Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Two weeks have passed since the college basketball season, and St. Thomas coach John Tauer is still kicking himself at how the year ended.
A passionate coach with high expectations for his program, Tauer is still left to wonder what might have been from a 30-2 season that ended in the NCAA Final Four. Mary Hardin-Baylor, which upset the No. 1-ranked Tommies in the national semifinals, lost to Amherst in the national championship on April 7.
Once the season ended, the awards and nominations started flowing in. Tauer was nominated for at least three national Coach of the Year awards, and recently found out he was named the Basketball Times Magazine Coach of the Year. Tauer was also nominated for the all-division John McClendon National Coach of the Year Award.
St. Thomas finished No. 4 in the final Division III national poll. The Tommies beat six ranked teams throughout the course of the season.
“It’s a nice award, but being national champions has a better ring to it,” said Tauer like only a coach would say. “Any award is a reflection of the team and being a finalist for the awards shows how well we played all year. It’s a reflection that our program is doing good things and doing it the right way.”
Tauer is the 10th St. Thomas coach to receive a national coach of the year award in the last 13 years. Football coach Glenn Caruso has received national accolades in each of the past two seasons, and Steve Fritz earned a national honor after leading St. Thomas to a national title in 2011 before retiring.
Tauer is 52-9 in two seasons with the Tommies. This was his first season running the program without the interim tag. He led St. Thomas to an NCAA Playoff berth and one victory in the tournament in the 2011-12 season, following Fritz’s retirement.
St. Thomas had its third 30-win season since 2009 this year and went to its second NCAA Final Four in three years. The Tommies ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in five statistical categories this season, on the way to a MIAC title and a deep playoff run. They led the nation both in scoring margin and in field goal percentage.
“We always talk about excellence in everything we do in our program, and that will never go away. We talk about getting better, and we have guys who are ready come and step in right away,” Tauer said. “We think we have a system that works and everyone buys into it. Our guys work as hard as anyone in the country.”
Tauer said the offseason consists of finishing up recruiting efforts, hosting summer basketball camps and finding a replacement for assistant coach Jim Hayes, who departed to be the head coach at Hamline. Tauer said there is no timetable on that decision.
An equally important piece to the program’s success is player accountability. Per NCAA rules, Tauer is not allowed to hold any practices or monitor any players until the start of the 2013-14 season. It’s on his returning players to organize captain’s practices and keep everyone fresh in the offseason.
“That’s where I feel like we have a pretty special program with a lot of great kids,” Tauer said. “I don’t have to worry about them playing on their own because they’re a dedicated group that wants to get better every day. It’s a blessing to coach a group like this.”
The Tommies graduate five seniors from the program in Will DeBerg, Tommy Hannon, John Nance, Noah Kaiser and Drew Mathews. They lose a bulk of their scoring, but bring back plenty of talent from a second unit that didn’t drop off at all when the regular starters needed a break.
St. Thomas also has a healthy incoming recruiting class, which Tauer cannot discuss until they’ve paid their admission fee and are officially enrolled into school. That’s according to Tauer and NCAA rules. The bottom line is Tauer has established a powerhouse over in St. Paul and it’s likely not going to change any time soon.
Teams and programs across the country have taken notice.
“Any time you’re recognized by your peers, it means a lot. Being in that conversation (Coach of the Year) is a huge honor,” Tauer said.
Tauer said end-of-season awards were handed out recently at the team’s banquet. All honors were voted on by the players. DeBerg and Hannon were voted team co-MVPs. Nance was selected “Mr. Defense,” Kaiser earned the “Play Hard” award, Eric Tengwall earned the “Play Smart” award and Mathews earned the “Play Together” award.
Next season presents an interesting combination for Tauer. He knows what he’s doing is working and plenty of accolades come with it, but he’s still hungry for his players and his program to take the next step and get to the top level.