This is part three in a four-part Weber State basketball offseason series.(tncms-asset)44716864-68bf-11ea-b8ae-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)(tncms-asset)a953ecaa-6993-11ea-ba81-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
OGDEN — In the lower hallways of the Dee Events Center, Randy Rahe stewed.
He was low on upperclassmen to begin with, and two of them had just gone down with serious injuries in the final minute of Weber State’s conference opener. So, taking a moment before continuing a postgame interview in late December, Rahe visually and verbally released some steam.
If Rahe’s tenure and job security are supposed to make him content or complacent, he doesn’t seem to have received that memo.
“I become more passionate every year that I do it,” WSU’s men’s basketball coach told the Standard-Examiner. “I attack it like I have something to prove.”
Last season’s 12-20 record is a low-water mark of his tenure, one that brings Rahe mixed feelings: his team never gave up but could never get over the hump.
“I think you can see that with the pieces we had and what we looked like when players were feeling good, we could play with anybody,” he said. “But a lot of these things that happened were out of our control and that’s the frustrating thing. As a coach ... when things get out of your control, that’s when frustration hits you because you see what you could be, but yet, for reasons out of your hands, you don’t get to see what you could be.
“So you’ve got to keep everything in perspective,” Rahe continued. “My expectations are so high every single year. But this year, injuries made it so we knew it would be a struggle. I struggled with it for a long time because my expectations never change. But you also have to figure out, once adversity hits, what can we do to get this team better — what the next step is from where you are, just take what you have and try to mold that team into the best it can be.”
With 278 career wins, Rahe long ago became the coach with the most career wins in Weber State and Big Sky Conference history — but his last league title and NCAA Tournament appearance is getting smaller in the rear-view mirror. So, entering his 15th season at the helm of the program, Rahe again embarks on a philosophy shift.
“That’s part of coaching. You coach long enough, you’ll face a number of scenarios. But all that does is motivate me more to, OK, this is what we’ve got to do for next year to play at the top of our league. This jolts you a little bit, for sure. And I think it makes you a better coach,” he said. “I’m always trying to fix things. In the offseason, I’m constantly studying — how do we want to play, what fits our players. I’m a studyholic in the offseason.
“When you have the things we dealt with this year, I think it’s helped me. And I need to become better. Every day, I think about how I can get better.”
At the end of the Damian Lillard era, Rahe sought outside help to analyze his program and his team’s playing style from renowned stat guru Ken Pomeroy. His top observation to Rahe: you allow teams to shoot too many 3-pointers.
Rahe implemented a new defensive philosophy and scheme, and Weber instantly went from near the bottom-third in 3-pointers allowed as a percentage of total field goal attempts, to first nationally in one offseason. Since then, WSU has averaged being the 12th best team nationally in that defensive metric.
Ahead of the 2018-19 season, Rahe cut against his Stew Morrill coaching tree and implemented a purely motion offense with an emphasis on pushing tempo on makes and misses. While it produced the second-most points per game in his tenure, Rahe felt it created other deficiencies and shifted back to a set-heavy offense with some motion principles last season.
Now, the philosophy shift is in recruiting. For a long time, coaches like Rahe have avoided recruiting large numbers of junior college and transfer players because in some cases, that represented a risk of taking in the wrong kinds of teammates or taking on off-the-court baggage.
But the landscape has changed drastically in the space of the last three to four years, and Rahe is jumping head first into the transfer market to remake his roster in one offseason.
WSU and Northern Arizona had the fewest number of upperclassmen (seniors and juniors) last season with four in the rotation, while more than half the teams in the conference had at least eight upperclassmen on their rosters. So Rahe is hoping to go from the least-experienced team in the Big Sky to one of the oldest.
Rahe’s Midwestern rasp takes on an enthusiastic timbre when he talks about the tall recruiting task he and his coaching staff are undertaking this spring.
“I love what I’m doing. I love coaching kids, seeing them have success,” said Rahe, who turns 60 this summer. “The older I get — eventually, there’s going to be an end. I can’t see that end, I don’t want it to end, because I can do this for a long time. But you know it’s coming, so you always want to put your best foot forward every year.
“I can’t do this until I’m 80, I’m not going to. But you start to see eventually you won’t do it forever. So I get a little more passionate, more hungry, more energized each year.”