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I am very sorry to hear of your resignation. I am just a small-school high school coach that studies the game more than most. I know you are an unbelievable innovator in a time of no innovations in basketball. You are brilliant! You can tell me to go to hell, but I must know the real reason you resigned. You didn't give it much time to recruit your style of players. I am 12--1 using your offense! I hope you coach again, you have been very nice to me with your help. You can e-mail me or just leave me wondering. Best of luck in the future. I hope you coach again. Thank you.
IN DIAGRAMS the dribble-drive is represented by what coaches call a squiggle: a zigzag line with an arrow at the end. It's an apt symbol as well for Walberg, who's trying to move forward while whipsawing from one emotional extreme to the other. On the one hand, he's enjoying the ultimate in mainstream professional respect. The top teams in the NBA (the Celtics), college ( Memphis) and high school (St. Anthony) are running his stuff, and it's spreading like a benign virus through the sport he loves. Yet at the same time this is the most excruciating moment of his 30-year career. On Jan. 18, midway through his second season at Pepperdine, Walberg abruptly resigned.
Both he and Pepperdine athletic director John Watson insist that he wasn't forced out, but Walberg says his dream job on the majestic shores of Malibu had become untenable. After winning 92% of his games at Fresno City College, his rebuilding Waves teams had gone 14--35. But it wasn't just about the losing. Since the summer of 2006 Walberg had lost six players through transfers and one through expulsion, erasing the depth that his attacking style demands. Meanwhile, at least one parent—Terry Tucker, the father of two Pepperdine players—was unhappy about things Walberg had done in practice: making one player suck his thumb for acting like "a baby," calling another player "a p---y" and labeling another "a turnover midget."
Though Walberg apologized to the last player and Watson took no disciplinary action—he ruled that Walberg's actions were "inappropriate" but not abusive—the tension and the losses were a volatile mix. During the three weeks before his resignation, Walberg says, he slept no more than 2 1/2 hours on any night. Why wouldn't his players commit all the way like he had? "It just became really tough," Walberg says, struggling for words. "My wife and kids, we talked and talked. It was like a big part of my life was being taken out of me. I love coaching so much. You can't imagine not getting your players to buy in. They weren't bad kids, but I just couldn't get 'em over the line."
Those squiggles on the page are worth only so much, after all. Whatever you're running, you'd better have guys who can play. "If you believe in God, there's a reason for me to go through this," Walberg says. "What it is, I don't understand right now."
Walberg doesn't know what comes next. His friends say he was happiest at the high school and juco levels, where his teams won and the gyms were always filled. But he could also end up as an NBA assistant or perhaps join the Memphis staff. Walberg won't have trouble finding work. And for now, when he despairs, he can always flip on the TV and watch Calipari's team run the offense that he laid out in sugar packets on a restaurant table five seasons ago.
"No matter what, I'm super happy for John," Walberg says. "At least I know it works."