OGDEN — Randy Rahe, the longtime Weber State basketball coach, tries to learn all he can about referees to augment his coaching chops — what they think, how they see things, or, for that matter, how they live, eat and breathe.
It helps that he sleeps and lives with a referee — his wife of 27 years, Laura.
That always raises eyebrows because coaches and referees are age-old adversaries, like cats and mice. Rahe has been a coach for 34 years; she’s been a referee for 28. It’s love and basketball. Basketball is what they talk about during their morning walk together. Basketball is what they talk about as soon as he walks in the door after practice.
“It starts and ends the day,” says Laura. “It’s what we do.”
He’s been the Weber State head coach for 14 seasons, compiling a record of 271-157. His teams have won five Big Sky Conference championships and advanced to the NCAA Tournament three times. She’s been a referee for almost three decades and these days primarily officiates women’s games in the Mountain West Conference. She’s worked NCAA Tournament games and Division II national tournaments.
Randy has his daily practices and two games a week, either home or away. Laura has two games a week, always on the road. They talk daily on the phone to compare notes about their games, among other things.
After mentioning that Laura referees his team’s preseason scrimmages, Randy says, “She’s a really good official. She knows the rules inside and out.”
After games, he discusses the calls made by officials that night with her.
“I’ll complain about a call and have her look at it (on video). She might say, ‘Nope, he got it right,’ or, ‘This guy got it wrong.’ She’ll explain why,” he says. “One thing she’s really done is help me see what officials are looking at. It’s educated me.”
She’s as devoted to her craft as any coach. When she returns from a weekend of officiating, she watches game tapes to assess her performance. Sometimes she will ask her husband’s opinion — “What did you see? Did I get this (call) right?” Says Randy, “She’s always trying to improve. She’s very dedicated. She takes it very seriously. She feels a responsibility to do a good job for these players and coaches. She also has a great way about her with coaches. Coaches can get crazy. She does a great job of talking to them.”
Laura was once a coach herself, and has taught the game in the university classroom. She was once a rising high school basketball coach and was offered a job as an assistant coach at Colorado State, but declined to pursue a master’s degree there, as well as a new career as a referee (more on that later).
She attends Weber State games when she is able, but usually she’s on the road and watches them on TV or via the internet. Most of her weekend games are on Saturday afternoon, so she streams the Weber games at airports or in hotel rooms. Once, she was driving to Boise to officiate a game and realized she wouldn’t get there in time to watch Weber’s game, so she stopped at a hotel in Twin Falls, watched the game and then drove the rest of the way.
“She’s coached, reffed and taught the game,” says Randy. “She understands basketball and what it takes, the time and energy. She gets it.”
Rahe frequently asks her opinion about his team. “She has a good feel,” he says. “She’s like a second mom to the team. She’s close to the players. She knows them. She’ll watch a game and see something. She might say, ‘This guy’s not doing what he’s supposed to do.’ Or, ‘You should think about this guy.’ And she’s almost always correct. Her opinion is not something I take lightly. Sometimes I might not want to hear it, but I listen anyway. She understands the game and the guys.”
Says Laura, “The difference between his view and mine is that I only get to watch the team (live) during the preseason and occasionally during the season. So when I see the team it’s with fresh eyes, and he’s open to feedback. It’s not so much he’s asking for advice; we just understand and support each other’s roles. I’m a sounding board.”
Once, after watching a preseason game from the stands, for instance, she told her husband that she thought one of his young reserve players really belonged in his top five. “Yeah, you might be right,” he replied.
The courtship between Randy and Laura started — where else? — at a basketball game, even though Laura wasn’t aware of it at the time. An assistant coach at Colorado College at the time, Randy was scouting a boys high school game in Basalt, Colorado, but arrived early, while the girls game was on the court.
“I thought, oh, gosh, the girls are playing,” he says, “but then I noticed her.” He spotted Laura on the sideline, coaching. “I thought, she looks pretty good,” he recalls. “And she coaches basketball. That’s a win-win.”
He continued to think about Laura while scouting the boys game and during the days that followed.
He took what he calls the coward’s way out and decided to write Laura a letter under the pretext of inquiring about one of her players. It was just an excuse to woo her, of course. “You don’t know me,” he began, and he noted that she had a tall player who might be recruitable and that he would give her name to the women’s coach at Colorado College. Then he got to the real matter at hand — By the way, if you’re free and you’re over this way we could meet some time.
She replied and thanked him for the letter before explaining that she was dating someone exclusively at the time. But she kept the letter. “He loved basketball, so I figured he’s probably not a creep,” she says. “And we had something in common. The letter was so endearing.”
A year later, having taken a new coaching job in Estes Park, she came across the letter. On a lark, she wrote to him again to say she was no longer in a relationship and would he like to get together? It took a month for the letter to find him — Randy had also changed jobs and the letter had to be forwarded from Colorado College to the University of Colorado. Not having received a response, she forgot about it until he called her one evening.
They realized they lived only 40 minutes apart, but it was basketball season and it would be two weeks before they could meet. Meanwhile, they talked every night on the phone for a couple of hours.
“He saved the most important recruit for last every night,” she says. “I knew we’d be friends for life. We had a connection.” They finally met and, and, she says, “we’ve been together ever since.”
“That proves I can recruit, right?” says Randy.
They continued to date and their careers continued to progress. He landed an assistant coaching job at Colorado State, and then she had an opportunity to take the same position at the same school with the women’s team. But with plans to marry soon, they thought two coaches in the family might be one too many.
“We thought if we were both coaching it might be hard on us,” says Randy. “I don’t think that was her passion anyway. She was always a teacher, an educator. That’s when she went to officiating.”
An officiating career facilitated a teaching career. She found teaching jobs wherever her husband’s career took her — Utah State, Utah and Weber State. She has taught basketball and health classes and supervised student teachers (she has an undergrad degree in biology and a master’s degree in physiology). She currently supervises three graduate students and two undergrad students.
“I love everything I do,” she says. “And when I’m doing it, that’s my favorite thing.”
When their two sons were arrived, Laura told Randy that raising children and officiating were too difficult to manage and announced she was going to quit, but Randy wouldn’t have it. “You’ll regret it,” he told her.
After talking about his wife and her full life as a referee, mother and teacher, he concludes, “She’s a remarkable woman, she really is, in so many ways.”
Says Laura, “He’s a kind man — and he’s pretty smart, too.”
Laura likes to watch basketball on TV occasionally and study videotape and talk about the game with her husband, but she notes that when work is done she is more likely to be helping with her son’s homework, going for a walk, reading or watching a documentary. “I love the game of basketball, but it is not my life,” she says. “We do love what we do. And we make each other better at our jobs.”