The women’s basketball team is off to a fresh start after an abysmal 2013-2014 season, and the man leading the charge is new acting head coach Bobby McGraw.
The title ‘acting head coach’ comes with both it’s benefits and struggles, as it does not guarantee job security for McGraw after his first season.
After former head coach Tanya Longo stepped down from her post, Slippery Rock athletic director, Paul Leuken, called McGraw into his office and offered him the temporary position.
“It took about one hundredth of a second to tell Mr. Leuken yes,” McGraw said. “I am so fortunate to be sitting in this position. I understand that it is a one year deal. My assistant coach (Ryenn Micaletti) and I have a job until May 31. We have one year to take this program in the right direction or we are going to be unemployed.”
McGraw, who recruited Micaletti from Indiana University (PA) to be his assistant for this season, swears he will do anything in his power to make sure that the both of them will still be in charge of the program next season.
“Every day I wake up and I know I can’t let Ryenn go unemployed,” McGraw said. “It’s a burden knowing that every day, but at the end of the day our players win games, and our team chemistry is unbelievable chemistry and we are going to win some big games.”
McGraw’s journey to the position he has with Slippery Rock is a long and unusual, but nonetheless sensational.
Having graduated from Mars High School in 1990, and joined the basketball team at Butler County Community College (BC3) in 1991.
It was at BC3 where McGraw met one of his biggest mentors in college basketball, head coach Dick Hartung.
Hartung, who is still the head coach of the men’s basketball team at BC3, showed McGraw how much fun he had coaching college basketball, and McGraw decided he wanted to be just like him.
After one year at Butler County Community College, McGraw transferred to Clarion University to play for the Golden Eagles.
At Clarion, McGraw had the privilege to play with the greatest scorer in PSAC men’s basketball history, Kwame Morton.
After one season with Clarion, McGraw cut his playing career short and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.
“The four years I spent in the Marines were the best four years of my life,” McGraw said. “I would do it again in a heartbeat. To wake up every morning and your defending national security, there’s really no better feeling.”
When his father passed unexpectedly, McGraw decided it was time to leave the Marine Corps and come home to support his family.
Still not having a college degree, McGraw attended Methodist where he became a student-assistant coach.
It was at Methodist where he discovered his true passion for coaching.After graduation, McGraw thought he had walked away from basketball for good, and he became a police officer at the Butler Barracks.
As an officer, McGraw specialized in child sex offense cases. When people ask him how difficult it is as a coach to have difficult discussions with players, and shrugs it off because it doesn’t compare to the difficult times he had as a Pennsylvania state trooper. After 16 years, McGraw made the decision to return to coaching basketball.
He briefly volunteered with high school teams, but was soon offered to a position as a volunteer assistant at La Roche College. McGraw joined the staff under former La Roach head coach Scott Lang in 2010 for one of the most memorable seasons in Division III college basketball history.
On Dec. 10, 2010, Coach Lang, 41, passed unexpectedly during a basketball practice, players and coaching staff surrounding him.
“Scott was my biggest hero,” McGraw said. “In high school I mimicked him as much as possible, whether it was the way I wore my jersey or the way presented myself in school, it was all about him. I looked at him as if he were my big brother.”
The team, who was 7-1 at the time of his passing, rallied for an amazing run of 16 straight wins, drawing the attention of ESPN who covered the story, and USA Today who wrote a featured article.
La Roche finished the year 25-3, winning their conference title and making a serious run in the NCAA Division III tournament.
“It was something very special our players would never forget, and one I certainly would never forget,” McGraw said.
McGraw stayed with La Roche for one more season after their run, but Rock men’s head coach Kevin Reynolds convinced him to join his staff at SRU as a volunteer assistant.
“I’ve never learned more about the game of basketball from any one else more than Coach Reynolds,” McGraw said. “As far as the schematics and theory of the game, I’ve never learned more from someone else.”
Heading into the 2013-2014, Rock women’s coach Tanya Longo offered McGraw the full time assistant coaching position with the SRU women’s team.
Though the offer was enticing, McGraw originally rejected the offer.
“I had never coached women before,” McGraw said. “I know my personality and I have big loud booming voice, and I just wasn’t sure how that could translate.”
After discussing further with family and friends, McGraw finally decided to accept Longo’s offer.
He joined the staff last year, and is now sitting as the acting head coach of the program.
“The players are so fun to be around and so fun to coach,” McGraw said. “No matter how loud or intense I am, I realized women want to be coached too. I have so much fun coaching these girls, and am truly blessed to be here.”