Now that he’s accomplished a rarefied sporting feat, Colby College men’s basketball coach Dick Whitmore is more than happy to put the hype behind him and get back to business.
“For sure because at some level, I think it was creating extra strain for the players and that’s something we don’t want,” said Whitmore, who notched the 600th win over his collegiate coaching career last Saturday.
Not that becoming only the seventh NCAA Division III coach and 52nd NCAA men’s coach overall to win 600 games is trivial to the Waterville icon, it’s just that Whitmore’s White Mules have entered conference play and are heading into the home stretch of a successful 10-4 season, and he’d like to devote his full attention to try to make it even more successful.
“I just think when you’re so busy and involved in coaching, you never think of things like that,” said the six-time Maine College Coach of the Year. “I think the titles and big wins were more meaningful, but it’s a moment I realized was going to happen on Saturday and it was extremely emotional.”
The ironies were abundant as Whitmore improved his overall career record to 600-318 at a home game in Wadsworth Gymnasium against traditional foe Bowdoin College (65-55) — which also happens to be Whitmore’s alma mater — and it was the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) opener for both teams.
“All the factors seemed to come into play and it was a very, very meaningful thing for me,” admitted Whitmore, who earned a degree in classics from Bowdoin in 1965. “There was such an explosion at the end and a huge emotional rush.
“I don’t know when I finally left the court, but I know I didn’t want to.”
Whitmore, who ranks seventh all-time among NCAA Div. III coaches and fifth among active coaches in wins, said the win has made him relive memories from a career spanning four decades.
“There are so many competing emotions, it’s hard to say how I feel, really, but it has certainly made me reflect upon all the players I coached and all the people who have been involved with the program either helping or coaching,” he said.
Whitmore was hired by former University of Maine and Husson College baseball coach, and then-Colby athletic director John Winkin in 1970 after Whitmore taught and coached basketball at Hallowell High School (1965-68) and Morse High School of Bath (1968-70).
Almost 40 years later, he and Winkin are fellow Maine Sports Hall of Fame inductees and coaching legends in their respective sports.
“John and I just spent 45 minutes together, as we do most every day and to be mentioned in that company is unbelievable to me,” Whitmore said.
For now, Whitmore is just glad to have the milestone behind him and for the exhalation it’s offered after all the buildup.
“Yes, exactly. That’s a good way of putting it,” he said.
The fiery Whitmore has sometimes put on a better show on the sidelines or even on the court than his team. He even threw a shoe after becoming exasperated at a call in Bangor against Husson College several years ago.
“That’s been a huge part of coaching for me is the passion,” he said. “When the players are playing with passion, how can I coach without it?”
The husband of Mary Kay and father of daughters Maribeth and Amanda, and sons Richard and Kevin (who both played college basketball), has had winning seasons at Colby for 29 of his 38 years there. He also notched seven straight 20-or-more-win seasons from 1989 through 1995.
Whitmore keeps former players and alumni updated on Colby’s progress via computer by sending out more than 250 e-mails after each game. This week, he’s sending out thanks and appreciation to his former players and team members.
“That’s the value of technology today. I’ve heard back from a huge number of them,” he said. “I think I’m just humbly surprised at the number of people who have taken the time to contact me about this.”
Former Colby and Bangor High standout Paul Butler isn’t.
The director of the Bangor School Department’s gifted and talented program graduated in 1993 and was a freshman on the squad that won Whitmore’s 300th — ironically also against Bowdoin in 1990.
“At that point, it was a huge deal. To see him double that win total makes me feel old,” Butler said with a laugh. “He’s a special guy we all have a special bond with.
“Every one of the jobs I’ve had at Bangor has been accompanied by a note or call from Whit. I don’t know how he does it, but he really makes a point of keeping up with all of us. I can’t say enough about him. He’s been such a positive influence on my life.”