Sometime around 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, my final day as the Daily Egyptian sports editor (again!) I was finally able to get former SIU men's basketball head coach Rodney Watson on the phone.
I expected an assistant or a secretary, instead, it was Coach Watson on the horn. When I had heard about longtime Saluki assistant accepting the head coaching job at Division II powerhouse Southern Indiana, I shot him a congratulatory text as I was unable to get to my office phone in between the time I found out about the news and the time his introductory press conference started.
So, of course our conversation started with a little bit of some good-natured ribbing.
"You've gotta pick up the phone next time and call," Watson said with a laugh.
And that's when I really realized I would miss Rodney Watson.
Known as The Dean of Missouri Valley Assistants, Watson spent 21 years as a Saluki assistant under the likes of Rich Herrin, Bruce Weber, Matt Painter and Chris Lowery. To say he was a pillar of the program is an understatement. He coached 11 MVC championship teams, nine NCAA Tourney squads and 15 teams that participated in postseason play.
He coached talented Valley stars such as Troy Hudson, Ashraf Amaya, Kent Williams, Darren Brooks and Jamaal Tatum.
Watson was not only a tireless recruiter as he was equally as tireless as a coach.
Did you ever have a good teacher who actually taught you things that were applicable to life, not just regurgitating textbook jibber-jabber? That was Watson.
Better yet, did you ever learn from that teacher? I mean, actually learn ... not just sponge information until finals week was over.
Coach Watson was the kind of teacher that taught until you learned. And believe me, you learned from Rodney Watson.
I'll never forget when Coach Watson allowed me to watch his scout as he broke down an upcoming opponent. And what I saw at that practice was exactly how it played out in the game. It was like deja vu all over again. It was prophetic. It was Coach Watson at his best.
Off the court, Watson was just as good. He introduced himself to me early in the basketball season as he said I came "well recommended" from his friend Paul Povse, who happened to be one of my journalism professors.
One practice before SIU traveled to New York City to play Duke, I was story hunting as I got players' thoughts on their upcoming trek. That's when Coach Watson came up to me and suggested I talked to first year assistant Lance Irvin, who played at Madison Square Garden once upon a time.
"I'm just trying to give you a scoop, brother," Watson said.
I heeded his call and interviewed Coach Irvin. Jackpot! Another perspective on a historic trip.
After the season, the DE sports page needed an additional story and I had wanted to write something about how weird it was for the SIU men's basketball team to not be in postseason play. I had remembered that Coach Watson said I could call him anytime.
He was in the weight room at the Trout-Wittman Center and stepped away just to give me a few minutes on the phone. He explained the offseason workout plan, who was working hard, who would benefit ... he broke it down. Then he would go on to break down the NCAA Tournament for me.
I'm selfish for not wanting Watson to go. If anyone deserved a head coaching job, it was him. Thankfully, he won't be going too far as he will be in Evansville, Ind., Chris Lowery's home town.
As we parted ways on the phone, Watson asked me about my job status and had told him I was about to accept a position at the Harrisburg Daily Register. He congratulated me and said if I ever needed anything, I could call.
Then he said it again, making sure I understood that anytime I needed anything I could call him.
And if there is one thing I learned from my time covering Saluki basketball, it was that if it came out of Rodney Watson's mouth, you could believe it.
Of course, I appreciate it ... and will likely take advantage of it. I don't think Coach Watson will mind one bit.
Au Revoir, My Dear Watson: Long-time Saluki assistant gets his big break [Daily Egyptian]
The Dean Is Done As Rodney Watson Finally Gets The Call [Daily Egyptian]