Sunday, October 24, 2004

Bezold living his dream as NKU basketball coach

By Shannon Russell
Enquirer staff writer

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS - Dave Bezold barked "Block out!" on the second day of Northern Kentucky University men's basketball practice, a red-roped whistle dangling from his right wrist as he paced in Regents Hall.

Satisfied with his players' progress, he gathered them close with a baritone "Nice work, fellas. Nice work." He spoke as the head coach, not the assistant he'd been to Ken Shields for 14 years.

Dave Bezold addresses his team after practice.
(Enquirer photo/SARAH CONARD)
It is exactly where Bezold - a Taylor Mill resident, Holy Cross High School graduate and basketball fanatic - has always wanted to be.

"It's my dream job," Bezold said, "because it's the opportunity to coach at the university in my hometown ... a place where as it grows, you feel like you're growing with it."

Bezold was named the fourth men's coach in Norse basketball history April 22. He succeeds 16-year NKU stalwart Shields, his friend, mentor and Northern Kentucky's winningest coach in high school and college basketball.

As the summer breeze fades into a fall chill, hoops season in Highland Heights is different this year. Practices start with defense instead of ending with it. Shirttails must be tucked in. Tardiness is inexcusable.

"Things are much more direct. Everyone is held accountable," said Sean Rowland, a fifth-year senior guard.

"But if you work very hard for Coach Beez, you're going to be rewarded."

The duty of improving last season's 16-15 record, the program's worst in 10 seasons, falls to the coach endorsed among four finalists by NKU players, Shields and the university. And now, with a lifetime of basketball to guide him, Bezold says he's ready for that challenge.

Following dad's footsteps

His story would have ended in 1984 had his father not interceded.


Think you know Dave Bezold? Take this quiz and see how you stack up against Northern Kentucky's newest men's basketball coach.

1. Dave Bezold's favorite movie:

a. Gladiator

b. Braveheart

c. Teenwolf

2. Favorite book:

a. Showtime: Inside the Lakers' Breakthrough Season by Pat Riley

b. Leading with the Heart: Coach K's Successful Strategies for Basketball, Business, and Life by Mike Krzyzewski and Donald T. Phillips

c. Michael Jordan: A Life Above the Rim by Robert Lipsyte

3. Favorite pro teams:

a. Indians, Browns, Cavaliers

b. A's, Raiders, Trail Blazers

c. Reds, Bengals, Celtics

4. Three (of many) role models in his life:

a. Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Tubby Smith

b. Robert Frost, Barbara Walters, Bob Huggins

c. Frida Kahlo, Jerry Springer, Bobby Knight

5. Favorite hobby:

a. Ping Pong

b. Fly fishing

c. Cornhole

Answers: 1. b, 2. a, 3. c, 4. a, 5. b

Tony Bezold was a biology teacher and Holy Cross's reserve basketball and varsity baseball coach; Trudy Bezold stayed home with six children. Dave, child No. 3, followed his dad to practices as soon as he could walk, then spent hours on the family's outdoor court, rain or shine. He played in ice skates when it snowed. "He was something else as far as basketball was concerned," Tony Bezold said. "He lived and died it."

High school was a four-year compilation of basketball and baseball letters. Instead of coaching him, Bezold's father accepted a position at Newport High School to watch him. Bezold still wonders what it would have been like, playing for his dad. But he and his father agree he was a tough teenager to deal with.

"I challenged a lot of authority. I would rather have been out dribbling and playing than doing my homework," Bezold said. "My dad knew I needed to go away and grow up."

Tony Bezold labored over college applications for a son who didn't, accepted a partial scholarship to Viterbo University in Wisconsin on his son's behalf, and sent that son 600 miles away with no car and no way home until Christmas.

"I thought, 'Well, you can't dilly-dally around.' If you have the opportunity, you need to take it," Tony Bezold said. "He couldn't make up his mind so I made it up for him."

After tears dried and homesickness passed, Bezold got to know Viterbo. He started to like it. He helped the V-Hawks to the NAIA national tournament, was elected team captain, and met his future wife, Lisa, the mother of his children Tyler, 7, and Abigail, 4.

A practical joker by nature, Lisa said his sense of humor helped him through uncertain times. He changed his major five times - an indication that his heart was with basketball, not a particular field, he said - so he stayed with the V-Hawks as a student assistant until 1990. He also drove a Coca-Cola truck and stocked shelves. It was the only way he could stay in basketball.

That year he came home with a business degree. He earned an education degree from Thomas More College in 1994 and his master's in education from NKU two years later.

"I was gearing up to be a high school coach, once I finished at Thomas More," said Bezold, who volunteered with NKU's men's program. "I decided to take a graduate assistant spot here. This became home."

Finding a niche

Bezold found an "in" with the NKU men's basketball team and seized it. Pat Ryan, his former Holy Cross basketball coach, was a Shields assistant. Shields had coached Ryan in high school.

Bezold became indispensable in recruiting and defensive coordination. He loved his job and loved the people he worked with, but he didn't love the part-time pay. NKU couldn't offer an assistant basketball coach a full-time salary for his first six years.

Bezold didn't want to leave and the school felt likewise, so in 1996 he was offered the head tennis coach position. It brought him up to a full salary. Problem was, he didn't know much about tennis. He didn't even know how to keep score.

Friend Angelle Hoskins taught him the game and by 2000 he led the Norse to two NCAA Division II tournament appearances, two Great Lakes Valley Conference championships, and was twice named GLVC Coach of the Year.

"A lot of basketball coaches wouldn't have done that," NKU athletic director Jane Meier said. "He took (tennis) very seriously and turned our program around."

He made an indelible mark on the basketball team, too, helping NKU to two Division II national runner-up seasons in 1996 and 1997. There was talk of him going to other schools, moving up the coaching chain, going from Division II to Division I. Bezold didn't want that.

"I've always operated under the idea that the grass isn't always greener. I couldn't have asked for a better person to be an assistant to than Coach Shields," Bezold said.

Three season ago Shields suffered back ailments and Bezold filled in as head coach for five games. For the first time he wasn't an assistant - "the guy that gives suggestions to the head coach" - but the guy calling the shots.

"There was a point when someone said we should take a timeout, and I was thinking, 'Yeah, we need a timeout,'" Bezold said. "Then I realized I was the one that needed to make the call."

Worth the wait

Was 14 years worth the wait? Definitely, Bezold said.

He's excited about prospects at NKU, from the long term - as the Norse contemplate a jump to Division I - and the short term, as NKU beefs up its preseason schedule with Division I University of Kentucky, Cincinnati and Ohio State.

His longevity with the program and no-nonsense approach are assets in a season that could have been a tough transition, fifth-year senior guard Mike Kelsey said.

"We know what to expect from Coach Beez and since we know him personally, it makes things a lot easier," Kelsey said.

If there's a tangible sign Bezold has arrived, it will be Dec. 22. The first 1,000 fans entering Regents Hall to see the Norse play UC-Clermont will get a Dave Bezold bobblehead. One that has "a whole head of hair," Bezold laughed.

Lisa Bezold said her husband considers this job a privilege, a chance to follow his heart. "He loves the game. I tell him all the time it's just in his blood."



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