Coach Alan LeForce of College of Charleston basketball comes home

Left to right background: Ken Gustafson, Otto German, Rick Carpenter, Rich Haddad and Sam Meade. Foreground: Alan LeForce and Shirley LeForce. Provided

There’s a plaque on display in a Daniel Island condo that was given many years ago to a man who has now returned to Charleston. The plaque shows a whistle hanging from a lanyard with the following inscription:

A Good Coach Can Change a Game

A Great Coach Can Change a Life

This recent Lowcountry returning resident is Alan LeForce, along with his wife, Shirley. From 1970-1979, LeForce was the head basketball coach at The College of Charleston. His daughter, Michelle, had already established Charleston as her family’s home. But she was spending three or four days a month visiting her parents in Myrtle Beach to help with doctor visits and various other chores a grown child does to help her parents. Michelle eventually convinced her folks just to move closer to people who cared so much for them.

It turns-out, those who wanted to see and re-connect with the coach are some former players.

LeForce only coached the Cougars for nine years. He would spend additional court time at East Tennessee State as a head coach for six years and another 15 years as the women’s coach at Coastal Carolina. He is the only coach in NCAA Division I history with 200 wins with men’s and women’s teams.

Net profits

When hearing the coach was coming back, some former Cougar players immediately wanted to see him. On a recent evening, about half a dozen of those men dropped by for a visit. Sam Meade, a self-described “poor kid with no car” from Eastern Kentucky who had never seen the ocean was the coach’s first recruit. “Coach made me feel like I was part of a family from Day 1,” recalls Meade. “He was always there for you.”

Others on hand included players already in school when LeForce took the job: Rick Carpenter, Remus Harper and Otto German. Remus and Otto were the first two black players at CofC. German, who has worked for The College for the last 46 years says, “Coach made me a better human being.”

Gus Gustafson, for decades the leading recordholder in points and rebounds, arrived from Long Island, New York in Leforce’s second year. “All I was looking for was a small school in the South.” Gus will tell you now he found much, much more.

Rich Haddad was a lightly-recruited guard from New Jersey. He would eventually work as an assistant coach under LeForce and to this day considers the old coach “..one of the most important people in my life.” Haddad, who lives in Greenville, still remembers how hard Coach LeForce could be during conditioning drills. “He’d take us to the Stoney Field track and run us hard. Coach would yell, let’s see who’s tough enough to play for us,” Haddad still recalls.

Old men, good memories

LeForce, now 83, retired five years ago. “I guess I was just dumb. I never thought I’d retire or get old.” LeForce admits upon reflection that his best friends now are former players and coaches.

He coached in seven different decades. In his first job at his high school in Williamsburg, Kentucky, he drove the school bus and coached three different sports and his salary was $1,975 — for the year. “I remember thinking if I could eventually make $5,000 I’d be a wealthy man.”

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As he looked around at those former players who gathered recently to share stories and laughs, it’s very clear he achieved something quite valuable.

When I caught-up with Sam Meade recently seeking info on the coach and the recent player get-together, he was parked outside LeForce’s condo waiting to accompany him on a walk. LeForce always cared about his players, and now he’s close enough that they can further show they still care about him.

That old plaque is faded, chipped and worn from years of packing and unpacking in various moving vans. But those words remain strong in the young men and women Alan LeForce influenced along the way.

A Good Coach Can Change a Game

A Great Coach Can Change a Life.

Welcome home, Coach.

Reach Warren at peperwarren@gmail.com

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