Barmore bows out
Louisiana Tech coach's career ends with loss
Posted: Tuesday March 28, 2000 06:13 PM
For the first time in 18 years, Leon Barmore woke up on Tuesday not worrying about recruits, schedules, off-season conditioning, or next year. For the first time in 18 years, Barmore was not the coach of the Louisiana Tech women's basketball program.
"I'm scared to death," Barmore said. "This has been my life. It's all I've ever done. God gave me this gift and I tried to use it."
When Barmore first started at Ruston 23 years ago as Sonja Hogg's second in command, it was not a job he expected to keep for long. Coaching women's basketball was not a prestigious career and Barmore saw it only as a stepping stone to the men's coaching job.
"I was a high-school coach and the president at Tech said he wouldn't hire a high-school coach," Barmore recalled. "So I thought I'd take the women's job and it would make me a college coach and I'd show him."
When Barmore started, the women's game was not yet filling stadiums or attracting television cameras, a situation that changed quickly at Tech.
When the men's position opened up three years later, the president didn't want Barmore to move -- his women's teams were too successful, both on the court and at the box office. By the time it opened again, Barmore was no longer interested.
"I'm proud that we not only got to be popular, we stayed popular," Barmore said. "We have a steady base of 4,000 people who will come to see us no matter who we play. If we play Tennessee we fill the place, but that base of people will come regardless of who we play."
Barmore, who finished his career with a 520-77 record after the Techsters' 86-65 loss to Penn State in Monday's NCAA Regionals, is the winningest coach in the history of men's or woman's basketball with an .872 percentage. Considered the X's and 0's coach under Hogg, Barmore is also credited with a large part of the additional 150 victories Tech had then.
During his career, Barmore led Tech to 12 30-plus win seasons, including this year's 31-3 mark. He was the national coach of the year three times and the national coach of the decade in the 1980s.
But despite his record and his status as a pioneer of the game, Barmore never won the national respect he enjoyed in Ruston, La.
His intimidating, often abrasive presence during games, glares at officials, outspoken criticism of Tech's seedings in NCAA tournaments, and Tech's frequently lopsided victories irked some fellow coaches. But much of the hostility came from his being a man in a woman's game, many feel.
"I've heard that and it bothered me some," Barmore said. "But that was years ago. It doesn't bother me any more."
Winning at all costs isn't his motto, Barmore said, but winning certainly was.
"I'm proud that we won the way we did," Barmore said. "I'm proud that I took what I had and won in some places nobody though we could. And I've done that without cheating or comprising the program where I worked."
The very traits that built Barmore's legacy also earned some of the enmity of his fellow coaches, said Kim Mulkey-Robertson, Barmore's former player who is now an assistant coach.
"Nobody had his or her team more prepared for a game than Coach Barmore," she said. "And the other coaches know it."
With all he's won, Barmore has two regrets in leaving the game.
"The most dissatisfaction I feel is from five Final Four trips when we won only one title," said Barmore, who has been part of 10 Final Four trips as a coach or assistant. "That, and I really wish I could have coached an Olympics. Heck, I would have liked to go as the manager, the trainer, anything.
"But I feel a little better about that because the next Olympic coach is Nell Fortner. She was my assistant for six years, so that is kind of like being part of it."
Barmore isn't officially through at Tech until July 1. He plans to conduct his basketball camp this summer, and doesn't have plans he wants to discuss beyond that. He has not ruled out coaching again, however.
"Well, it's all I know to do," Barmore said. "I can't see myself anywhere but Ruston. But if I find out I can't handle retirement, I may have to. I really don't know what to expect yet. I know I get bored easily, so this is a scary thing for me."