All coaches are not the same.
Bob Huggins certainly differs from John Beilein. Dana Holgorsen is nothing like Don Nehlen.
And then there is John Reis.
You’ve never heard of him. Of that I am sure.
Probably never would have heard of him had not Oliver Luck brought back golf to West Virginia University the other day, which kindled a spark of a memory of a man who once was a golf coach, a golf coach unlike any other coach you’ve ever heard of.
Let us begin with just who John Reis is and how he came to be a coach.
A jock he wasn’t. His career was as a broker at Seasongood and Mayer Investment Securities in Cincinnati. As such, he was extremely well qualified.
Not as a golf coach.
He wasn’t even a good player.
He retired from the investment world before he reached 50, went into owning and managing properties, only to find that he disliked greatly midnight calls that someone’s toilet was overflowing.
Then one day he gets a call from that tells him a guy named Don Neihaus had resigned from his position as golf coach at Northern Kentucky University — yes, that one, the school that beat WVU in an exhibition basketball game.
The caller was one of the player’s mother who knew Reis from the brokerage business. She asked if he would be interested in the job.
Why not, he thought. He interviewed and got the job.
Not because he knew anything about the golf swing.
“The salary was $2,000 … a year. I told them if they’d like me to do the job I’d donate the salary back to the school. I got the job and they told me the thing that clinched it was that I would donate my salary back,” he said recently.
So now he’s a coach.
“I had no experience. I came out of the brokerage business,” he said.
So he started off unorthodox and he added to that because, he would admit, “I hate rules.”
At NKU he did pretty well.
“I was there three years and two of those years we were the highest ranked northern or eastern school in the country,” he said. “We went to the national championship every year. I had a kid, Tom Walters, who is head professional at Wyoming Golf Club in Cincinnati.
“He went there after being down at Isleworth with Tiger forever,” Reis said.
Yes, that Tiger.
After three years Cincinnati called and hired him.
By now he knew exactly what he wanted to do as a golf coach, and winning matches was only a very small part of it.
“Simply, John’s philosophy was that he would try to provide each of us with an experience,” said Brad Wilder, one of Reis’ former players who now holds a responsible position at Fifth-Third Bank in Cincinnati and is one of the areas top amateur golfers.
“I think it was different than some college coaches in that they would go to different tournaments because they included teams they had to beat, teams in the same conference and it would help make it to regionals.
“We never made regionals, and I think there were some years we were close, but instead of going to tournaments that would help get us in, we would go to places that were fun. That was his philosophy.”
“We had fun,” Reis said. “We went to Hawaii; we went to Bermuda; we traveled very well. I spent a lot of my money on the team so we could get to really good tournaments.”
Indeed, Reis didn’t donate his $16,000 a year salary at Cincinnati, the golf coaching job being considered part time, but he used his money to help pay for the travel.
And the trips were more than just golf.
“The format at a tournament is that Sunday is a practice round, 36 holes on Monday, 18 holes on Tuesday and you fly home Tuesday night,” Wilder said. “We would always fly on Saturday and that would give us an extra day.
“If we were in a city where there was an NFL game, we play a practice round on Saturday instead of Sunday and go to the NFL game on Sunday. We didn’t do things by the book and, as a result, all of us had unbelievable experiences … way better than other people.
“And it wasn’t that we couldn’t play golf. Jim Herman is on the PGA Tour and he played with us. All the rest of us, though, never really thought we were going to play beyond the PGA tour. Me maybe, but soon after I got to college I realized I wouldn’t. As far as growing up and having an experience, we did that through golf.”
It was a fun time. Reis’ rule was that his players could drink, but they had to do it in front of him and not sneak out or sneak it into their rooms. He understood that 21-year-old college kids would drink, so he felt that was the answer.
And they would go into casinos together. He even taught them how to shoot craps, learning the only hard 8 isn’t a triple bogey.
Is this wrong? Probably, but you think they don’t gamble? USA Today recently published a story on a survey the NCAA did on gambling among college athletes.
Want to know who gambles most?
The story read:
“According to the NCAA’s data, 21.3 percent of male college golfers in Division I admitted to gambling on sports at least once a month, a rate more than double any other sport. That number is up from 14.4 percent in the 2004 survey and stands in contrast to other sports where the numbers have either decreased or remained stagnant. By comparison, 5.9 percent of Division I men’s basketball players and 4.6 percent of football players admitted to gambling on sports at least once per month.”
Reis copied the story and sent it to his former players with the note, “We were ahead of our time.”
Reis lasted five years at Cincinnati, leaving under pressure from athletic director Bob Goins, with whom he never got along, much as Huggins left under pressure from President Nancy Zimpher.
And what was Reis’ effect on his players? Did he make them better as human beings?
Did he make you a better person?
“Oh, my gosh, without a doubt,” Wilder said. “He got me involved in the financial field.
“I would not be where I am today without him. And forget the technical side of business. He got me addicted to travel and seeing the world, and that’s something that has become really important to me, my wife and our kids. I grew up so much in those four years by seeing the world; it made me realize how important it was and that my kids were going to get to see the world, too.”
Today Reis still travels in connection with golf as a rules official for the USGA and as executive director of the Cincinnati Golf Association.
The man who hates rules now lives by them.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.
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