By his own admission, Stan Joplin was making a relaxing transition into retirement.
The former University of Toledo player and coach had spent the better part of 40 years in basketball — mostly in college — but found himself in “cruise control” in his role as an assistant principal at Southview High School.
No longer chasing recruits all around the Midwest or tied down to high-school practices, the 60-year-old Joplin discovered a new commodity: Free time.
Joplin could visit longtime friend Tom Izzo at Michigan State, park in his recliner to watch his coaching buddies on TV, or head to Bowling Green to watch Demajeo Wiggins, whom he coached at Springfield High School.
It was difficult to completely rid himself of the coaching bug, he said.
But he was close.
Stan Joplin won more than 200 games as the University of Toledo's head coach, which ranks second in school history.
“No doubt, I was headed in that direction,” Joplin said, smiling. “Big time.”
Then Jim Huss’ phone rang Sept. 4. The Cougars’ director of athletics saw then-coach Bob Simon had called and didn’t think much of it — at least until Simon called again.
When Huss answered the phone, Simon, who was hired earlier in the year after Bruce Smith retired, told him he had accepted a college job as an assistant at the University of Maine and had to resign immediately.
With the school year already started — and virtually every prospective candidate already under contract — Huss found himself in a jam.
“Then panic set in,” Huss said. “Here we are in September, and we don’t have a coach.”
Joplin, as far as he was concerned, was done coaching high school, and a district policy that bars administrators from being coaches was just fine with him.
During the Cougars’ volleyball match the next day, Joplin went to count money from a fund-raiser for Hurricane Harvey victims, and principal Kasey Vens went with him. Vens said the school had an idea for the coaching search.
Joplin rattled off everyone in the area he could think of who had head-coaching experience, only to be informed the school was looking at an in-house candidate.
“He said, ‘Well, we’re thinking about the former head coach at the University of Toledo,’” said Joplin, who led the Rockets from 1996-2008. “I said, ‘Oh, gosh.’”
For Southview, the decision took little deliberation. The Cougars needed a coach, and the school just happened to employ an assistant principal who has more than 200 Division I wins to his name.
For Joplin, the circumstances felt right. He had the knowledge, the time, and the desire to help.
After a night to think about it, Joplin said yes.
“The only thing I know is basketball. I don’t know anything else because I’ve been doing this for so long,” Joplin said. “And I still like the practices, and I enjoy being around our kids. It keeps me young.”
Given the time crunch of the opening, the Sylvania Schools board of education later voted to give Joplin special permission to coach this season.
Southview improved to 11-1 after beating Maumee on Thursday, and it has won all six of its Northern Lakes League games by double digits.
There was an adjustment period for the Cougars and Joplin, who occasionally will jump into graduate-level basketball only to catch himself and realize his players are teenagers.
But Joplin’s background is appreciated by a Cougars team with big expectations.
“It feels like we’re learning the stuff that a college player learns, so I think that gives an advantage over most high schoolers,” senior Zech Miller said.
Mr. Joplin the assistant principal is firm but jovial, and he’s routinely joking with the students.
Coach Joplin, however, has no reservations about expressing his feelings for a careless pass or lackadaisical defense.
“I kind of like it when he gets into us and starts yelling at us,” Miller said. “It might frustrate us at times, but we know it’s helping us get better. Everyone respects all the knowledge he has and just feeds off of his energy.”
As it stands today, Joplin’s return to high school basketball is on a one-year term, but Huss said he hopes it can be longer. Joplin said he and the Southview leadership will meet after this season about the 2018-19 school year and beyond, then make a decision. For now, the longtime UT coach is enjoying his return to the game.
Joplin’s coaching friends teased him that he eventually would be back on the bench for Southview, which he flatly rejected even into September. He was done with high school coaching, he said.
And then he wasn’t.
Joplin received more than a few “I told you so” phone calls, but dove back into the world of sweeping floors, creating bus schedules, and heading home in the dark, only to rise a few hours later and do it again.
After three years away, Joplin didn’t envision an impromptu return to high school coaching.
Thirty-six chaotic hours changed plans, and the fit made too much sense to say no.
“I just happened to be at the right place at the right time,” Joplin said. “The community and the school system have really taken care of me and my family, and it was a great opportunity to give a little bit back.”
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