MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It would be an understatement to say that John Tauer landed his dream job when offered the men’s basketball coaching job at the University of St. Thomas on April 20.
“I wanted to take it before they had a chance to change their mind,” Tauer said.
After spending 12 years as an assistant to his mentor and current boss, Steve Fritz, the opportunity came after Fritz retired from coaching in 2011 following the Tommies’ run to a national title. Tauer was the interim coach for the 2011-12 season, one where St. Thomas won the MIAC regular season title, MIAC tournament title and a first round NCAA Tournament game.
The Tommies’ season ended with a loss to UW-Whitewater, this year’s eventual national champion, in the second round. What followed was a short time of uncertainty. Would Tauer have his interim label removed? Would the university go a different direction?
He says he never treated the season or his job any differently than if he already was the head coach.
“I looked at this like it was a job I wanted and I was going to take it. I wasn’t going to have a packed-up office because it was what we expected,” Tauer said.
Fritz said he had more than 70 coaches apply for the job at St. Thomas. That field was narrowed down to a select few who came on campus for an interview, a crop that included Tauer. Fritz said once the interview process was over, they knew who their guy was.
“I think he was the heir apparent for a long time. You have to take a look at all the options out there, but he’s the best candidate for us,” Fritz said. “John did a great job of being prepared as if he was a candidate from the outside. He took nothing for granted.”
It doesn’t hurt when you overcome the adversity Tauer faced last season. Four starters from a national title team graduated, then his star center, Tommy Hannon, went down early with a season-ending knee injury. Hannon recently learned he was granted an extra season of eligibility through a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA, similar to what Trevor Mbakwe from the Gophers was granted.
It gives Hannon one more year with the squad and Tauer arguably his best player back from last season.
Immediately after Tauer was offered and accepted the job, he sent text messages to his current players about a news conference for the announcement. He said some of them wanted to skip class to celebrate the decision, but advised them otherwise.
Tauer also played for Fritz at St. Thomas during his collegiate years, and came back to the school after college to be a professor of psychology. Basketball is in his blood, and there’s no place he feels more comfortable than on the St. Thomas bench.
He said having a successful year helped him feel like it was the right move to make if it came his way.
“Part of it is a reflection on the kids too. We went into the season with a target on our back. Coming off a national title, nobody felt sorry for us when our star got hurt,” Tauer said.
In theory, there will be virtually no transition needed for Tauer as the program’s leader as he’s already had a year to go through that. What’s clear is that the program now has a coach who wants to be there just as much as it wants him.
It’s a recipe for success that you simply just don’t find everywhere. Tauer said he’s thrilled to stay at the school he loves, working in the community he knows and coaching the kids he’s established a relationship with.
“I think it’s both exciting and a relief to get the search over with. I feel fortunate to have my dream job,” Tauer said.
Fritz said he knows he’s left the program in good hands, and it should stay that way for a long time.