In autumn of life, Roger Reid feels blessed caring for the love of his life
Former BYU basketball coach and two-time WAC coach of the year spends his days caring for his wife Diane, who suffers from Alzheimer’s
The morning breaks and another day greets Roger Reid in his home in Spanish Fork.
His agenda is simple yet complicated. He is a caregiver to his wife and sweetheart Diane.
Roger Reid is an energetic, outgoing passionate man. In seven full years as BYU’s head basketball coach in the 1990s, his 152-76 record and .667 win percentage was the best in school history for any basketball coach who had worked more than two years. He led BYU to three WAC titles, five NCAA Tournament appearances and one NIT. His players graduated, they went on missions. And they won.
But today, his career on the sidelines in the high-stakes, emotional arena that is college basketball seems like eons ago.
The brief respites he takes away are short and quick because he needs to be by his wife’s side. If he can get Diane out for lunch, let her see the beautiful mountains, and take in the fresh air and enjoy in the scenery, he’s done well.
In a far more fair world, Roger, 74, and Diane, 75, would spend the autumn of their senior years traveling around the world, seeing marvelous wonders of both nature and mankind. They’d be using their retirement mining greater levels of enjoyment from their 15 grandchildren, and the life they’d worked all their lives for.
It would be a kinder, more invigorating season for both of them. But like so many other older couples who see a spouse encounter Alzheimer’s, plans change, directions get readjusted and dreams become something else.
For Diane, it started about three years ago when she had trouble remembering recipes. Once the valedictorian of her senior class at Spanish Fork High, Diane earned a college degree and worked as a first-grade teacher in the Nebo School District, building relationships with generations of kids who loved her wit, kindness, humility and spirit.
Now, Diane keeps repeating herself. She asks the same question over and over again. At first, Roger would get a little exasperated and tell her, “Hey, you just asked that just a minute ago.” But he could see the look in her eyes that she didn’t understand. He quickly learned to just answer and respond again and again to the inquiries.
Thankfully, Diane still recognizes all her family and grandkids, who are basketball players, elite dancers, play the piano and do gymnastics. They are the love of Roger and Diane’s lives.
A humble privilege
Sitting in a Spanish Fork barbecue restaurant recently, explaining his life today, Roger pauses. He bows his head. Tears start to flow. He is humbled to the core describing what a privilege it is serving Diane, repaying a debt he says he will never balance.
“I am so blessed and lucky to get to do this,” he says. “She spent the last 55 years following me all over. She put up with me being on the road all the time. She was an angel having to put up with me. She put up with all the negatives. She was always so positive and gave me great advice.
“She always supported me and had my back. She put up with the highs and lows of being a coach’s wife. It was Diane who took our kids to baseball and basketball games, recitals, school activities, helped with homework and got the kids to do their chores. She was always there for me and I love her so much, I have a hard time describing it.”
Reid composes himself and tries to explain as best he can how he’s handling things.
His first reaction to the question of coping is that what he is doing is nothing. Then he admits, some of it is hard. “It’s hard, but I can do this because she did so much for me. I’ve sat in hair salons. When your wife doesn’t have a driver’s license, you become her driver. I didn’t realize all the little things a woman does, things I took for granted.
“First of all, I never expected this at this time in my life. Here is a brilliant lady, a smart woman and now this. Let me say this, I have learned so much more about love, compassion, patience and kindness.”
A different kind of coaching
Reid compares what he has had to do the past few years at home to when his job was to teach young men to overcome adversity, to pick themselves up after a loss, to find the energy and stamina to work harder when they cross tough bridges.
“I coached tough guys constantly about overcoming tribulations, how to combat fear and disappointment and compete. I talked to high school kids about life’s lessons.
“Before every practice, I used to gather all the players around the jump circle and we’d chant, ‘Every day, in every way, I’m getting better.’ And we’d say it again.”
Reid uses that mantra daily.
“I feel wonderful. I feel terrific. I feel great. I have a beautiful wife who loves me. I have learned to have great empathy for others. You know there are 3 million people a year that get Alzheimer’s. I have sympathy for what they are going through. If it wasn’t for my faith, the what and where I am in my life, well, my faith really carries me, knowing where we will be together as husband and wife.”
If it wasn’t for my faith, the what and where I am in my life, well, my faith really carries me, knowing where we will be together as husband and wife.” — Roger Reid
Roger admits he’s no cook. His caregiving does involve his commitment 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “I can scramble eggs, but no, I don’t cook. We eat out a lot. I buy some stuff that’s easy to put together for dinner, something simple.”
While Diane remembers her family, she struggles to have conversations.
“This kind of hit us right out of the blue. We never expected it. We had plans, a life we wanted, things we wanted to do.”
But he praises his neighbors and friends who have been supportive. “It hasn’t just been lip service. They’ve ministered to us. And my sons (Randy, Robbie, Darren) and daughter (Kelli) have been amazing in helping out and supporting us. I can’t say enough about their devotion to their mother and to me.”
Reid continues to struggle with his own health. All his joints are bone on bone. He’s lived with arthritis most of his life and had surgery on both ankles, has had a knee replacement and hip replacement surgery on both hips twice. One of his ankles was fused. He is in constant pain and his nights are spent trying to find a comfortable spot on his bed that doesn’t make something hurt.
‘Grateful to begin each day’
But he refuses to describe himself as someone to feel sorry about. “A lot of people have pain and hurt a lot more than I do. I try and ride my bike every morning and get some exercise. I’m just excited about life and grateful to begin each day.”
His oldest, Randy, lives in northern Utah County not even 15 minutes away from his brother Robbie and the Reids’ only daughter, Kelli.
Randy and Robbie both graduated from Harvard Business School and have worked in financial planning and investments. Darren, who graduated from Ohio State Law School, is a partner in Holland and Hart Law and was just called to be his ward’s bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Kelli has five children.
Roger says his grandchildren do a little bit of everything, including dance, gymnastics, baseball and basketball. He and Diane support all of them with pride.
Randy’s son Duncan, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, just finished his senior year at Sky Ridge High in Lehi where he set multiple scoring records, including a 43-point game against Lone Peak. Duncan started all four years in high school, was All-State three straight years and is committed to Southern Utah, which offered him as a ninth-grader. He will serve a two-year mission first.
“Dunk’n Duncan is fun to watch and he can really shoot,” said the proud grandpa.
Reid is one of the only major college coaches to establish a winning record on the late Rick Majerus. Once passionate foes, Reid and Majerus became very close friends after Reid left BYU.
Reid, an assistant under Frank Arnold and Ladell Andersen at BYU for 11 years, was known for his emphasis on execution, defense and efficient scoring.
Still engaged in the game
Asked what he thought of the job BYU’s current coach Mark Pope is doing, Reid said he had an eye on Pope early, during his first head coaching job at Utah Valley University. Some things, he said, just stood out with Pope.
“Dick Motta used to say you can walk into a gym and right after the ball is tossed up in the jump circle, you can tell which team is coached. Well, (Mark) Pope’s team is coached. He is enthusiastic and passionate. He cares about his players and it shows because players buy into his system.” — Roger Reid
“When I watch a ballgame, I’m analyzing the demeanor of a coach, what he’s doing, how players react to the coach and what they do in critical situations. My old coach, Dick Motta, taught me so many things and he was far ahead of the game back in his day and a key was to being prepared.
“When you are playing a good team, it boils down to the last two minutes. That’s where you win and lose games. If you are playing a bad team, the 38 other minutes might not matter but the final two usually do, how you execute, who shoots the ball when, and where.
“Even out-of-bounds plays can make the difference in a game. I made a new out-of-bounds play every week. We had out-of-bounds plays we only used for special occasions, and some we never used but had, so the opponent couldn’t prepare for it.
“When I watched Mark’s teams play I was really impressed with what he’s doing, the way his players respond and how he gets them to play hard on both ends of the court. He also has unique inbounds plays to score.”
Reid was impressed in how Pope is teaching the basics like who to block out, how screens are set, the energy used to attack the boards and rebound and crisp passing.
“Dick Motta used to say you can walk into a gym and right after the ball is tossed up in the jump circle, you can tell which team is coached. Well, Pope’s team is coached. He is enthusiastic and passionate. He cares about his players and it shows because players buy into his system.”
When replacing Dave Rose, Reid said athletic director Tom Holmoe visited with him and asked of all the things required of a coach at BYU, which of the candidates did he think would fit that demand.
Reid said it was Pope, no question.
In the course of a short lunch and chat, Reid reminisces about wins and losses, coaching strategies, and big shots. He talks about opponents like Air Force and how important it was to beat the Falcons because not all the WAC teams did. He relives the dagger bomb his son Robbie made at Utah as a freshman, the halfcourt bucket by Kevin Nixon to beat UTEP in the WAC Tournament in Fort Collins, Colorado, and a breakdown of his grandson Duncan’s game.
He talks about off-the-record things, views, memories, situations, personalities. He exudes passion for everything in his life, even a rare round of golf, which he enjoys at Gladstan Golf Course in Payson and thanks head professional Tracy Zobell for letting Diane ride with him for a round through the foothills and canyon course.
But, just like that, he’s back to talking about Diane, the love of his life. His job in life to be her caretaker. It’s an assist he’s willing to give.
As he climbs back into his maroon F-150 truck to drive away, he waves and smiles.
The break is over, it’s just another day.