CEDAR RAPIDS — Tom Lilly is a middle-aged man in what he calls “a young person’s game.”
“I think some people are under the impression that you have to be young and energetic to coach,” Lilly said Wednesday in the wake of the news that Dennis Roloff’s tenure as girls’ basketball coach had come to an end at Cedar Rapids Kennedy.
“There’s something to be said for wisdom and experience and the ability to change with the times.”
The landscape of girls’ basketball in Eastern Iowa has undergone a major shift in the past two days. Larry Niemeyer stepped down at Cedar Rapids Jefferson on Tuesday, then Roloff’s retirement was announced Wednesday at Kennedy.
“I admire those guys a lot,” said Cedar Rapids Washington coach Frank Howell. “I’m only 42 years old, and for a guy to coach for 52 years like Larry … you sort of put him on a pedestal.”
Niemeyer and Roloff combined for 75 years of service. Niemeyer, 74, was 871-352 in 52 years at Adel and Jefferson; Roloff was 314-165 in 21 years at Kennedy, and also coached two years at HLV.
Lilly, who turns 57 on Monday, is now the undisputed dean of Metro girls’ basketball coaches with 27 years of service. He has been successful to be sure, with three state championships. But he said there’s more to coaching than that.
“It’s an interesting concept that the measure of success is based on wins and losses,” he said. “I think you need to base success on how you’ve impacted kids.
“Unfortunately, society doesn’t care about who finishes in second place.”
B.J. Mayer coached Iowa City West to the Class 4A championship less than two weeks ago. He was saddened when informed about Roloff’s fate.
“Wow,” he said. “That’s going to take some time to digest.”
Mayer is 40. He doubts he’ll be coaching when he’s 60.
“I think the guys that coach when they’re 60 or 70 will become fewer and farther between,” he said. “In this business, you need a lot of time, effort and energy. And the older I get, the lesser of all of that I have.”
Gene Klinge is still going at Waukon. He’s the winningest coach in Iowa, with 986 wins. It’s a record that could stand for a very long time.