Coach Ros bids DeKalb farewell

By Jeff Kirik

On May 7, an optimistic Jim Rosborough will leave DeKalb, eager to begin his work as an assistant coach at the Arizona basketball program.

And although he is excited about his future, the former NIU head coach will leave behind 13 recruits, a three-year 28-56 record and a job that was only half-finished.

Like his three-year career at NIU, the past two months have had their highs and lows for Rosborough. After going 9-19 and 8-20 in his first two years at the university, Rosborough’s team finished the 1988-89 season by winning its last three games on its way to an 11-17 record.

The strong finish gave him a positive feeling about the season and about the seasons to come. However, Rosborough hit a low on March 8 when Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell told him that his contract as NIU’s coach would not be renewed.

After meeting with his players, Rosborough immediately set out to find another job. He eventually was given an assistant’s position under Arizona’s Lute Olson, whom Rosborough had worked with for nine years at the University of Iowa.

Despite knowing NIU broke a four-year verbal commitment it made with him when he was hired in 1986, Rosborough departs from the Midwest without bitterness.

“There aren’t sour grapes leaving here at all,” Rosborough said Wednesday. “I’m really thankful for the opportunity. It’s been a great learning experience.

“The very sad thing for me will be the fact that we won’t be in the close working relationship that we had been in, and that I won’t have the chance to finish what we started.”

The “we” Rosborough referred to was himself, his players and his coaching staff of Jon Mackey, Bill Harris and Robert Collins—each of whom will not have their NIU contracts renewed. Collins, the interim head coach, was hoping to follow Rosborough as the next NIU coach.

His win-loss record certainly didn’t shine, but Rosborough takes consolation in the fact that he spent his three years at NIU doing things “the way I think they should be done.”

“That may not be the way that other people think they should be done. I’ve tried to handle myself with class and represent the institution well. And if other people perceive that I’ve done that, so be it.”

e also takes pride in the student-athletes he and his assistants brought to the Huskie basketball program.

“We’ve recruited, I think, very good kids here—great kids,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed every single second with all of them since I’ve been here. And maybe the greatest testament to me as a head coach here is not my past won-lost record, but if these kids go out the next couple, three years and just have a whale of a year (each season).”

From the time Rosborough first arrived on campus, he said, a number of occurrences seem to have worked against him. One was NIU’s decision to leave the Mid-American Conference and become an independent. Another was the loss of star forward Kenny Battle to Lou Henson and Illinois. Later, there were incidents such as a lockerroom fight, players quitting, academic problems and a story in The Northern Star about an Iowa warrant out for the arrest of NIU player John Culbertson.

Rosborough asked not to be judged until he had recruited his players and shaped his team. Now, his first recruiting class, which featured players like Donnell Thomas, Stacy Arrington and Antwon Harmon, will start its junior year under a new coach.

When Rosborough was released, controversy began to stir as a result of NIU’s failure to uphold the four-year commitment a university screening committee had made with Rosborough in 1986.

“It was very clearly defined to me the time period that I had,” he said. “And it was even asked of me if that was enough time. To come in and think that you’re going to come here and recruit your own kids and everything in three years is a little bit unrealistic.”

Choosing not to speak publicly about his dismissal, Rosborough instead elected to let “other people do the talking for me.” Curt Norton, former NIU Athletic Board chairman, was one of those who stood up for Rosborough. He resigned from his board post, claiming he was “ashamed” and “embarrassed” about the actions of the athletic department.

And what does Rosborough have to say about his release and the commitment now? “The people in charge had to make a decision,” he said. “Now do I agree with them? That would be obvious.”

He said he has had little contact with his players since the firing and added, “I haven’t wanted to be in a position to influence them or cause them any problems. The day that I was released I told them that I wanted them to handle themselves with class and dignity and keep an open mind.”

Although he eventually wants to be a head coach again, Rosborough knows schools are not dazzled by a .333 career winning percentage. For now, he will be content to serve as an assistant under Olson, with whom Rosborough has “a very good relationship.” His responsibilities at Arizona will include game preparation, scouting and the monitoring of academics.

No longer a head coach, Rosborough will exit NIU not feeling defeated or dejected. Instead, he will go with the upbeat, positive attitude that he came to DeKalb with three years ago.

“I leave here with my head held very high,” he said. “We’ve accomplished an awful lot while we’ve been here.”