By DAVE HANNEMAN
Steve Williman’s first win as a varsity basketball coach came against Liberty-Benton.
But it’s the 516 wins he earned coaching the Eagles, not against them, that will some day earn him a spot in the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.
Williman, architect of one of Ohio’s most successful basketball programs, has announced that he is stepping down after 28 seasons as Liberty-Benton’s head coach. He leaves with a 551-208 record, one of 20 or fewer Ohio boys prep basketball coaches to ever attain as many as 550 career wins.
“It wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction. This is something that has come into play over the last few years,” Williman said Tuesday. “It’s always difficult to walk away from something you’ve done your entire life. I have enjoyed every minute of it, but I just felt it was time for me to give it up, time for our program to have a different face.”
Liberty-Benton had 15 20-win seasons under Williman, including a 27-0 team that capped the 1994-95 season by winning the Division IV state championship. The only blemish on the 26-1 record of the 2006-07 team was a 50-45 loss to North College Hill in the Division III state championship.
Williman guided L-B to 16 Blanchard Valley Conference championships, 23 sectional titles and nine trips to the regional tournament.
The Associated Press tabbed Williman as Ohio’s Division III Coach of the Year in 2007, and the National Federation Coaches Association named him Ohio Coach of the year in 2000.
The Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association singled Williman out for its Bob Arnzen Award in 2006, and the prestigious Paul Walker Awards in 2012.
Williman says if he could, his wouldn’t be the only name on the many plaques and awards that adorn the walls of his office.
“Anybody who has been in the business and done this knows you don’t do it alone,” Williman said.
Williman was a junior high and junior varsity coach at Liberty-Benton while he was finishing up his degree at the University of Findlay. He then returned to his alma mater as Old Fort’s head coach for the 1980-81 season.
Williman admits the future was not bright.
“The year before I got there, their varsity was 2-19, their JV didn’t win a game and their freshmen went 2-12,” Williman said.
Old Fort started that season 0-11, then broke its losing streak, ironically, by beating Liberty-Benton.
Williman’s first team finished 3-18, his second 6-16 and his third 13-8.
Williman then left high school coaching, serving as a graduate assistant under John Weinert at Bowling Green State University. That lasted one season.
“I found out college (coaching) was not the direction I wanted to go,” he said.
Galion hired him as its head coach in 1984, but after 5-17 and 8-13 seasons, Williman was searching for something else.
“I was looking for a different type of situation,” Williman said. “I was looking for a final place to finish my coaching career, a place where I would enjoy teaching, coaching and raising a family. And Liberty-Benton turned out to be a great place for me to do that. It’s been a great decision for me and my family.”
Williman knew he faced a major rebuilding task at Liberty-Benton, which had just four winning records and one .500 season in the 30 years since opening its doors in 1956.
Williman’s first team went 9-12 and his second, after a 10-10 regular season, got hot at tournament time, won the school’s first-ever sectional and district championships, reached the regional and finished 14-11.
Williman’s third team finished 9-13, though, his fourth was 7-14 and some nagging doubts began to creep in.
“In today’s world, who knows if a school hangs onto a coach who goes 7-14 his fourth year (at a school),” Williman said.
“Lack of success early in my career made me question my career choice. But it also gave me an appreciation for winning later on.”
Liberty-Benton stuck with Williman, and the rest is history.
The young team that went 7-14 in 1989-90 went 21-3 a year later, beginning sizzling six-year stretch that saw the program go 131-14 overall, claim five BVC titles and win a state championship. Only one season since has the program won fewer than 15 games.
At some point, though, Williman knew he’d have to hang up his whistle.
“The seasons are very long and demanding and it can be a grind,” Williman said. “I’ll miss the practice and the daily interaction with the players and coaches. I’ll miss the excitement of the games, but not necessarily the anxiety associated with it.
“God has been very good to me. I’ve been blessed to experience things a lot of coaches don’t get the opportunity t experience. I take with me a lifetime of special memories.
“It was just time.”
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