GREG KAMPE: PASSIONATELY PURSUING THE TEAM SPORT OF LIFE

By Dave Barend

(This article was first published by CollegeInsider.)

Prior to my interview with Oakland University’s Coach Greg Kampe, College Insider provided a bit of instruction: Delve into how his team was a lock for the NCAAs until some of his best players unexpectedly and devastatingly transferred. Geesh, it seems like the subject of transfers might not be Coach Kampe’s favorite.

My guess is it would be easier to ask how he felt during his latest colonoscopy. Or maybe as an icebreaker I could start with, “Let’s talk about the day your dog ran away.”

Turns out I forgot another thing that College Insider mentioned – Greg Kampe is a great guy. Within minutes we formed a plan: Mix some intriguing ways to deal with the transfer issue within fun-filled facts about his life and times for a hopefully entertaining read. Here goes.

I learned that Greg Kampe cares about, well, what he cares about, and he cares about that quite passionately. Like important things such as – Dr. Pepper.

While heading to his team’s shoot around at Green Bay, he saw a pallet full of Dr. Pepper and reacted as if he just happened upon the Mona Lisa. Such a sight compelled him not only to take a picture but post it on Twitter so as to best share the apparently indescribable beauty. Who stops to photograph Dr. Pepper, other than maybe Mrs. Pepper? Coach Kampe, that’s who. Someone responded to his tweet by asking, “How’s the shoot around going?” He replied, “Don’t know.  I’m loading Dr. Pepper on the bus.”

Among the coach’s passions, you know, other than Dr. Pepper, are his family, friends, sports, school and, of course, his players. Then there’s the transfer issue. Yeah, he cares about that too.

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TRANSFER MESS SOLUTION #1 

Somewhat Serious Idea:

The school getting the player must pay a “buy out fee” to the school losing the player. Though Coach Kampe came up with this idea well before our interview, I swore to him I had the same exact thought. At no point did he say he’d like to share the credit.

Hopefully Humorous Idea:

Have every player who wants to transfer enter a tournament. America loves a good tournament. But it won’t be basketball It’ll be Hunger Games.

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Coach Kampe grew up in Defiance, Ohio, which he has quite proudly labeled, “the point guard capital of the world.” When pressed to defend that assertion he said, “You see, nobody in Defiance is over 6 foot tall. So it has to be the point guard capital of the world.” And there you have a passionate defense of his hometown with indisputable logic.

Another native of Defiance, Ohio is Jessicka Havok – a 6 foot, 240 pound professional female wrestler. I asked the coach what his strategy would be if he had to wrestle her. Without missing a beat he said, “Run.”

Back in high school, however, his answer would have been a little different. He excelled at and loved basketball, football, track and pretty much all sports. In fact it appears the only thing he was more passionate about than sports was himself.

“I wanted attention before it was vogue.  I used to wear a towel.”

“You’d wear a towel?”

“Yeah, I’d wear a towel.”

“What if the towel fell . . .?”

As I began that question I recalled another directive from College Insider – don’t write anything that could offend anyone. So I opted to stop. I’m sure you’d like to know the answer. And I’m even more sure that I don’t want to get fired.

I did attempt to bond by noting that I also ran track – long distance in high school, but the 400 in college. I explained that my coach moved me to the 400 to, well, substantially decrease chances that I’d get lapped. Kampe then informed me of his time in the 400 which led to a shock-induced silence. “Holy crap, I think you could have actually lapped me in the 400.”

“Nah.” he said, “But back then I did think I was Hercules.” And there you have the first time anyone has referred to themselves as Hercules and been modest.

He got recruited to play football, basketball and track by colleges such as Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame. Heck, Kentucky even recruited him to do the decathlon – and he had never even done the decathlon. All of a sudden every high school decathlete who never got recruited, now feels a little bit worse.

He chose Bowling Green because they’d let him play both football and basketball. Yes, that’s right he was Neon Deion before Deion Sanders. He was Bo Knows before Bo Jackson. Fame and fortune should have been his too. Oh, if only there was a decent word that rhymed with Greg.

One other little problem existed – he stood a mere 5 foot, 9 inches. While considering legitimate NFL free agent offers, he apparently looked in the mirror and decided to go another direction. (Note my deft decision not to revisit the towel issue.)

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TRANSFER SOLUTION #2

Somewhat Serious Idea:

Decrease the number of graduate transfers by not letting player red-shirt.

Hopefully Humorous Idea:

Decrease the number of graduate transfers by not letting players graduate.

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Kampe chose a path that required a new passion – others. Coaching in college he says, “is about turning 18-year-old boys to 23-year-old men.” I should clarify that he did not specifically reference Boyz II Men. But I still blame him for the three days that “MotownPhilly” ran through my head.

At the mere age of 28 he became the head coach at Oakland. And for a whopping 36 years he has thrown his heart into his mission as a “maker of men.” Though with three sons, he might consider ceding that title to his wife.

He recalled when one of his players got in a fight during a game they lost at Valparaiso. On the way home, the team stopped for dinner at a Hardees. (Not sure if that’s because they lost.) While in line, Coach Kampe explained to this player that he can’t act that way if he wants to be respected. Then the teenager behind the Hardee’s counter looked at the player and exclaimed, “Wow! Aren’t you the guy who just beat the crap out of someone on Valpo?”

He also had a player who had lost the love for basketball, and voluntarily gave up his scholarship. Weeks passed and Kampe convinced the player to just come back and practice with the team. And wouldn’t you know – the kid’s love for basketball returned, all because Coach Kampe didn’t give up on this yet-to-be-a-man. “Or maybe he realized that college is expensive”, the coach deadpanned.

But wait there’s more . . . Fast forward to the final seconds of the conference championship game, and this player has the ball in his hands. What the heck kind of a coach has a player leave the team and then even lets that guy back on the floor? A coach taking Oakland to its first NCAA Tournament, that’s who.

Yup, the shot went in. So I asked Coach Kampe, “When you close your eyes and think of that moment, what do you see?” The smiles on his players faces? Tears in the eyes of his family? “I see myself swearing at my manager who was running on the floor, preening for ESPN, with a second still on the damn clock.”

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TRANSFER SOLUTION #3

Somewhat Serious Solution: 

The transfer portal needs to be altered so that coaches are not finding out that a player wants to transfer while sitting on a beach drinking a nice Dr. Pepper.

Or, as Coach Kampe more succinctly put it, “Get rid of the damn transfer portal and go back to the way it was.” 

Hopefully Humorous Solution: 

Change the transfer portal to a transfer port-a-potty. Any kid who wants to transfer must enter a port-a-potty and stay there until another team picks him. Coach Kampe wanted it known that this idea was not his. And I want it known that this idea made him laugh.

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Kampe readily admits that not every coaching decision has been stellar. There may be evidence that his first year he got a technical or two. Or three or . . . “I think I had like 16.”

Then there’s the alleged incident at a school we’ll just call Nameless State. After OU fell behind by 6 at half, both teams discovered their abutting locker rooms were locked. This, by the way, would never happen at Oakland where Kampe knows all of the janitors. “It pays to know the guys with the keys.”

Anyway, the Nameless State’s coach decided to lambaste his own team for only being ahead by 6 against a team that stinks. Yes, all within arms length and earshot of everyone on Oakland. When finally inside the locker room, Kampe implored his players to go and kick Nameless State’s ass. Then he added, “And after you do – I’m going to kick that coach’s ass!”

Turns out his team managed to keep their end of the bargain. Kampe’s assistants tried hard to explain that this would be one of those situations where breaking a promise was ok. So when it came time to shake hands, Coach Kampe politely

pointed his finger at the coach and said, “If you ever . . .” Cut to black. What? Yup, the game tape stopped right about there.

Coach Kampe could neither confirm nor deny that he had a copy of the full tape. I guess this missing footage will simply go down in history with Zapruder and Nixon.

So has Coach Kampe’s passion sometimes gotten the best of him? Sure. But it seems as if he’s learned to achieve balance, so to speak, with another passion: about things he does not care. Huh? Yes, there are things about which he passionately does not care. The guy is a walking, talking paradox. Imagine being the poor fool who tries to write an article about him.

Now, for example, he passionately does not care about his appearance. Which has worked out fine for him since he has made not one but two lists of Sexiest Div1 Coaches. And both of those accolades came with a post-towel wearing physique. He maintains that his sexiness comes from his “roundness.”

“I have a well-rounded figure. I laugh. I shake.” That’s right, he believes he’s sexy like Santa.

If you are sensing a bit of a self-deprecating sense of humor in Coach Kampe, you are wrong. There’s a huge self-deprecating sense of humor in Coach Kampe.

“Before I became a coach, I pretty much had my way in life. Coaching is humbling.” So to recap, he went from a semi-selfish boy to a pretty selfless man. Huh, sounds a lot like a path he preaches. Ok, all together now, “Boy II Men are going off . . .”

Coach Kampe’s own transformation has led him to passionately not care about something else – what other people think. “You know, there are coaches who sit in their offices until 2 a.m. not because they need to but solely because they want other people to think they are. That’s not me.” Instead, he feels quite comfortable walking around every Wednesday at 2pm in red, orange and blue shoes. I should probably clarify that he does so in a bowling alley. “I love it and I suck.” Did I mention he’s a paradox?

He also no longer seeks attention, especially for the massive amount of charity work he does. “I really don’t tell people about that.” Until then I was nearly convinced that Coach Kampe knew I was a person.

A large amount of that charity work is for the American Cancer Society. He has a brother with cancer, and lost a good friend to it this past May. He says his desire to help “came from tears and love.” It also ties in with his motto of “Life is a team sport.” A motto everyone should adopt, except maybe a tollbooth worker.

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TRANSFER SOLUTION #4

Somewhat Serious Solution: 

Give the coach the opportunity to convince the kid to stay.  “Let me have the chance to explain that life is a team sport. The way the NCAA has it, I can’t do my job of turning these kids into men. I need show them that the grass is not always greener.” Coach Kampe did, however, concede that Erma Bombeck was right when she said that the grass is always greener – above a septic tank.

Hopefully Humorous Solution:

When a player transfers, hoping to find greener grass, they must reside at the new school above a septic tank. But before transferring, notice must be given to coaches, teammates and fans, who are also being abandoned. This notice will come in a packed area, and the very first words out of the player’s mouth must be, “I’ve decided to take my talents to  . . .”

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So that brings us to this year’s team. You know the one that was supposed to be incredible, until a bunch of players transferred. Coach says he’s not bitter, and I said I understand. At least I think I do.

I’m just going on a hunch here, but there’s a good chance that in a few years Coach Kampe is going to get a call from some of those players. And maybe just maybe they’ll say, “Hey Coach, I didn’t get it then, but now I do.” And I’d be willing to bet Coach Kampe says, “That’s ok kid, it took me a bit to get it too.”

What is abundantly clear is that he loves the players he has with a (come on, you’ve got this) – passion. Ten of them are brand new That’s a lot of guys who need to learn a new system. Most importantly, that’s a lot of guys who need to learn to love Dr. Pepper.

They are currently 8-15. That’s just one win short of the number the team had before its run to its first NCAA Tournament. You know, when a player who wasn’t even supposed to be on the floor made the game winning shot. Well this team has a whole bunch of players who weren’t even supposed to be on the team, let alone on the court. Yet the current odds of Oakland making the NCAAs are 4.6%. I’d say head to Caesar’s pronto before Vegas figures this out.

There is, however, a definite bright spot with this team, or more accurately with the managers. They are currently #16 in the country in college basketball managers team rankings. When asked how much credit he deserves for their success, Coach Kampe says, “All of it.” “Though they’ll claim they don’t even know my name.” Should they make it to the championship game, don’t count out the possibility of him running on the court with one second left.

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TRANSFER SOLUTION #5

Somewhat Serious Solution: 

“Adapt or die” says Coach Kampe and the door to his office He gives credit for this to Drexel Coach Zach Spiker. Though it seems very much like he’s going to try to treat the transfer mess like one other thing he passionately doesn’t care about.

Hopefully Humorous Idea: 

“Adapt or die” – yup same as above. But with some credit also going to Charles Darwin and the movie Heartbreak Ridge.

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When the great Al McGuire wanted to convey victory and happiness he’d reference his childhood in Rockaway Park and say “Seashells and Balloons.” So I asked Coach Kampe is there anything akin to that for you? “Nope – just Dr. Pepper.” I’m telling you, this guy cares about what he cares about, and he does so passionately.

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