Overlooked amid the warm fuzzies about William and Mary’s three-game winning streak and late-season surge was the fact that Big Whistle Tony Shaver now has the most wins of any coach in program history.
The Tribe’s 74-62 win at Old Dominion last Saturday was No. 114 for Shaver, passing Bill Chambers. That more wasn’t made of the accomplishment speaks largely to the program’s modest history and expectations. It’s a little like being the best seafood joint in Omaha, Neb.
Note, too, that Shaver isn’t the winningest coach in W&M history, not with a .382 win percentage (115-186). George Balanis (.546), Bruce Parkhill (.543) and Chambers himself (.507) won more than they lost, albeit over shorter periods and in a different era of basketball.
Shaver’s 115 wins -- W&M also defeated Georgia State on Monday -- wouldn’t get him in the discussion at a handful of local schools. Blaine Taylor amassed 239 wins at Old Dominion, where four coaches won at least 120 games (Bud Metheny, Paul Webb and Jeff Capel).
Lou Campanelli’s teams at James Madison went 238-118 from 1972-85. Lefty Driesell’s teams there were 159-111 from 1988-97.
Dick Tarrant’s teams at Richmond won 239 games and had a .655 win percentage in 12 years. Five UR coaches amassed more than 115 wins, including current head man Chris Mooney. Jim Larranaga won 273 games in 14 years at George Mason.
Shaver’s teams had losing records six of his first nine seasons, and this year’s team is two games below .500. That said, it’s not an insignificant milestone.
“It means a lot, it really does,” Shaver said Tuesday on the CAA coaches’ weekly teleconference. “To be in the same sentence with a guy like Bill Chambers, who coached here and is so well respected by everybody associated with William and Mary, is a neat thing.
“I guess you can make the statistics say whatever you want to,” Shaver continued, “but one thing that I am proud of is that our staff – and I’ve had some neat coaches here to work with, and our players who have done all the winning – we’ve been persistent. We’ve persevered through good times and bad times. I am proud of that, to be honest with you. Not so much the highest number of wins, but the fact that as a group we’ve been persistent, pursuing improvement in our program. I think that’s a good quality to have.”
Indeed, Shaver’s mark is as much a testament to perseverance as success. He’s in his 10th year at William and Mary, and it would have been understandable five years into the gig if he simply threw up his hands and decided to be a forest ranger.
Remember that he built an outrageously successful program at Division III Hampden-Sydney, where he won three of every four games he played. His last 10 years at H-S, his teams won 82 percent of their games, were an NCAA tournament fixture and went to two D-III final fours.
He traded that for a chance to test himself at a higher level, at one of the most difficult jobs in Division I. W&M remains one of five traditional D-I programs never to make the NCAA tournament (trivia question: name the other four).
Remember, too, that Shaver found the sledding at W&M so difficult in an improving CAA that he radically altered his coaching style. His Hampden-Sydney teams were modeled after his college coach and mentor Dean Smith’s teams at North Carolina — pressing, running, playing 94 feet, average scores in the 80s.
Unable to match conference opponents athletically, Shaver and his staff re-tooled their system to more closely resemble that of John Beilein’s teams at West Virginia and now Michigan. The Tribe plays more deliberately and outside-in, relying on spacing and perimeter shooting to create driving and passing lanes. W&M runs judiciously and only of late has it had the athletes to be able to play a little more quickly.
The Tribe advanced to the CAA tournament final twice since 2008 and won 22 games in 2010, earning an NIT berth. Again, fairly modest accomplishments in the grand scheme, but almost worthy of a statue outside W&M Hall in Tribeland.
(Trivia answer: Northwestern, Army, The Citadel, St. Francis (N.Y.))
Shaver believes that the Tribe is closer to the kind of program he hoped to build when he arrived — one that can compete annually, rather than cyclically. But he was quick to point out that he believed last year’s team would be one of his best ever, before injuries and inconsistency led to a 6-26 nosedive.
“I think that took a lot of confidence out of our kids last year,” Shaver said. “I think to come back and play the way we are right now, I do feel good about where we stand.”
The Tribe returns four of five starters next season and brings in one of its best recruiting classes. And there’s still the remainder of this season. A depleted CAA and a seven-team tournament provide opportunity for a team suddenly playing well and with confidence.
Shaver said that you never know what tomorrow brings, and he’s well aware that the program’s margin for error is thinner than many others. If the Tribe becomes more consistent and he sticks around to reap the benefits, well, sometimes there’s nothing wrong with being the best place to get a piece of mahi mahi in Omaha.