Interview Conducted 10/15/2008
Rich Zvosec was called into the UMKC Athletic Director’s office on March 13, 2007. He was fired. On his birthday.
ZVOSEC: “As I look back, it was the best thing to ever happen to me. It gives me a great story.”
“I leave with the highest winning percentage in UMKC history, If he had brought me back, I probably would have screwed that up.”
“It also gave me the opportunity to really go into some areas that I probably wouldn’t have done.”
Zvosec, who compiled an 84-91 record in his six seasons at UMKC has now branched into many other fields.
His firing coincided with the creation of the Big Ten Network, where he became an analyst for games. For the 2008-09 season, he will provide color commentary for Big 12 basketball games on the ESPN family of networks.
He also works a motivational speaker, and one of his talks can be found on his official website: Coach Z: Drink, Swear, Steal and Lie Your Way to Success.
ZVOSEC: “The irony is I always play the chief of the Secret Service, or an FBI agent, or a detective. It’s always been something of an authoritative figure.”
Zvosec intends to act in more films.
ZVOSEC: “I’ve got an agent in Los Angeles who has got me some auditions and we’ll see what happens.”
Zvosec has also written a book entitled Birds, Dogs, and Kangaroos: Life on the Backstreets of College Basketball which will hit stores in late October.
The title of the first chapter? “Happy Birthday, You’re Fired.”
ZVOSEC: “Never having coached at the highest level, it’s a low major perspective on things.”
“[The book] is 25 years of chasing a dream. Coaches will enjoy it, especially guys who have coached at the non-BCS level, because they can identify with a lot of the things I went through: driving the van, driving the bus, and doing the laundry, though I’m not sure any of them had their game uniforms stolen off their bus before a game.”
“People who are non-coaches and the general public will enjoy it because it’s about someone trying to get to the top. I hope people will walk away from it with a big grin on their face. Hopefully, they’ll find it funny.”
“Some of the stories are touching, some stories are humorous, some not so humorous. It also deals with relationships with kids I’ve had over the years and where they ended up.”
Zvosec’s head coaching career began in 1988. Bob Valvano left his position as Head Coach at St. Francis (NY) to take a job in Sweden.
Valvano first offered the job to a former assistant.
ZVOSEC: “Believe it or not, he was a high school teacher in Long Island and it would have been a big pay cut to take the St. Francis job.”
Zvosec, who was an assistant coach at Loyola College of Baltimore and a good friend of Bob Valvano, received the job offer and accepted it.
He was just 27 years old and the youngest Division I coach in the country. By his third year, Zvosec guided St. Francis to their first winning season since 1969.
In those three years, Zvosec and his wife had a child, and he found it increasing difficult to support his family with the high cost of living in New York City.
ZVOSEC: “You know how the priests are. They take the vow of poverty and they make you live in it. So it was time to move after our third year.”
In 1990, he accepted the head coaching position at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Fla, then an NAIA program. He left in 1996 after he realized that the athletic department did not seem to have a pressing interest in moving to Division I. His .391 winning percentage remains the highest of any coach in the school’s history.
After a one year stint as head coach at Division II Millersburg University from 1997-98, Zvosec accepted an assistant position at St. Peter’s College. In 2000, he took the assistant job at UMKC.
One year later, he received the Head Coaching position at UMKC when Dean Demopoulos was hired as an assistant coach for the Seattle Supersonics.
Zvosec’s nomadic coaching career has led to some great stories for his book.
He shared two humorous recruiting experiences from his book as an exclusive to Basketball Interview Challenge:
ZVOSEC: “My first recruiting trip was at Atlantic Christian College, now Barton College. I go to meet a parent and her son in Roanoke, Va. I am so nervous. I am waiting for the home visit. I’m sitting there and there’s a bowl of peanuts on the table. I eat them like they are going out of style, because I’m so nervous.”
“About halfway through the bowl, his mother stops me and says, ‘Coach, his grandmother only likes to eat the chocolate coating on the peanuts’.”
Zvosec told another anecdote from his time at St. Francis recruiting a prep star named Chuckie Martin, (Now Chuck Martin, Head Coach of the Marist College Red Foxes).
ZVOSEC: “Chuckie lived in the shadow of Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. When I went to visit him, it was strange. I knew his mother didn’t speak good English and his father didn’t speak much better English.”
“His mother was sitting on the windowsill staring out the window. I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Am I that bad? Is she not interested?'”
“I said, ‘Chuckie, does your mom not care?'”
“He says, ‘No, she’s watching your car to make sure it’s not stolen.'”
“The best part of it is, his father comes in, a good guy, a blue-collar guy. Chuckie had great parents and you could understand why he was such a good guy.”
“His father comes home from work sipping a Budweiser and offers me a beer. It’s like ‘Oh, no. I’m trying to set a good example and not try to drink alcohol’. 20 minutes into it, I could see the only one paying a lot of attention to me was Chuckie.”
“When his father offered me a beer again, I took it. It was one of the best home visits I ever had.”
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