Tough act for Redhawks' Roman

Saturday, January 31, 2009
KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com
Southeast Missouri State coach Zac Roman looks down following a bad play by the Redhawks Thursday, January 29, 2009, against Jacksonville State at the Show Me Center.

Not even 11 consecutive losses can deter Zac Roman.

The acting coach for the Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team still plans to apply to have the acting tag removed when this season ends.

"Yes, I will apply," Roman said. "We've worked our butts off recruiting for this school. We would love a chance. We know we could get it turned around. I have no doubt in my mind.

"I think this place is a gold mine, especially in this conference, with our facilities, the community. This is my second year. We don't want to leave. It's a great place to live, a great place to start your family."

It's been a tumultuous year for the Redhawks men's basketball program, starting with the university placing former coach Scott Edgar on administrative leave Oct. 9. Roman was named acting coach Oct. 16. Even though the team is 3-19 overall and 0-11 in the Ohio Valley Conference, Roman doesn't regret agreeing to guide the team down this bumpy road.

"No matter what, something good's going to come out of this for my staff, for myself and for our players," he said after making clear he had no regrets. "This has been a learning experience for everybody.

"Every day I'm very, very happy and fortunate that I got the opportunity to be the acting head coach."

Roman, 40, has played his cards right from a public relations standpoint since he took over. He's worked hard to ingratiate himself with Redhawks fans with programs like Chalk Talk after women's games and before men's games at the Show Me Center. He invites fans to meet with him or a member of his staff to discuss that night's opponent and other issues surrounding the team.

Nine fans showed up Thursday to meet with assistant coach Tommy Suitts, who offered an honest assessment of the team's recent play and some of the players' strengths and weaknesses.

It's a great idea and one that the next men's basketball coach should embrace.

Another point in Roman's favor is his attitude. He's always been gracious with his time and offers intelligent analysis. Some coaches rely on tired cliches, but not Roman.

He conducts himself with dignity on the sideline, spending most of the game in a crouch watching the action. He doesn't stare down officials or flail around like a crazy man.

The problem for Roman is that the wins haven't been there. The main reason is because of the hand he's been dealt. He's only had seven scholarship players available for about the last month, and finally had eight available Thursday, but Israel Kirk only played five minutes.

Roman couldn't threaten to bench a player if he wanted to because he has no bench. A combination of injuries, bad recruiting decisions and transfers have ravaged the Redhawks' lineup, leaving Roman with a roster that's visibly tired. After Thursday's game, junior Calvin Williams said he was tired from playing so many minutes, and it wasn't clear if he was talking about the game or the season.

"It's a chess match," Roman said of juggling his roster. "There's a lot of things that go into it every day that you have to watch. You can't get on these guys too much. You don't want them to completely bail. It's a fine line there. I feel like I can tell when I'm pushing a little too hard and I have to pull back."

And of those eight scholarship players for the Redhawks, Roman and his two assistants, Suitts and Rodney Hamilton, recruited one player on the current roster. It's a big change from the last time Roman served as an acting coach, at Johnson County Community College, a Division II junior college in Kansas.

"I don't want this to sound negative, but every kid that I coached on that team was my recruit," he said. "I had a personal relationship with their families. So it's a little bit different when you take over a team with one kid on this team that I personally recruited, LaMont Russell. He's the only kid on this team that any of this staff recruited. Everybody else was recruited by someone else."

That's a tough situation because the current players didn't come to Southeast thinking they'd play for Roman, and the coach didn't have a hand in shaping the makeup of the team.

If universities hired men's basketball coaches based on nice guys and connecting with fans, I'd place money on the acting tag being removed from his title. But everyone knows wins are what matter, and they've been too tough to come by this season. It's too bad Roman likely won't get a chance to show if he can win with his own pieces.

Kevin Winters Morriss is the sports editor of the Southeast Missourian. You can reach him at: kmorriss@semissourian.com

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