Joe Legerski had a big smile on his face when he thought back that whirlwind of a day on May 1, 2003, when officially became the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Wyoming, his alma mater.
“When I got the job at Wyoming my wife asked me if we could win enough (games) to get another contract,” said Legerski.
He has answered that – and then some – on the court.
With the Cowboys 64-52 victory against Boise State on Saturday afternoon, Legerski celebrated his 300th win as the Cowboys’ head coach. Impressive? Well, that 300th win (his 150th in the Mountain West Conference) came amid his 16th year on the job, and accounting for 43 per cent of the all-time wins in Cowgirls history. Put it this way, the five coaches who preceded him as the Cowgirls’ coach combined for 391 wins, but it took them 30 years.
Legerski was born to be a coach. After graduating from Wyoming, he immediately became the assistant boys’ basketball coach at his alma mater, Rock Springs High school, and spent five years in that role because a three-year term as the girls’ head coach at Rock Springs High.
Then came a year as the women’s head coach at Western Wyoming College, a prelude to him serving as an assistant at Wyoming (1987-91) and Utah (1992-2003) before taking the Cowgirls head coach job.
And here he is, 16 years later, still going strong.
Who’d have thunk it?
Certainly not Legerski.
“When I decided to coach, I thought I would teach and coach for 20 years at the high school level and then retire,” said Legerski. “That’s the era I grew up in. Swede Erickson was at Casper College forever. Lou Roney at (Cheyenne) Central. Ken Rochlitz at Western Wyoming and Powell Junior College. There wasn’t a lot of movement.
“Guess I’m old school. My page is Wyoming and Utah. That’s it (at the college level).”
That’s certainly fine with the folks in Wyoming. Not only has he won 300 games, but he has taken the Cowgirls to the WNIT seven times, winning the WNIT championship in March of 2007, and took them to their only NCAA appearance the next season.
The Cowgirls are headed to their 13th winning record in his 16 years on the job.
And he has made it clear to the players that there’s a classroom aspect to going to college. There are players who he won’t allow to practice on certain days because of their classroom load.
“I tell them that the class is going to have a bigger impact on their post-college life,” he said.
And it is an attitude that has paid off. The Cowgirls are successful on and off the court. In the first semester of this school year, the Cowgirls had a composite 3.76 GPA, and six of the players on the team had a 4.0.
“Not only is he a great coach, but he’s a great person,” said senior forward Bailee Cotton, who underwent major knee surgeries who first two years at Wyoming but stayed with the program and has become a critical factor in the recent success. “He cares about all of us personally. Everything we do off court as well as on, and he does for us, just brings our team close. We’ve been so tight the last couple of years.”
Marta Gomez is a perfect example of the trust the players have in Legerski. The native of Spain started for the Cowboys as a freshman, and the next two years she found herself being selected the Mountain West Sixth Player Award both years. Moved back into the starting lineup in her senior year, Gomez has never uttered a negative word about her path to becoming the most critical player on the Cowgirls this year.
“I am happy for him,” said Gomez. “I think he earned it. He is a really good coach. He should keep working and get more wins.”
Legerski shows no signs of slowing day, at least not yet.
Afterall, he’s only his in 16th year at Wyoming, which is accomplishment in the ever-changing world of college basketball.
“I’m just old school,” he said.