love to go. I actually played a season of basketball in Australia, in Sydney back in the day. So I’d love to go back there again. But I don’t know, we like to travel.
One of my favorite shows was always the Anthony Bourdain series. I loved that show. Not because I’m a foodie, but the culture and spending time all over the globe with different people, learning about who they are, what they do and all of that kind of stuff. I’m not a food guy. I mean, I could eat baloney sandwiches for days on end and be fine. But it’s the culture thing, the history. Back before I started doing this, I got my degree in social sciences. My dad (was a social studies teacher). It’s something I’ve always been really into and interested in.”
Q: What memory stands out to you most from your time with the Boston Celtics?
Kreklow: “People always ask me, ‘What was (Larry) Bird like?’ And I can tell you, this is the one I’ll never forget. It was in practice. I think I was on the scout team. We were running some play where there was a high ball screen at the top of the key, and so I had a choice to either just pull up and shoot a jump shot, or drive to the basket. We’re running this play, and we kept doing it over and over, and I’d come off this ball screen. I’m going, ‘There’s an open lane to the basket.’ So I took it the first time, and Bird came from the weak side and just destroyed me. I mean, not just blocked the shot. It was like Brian Urlacher coming at you. It’s like, you just fouled the living crap out of me here. And I’m thinking, ‘All right, I’ll just go to the line,’ and he’s going: ‘Don’t bring that in here.’ I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, whatever,’ because I would have gotten two free throws and scored.
So we did it again, and the same thing happened. I went again … and he came back and just flattened me again, a second time, and said the same thing. And we kept doing this. The third time it happened, I went down and I’m starting to get kind of pissed. And he’s talking — of course, he was famous for that. ‘Do not bring that in here.’ And I’m thinking, OK, this is so typical of who this guy was. And finally Bill Fitch goes: ‘When are you going to stop and pull up and take the shot, rather than get killed?’
But I’ll never forget that. Because this was in practice. I mean, this is in practice, you know? And that’s why those guys won. Because it wasn’t in the game, it was in practice, and this is still what was going on. It impacted how I coached, you know? You play like you practice. And he was a perfect example of that.”
Q: Is there a funniest memory you can share from those Celtics days?
Kreklow: “OK, so Red Auerbach was the GM at the time. He was notorious for being a penny pincher. People would joke that he used pencils instead of pens in the office because they were cheaper.
But so I made it through camp — first year I got cut, second year I made it — and I knew I made it when they were like, ‘We need to get you a uniform and we need to get you sweats.’ So the equipment guy, old guy ... can’t even think of his name but in his 70s ... he’s going, ‘We need to get you a pair of sweats.’ And I’m going, ‘Oh, this is the coolest day of my life,’ and I follow this guy into the storage area. And he pulls down these like army lockers, footlockers like you see at the end of the bunks, and he pops his thing open. And in this are a bunch of white sweats, Boston Celtics sweats. And he goes, ‘OK, find yourself something that fits.’
And I’m digging through this footlocker of things, and half of them are yellowed and like moldy. I was envisioning these brand new, cool sweats, and I’m trying to find one that doesn’t have yellow around the edges. I’m thinking, ‘Wait, this is this is an NBA team, and this is a storage locker somebody would have up in an attic.’ But who knows who might have worn my sweats before me? It might have been somebody famous from years ago.”
Q: Everyone knows your basketball and volleyball credentials. But let’s say you heroically came out of retirement to play football for Mizzou: What position would you be and what would you bring to the team?
Kreklow: “I tell you what, in this day and age, at my stature at like 6-3, 6-4, 180 pounds, I think Truman might be something that I might excel at. But I did play football in high school for two years, until after my sophomore year. And my football story in high school is that I didn’t know a lot about what I was doing. So my sophomore year, our first day of practice, the coaches say ‘I need the backs over here, the ends over there, and I need the linemen over there.’ And I’m thinking, well, my dream was I always wanted to be a receiver. So I’m thinking that’s what they meant, like an end like catching passes. I had no idea that what I was signing up for was defensive end. I was still 6-3 but I weighed about 155. And I ended up playing my entire sophomore season of football as a defensive end.
So defensive end, but unfortunately I’m not 6-7 and 250. Maybe I could carry Coach Odom’s coil of wires on the sideline. I think I could help out there.”
Q: Did you have any coaching quirks or lines you would tell players that people don’t know about?
Kreklow: “The one thing that I always did — and I didn’t do it often — but over the years, and I don’t know when I even started this, but after big wins, either in the locker room or when we were huddled up on our home floor, I’d always walk out and I’d just yell out: ‘Sweet!’
That was always kind of when something really special happened or something that was really big. No one ever knew it because we were in the locker room or somewhere like that. It was always kind of a private thing with the team. It’s like when grandpa tries to say something cool and it just sounds funny to everyone else instead.”
Q: What do you find yourself missing most about coaching?
Kreklow: “This has been a really hard time for both Susan and I actually. We’re happy that we’re not in the grind every morning, waking up worried about ‘What kind of crowds are we going to have? What do we have to do? How’s recruiting going?’ It’s an incredibly stressful existence. But I think the thing that we’ve missed most, both Susan and I, is the daily interaction with our players. Because that was always for us the big enjoyment, being around our kids. And practice. I loved practice. I love the training. I loved the practice way more than the matches actually. Even as a player, I could do that forever, practice. Matches made me a nervous wreck. But I love practice and I love the planning.
And I love being around young people. When you’re the oldest person in the room, you end up feeling a lot younger than you really are. There’s energy. There’s passion, You’re around young people all the time. And I often have told my wife I can’t imagine what it would be like to go into an office every day for the last 20 years and just be in an office where you’re around people your own age all the time. And I think we were so incredibly lucky to spend our entire life around people a lot younger than us. Sometimes it’s aggravating, because young people sometimes do things that we don’t think are very smart or wise, but there’s energy and enthusiasm, and they’re just getting started. And we get to be around that every day, and it keeps you young at heart.”