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Brad Rock: Rahe keeps racking up wins

Weber State basketball coach Randy Rahe yells during a game against BYU at the Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. BYU won, 73-68.
Weber State basketball coach Randy Rahe yells during a game against BYU at the Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. BYU won, 73-68.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Randy Rahe doesn’t talk the talk. Asked about his place among Weber State basketball coaches, he modestly says when hired he was “probably not the most qualified.”

“I got really lucky,” he says.

Regarding his 137 conference wins — the most in Big Sky Conference history — he says his players and staff “make me look a whole lot smarter than I am.”

But when it comes to walking the walk, he’s all over it.

Going into Thursday’s quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament as the No. 1 seed, the Wildcats are seeking their third title in 10 years. In that time, Rahe’s teams have won the regular season five times. He has coached six conference MVPs, including Joel Bolomboy this year.

With the Big Sky being a single-bid league, winning the regular season is nice, but claiming the tournament championship is paramount.

“When you win the regular season, you wish they didn’t have a tournament,” Rahe says. “But if you don’t win, you want it. Right now I wish they didn’t have one.”

Rahe entered this season on the verge of setting the conference wins record, then passed it in February like a downhill skier. With 205 overall victories, he is tied with Neil McCarthy for most in WSU history and third among Big Sky coaches.

Rahe is just the latest iteration of great coaches at Weber. For some reason, the school attracts stars the way sugar attracts kids. Dick Motta gave way to Phil Johnson. Later came McCarthy and Ron Abegglen. Rahe arrived a decade ago, following Joe Cravens, who logged five winning seasons before his fortunes reversed.

As good as Weber’s legacy is, it’s not like recruiting was ever easy. Larry Farmer found that out in his three-year stay as Weber’s coach. He had just been fired at UCLA when Weber came calling.

Farmer showed up in Ogden, but none of his UCLA-level recruits followed. He went 34-54 before getting fired.

Rahe, though, beat the recruiting odds by landing Damian Lillard, who went on to become an All-America, and later NBA Rookie of the Year. But Bolomboy didn’t play basketball until junior high. He arrived at Weber, as Rahe puts it, “like a newborn colt, kind of wobbly.”

“I’d be lying if I said I knew he’d be this good,” Rahe says.

Rahe would also be lying if he said he knew his coaching record would be this good (205-112 overall). But he should have suspected it. WSU has been a laboratory for great coaching talent. Motta and Johnson went on to be NBA coaches of the year. McCarthy and Abegglen won eight conference championships between them. Abegglen twice led his team into the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“When I took the job 10 years ago,” Rahe says, “it was intimidating.”

Now his record is up with any of them. Among Big Sky coaches, he trails only Boise State’s Bobby Dye and Montana State’s Mick Durham on the overall wins list. Rahe credits much of his success to former Utah State coach Stew Morrill, who hired him at Colorado State, then brought him along to Utah State, where they worked together for six seasons.

“Stew said stay where you know you can be successful and happy,” Rahe says. “So far it’s worked out.”

Rahe has had offers at bigger programs but says Weber is a great job in a pleasant place.

“We’re never going to take a job just for the money,” he says.

That doesn’t mean he’s going to relax and enjoy his success in Ogden anytime soon. He says some days he wants to get in a room with Morrill and former Jazz coaches Frank Layden, Jerry Sloan and Tom Nissalke and talk basketball strategy all day. As it is, he goes straight to recruiting after postseason play. In June he works on “putting the team back together” and follows by watching film and attending clinics the rest of the summer.

“So there’s really no time,” he says, “to let your guard down.”

It’s better to keep your dukes up.

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