Glenn Wilkes Jr.
Before Glenn Wilkes Jr. there was, of course, Glenn Wilkes Sr.
The elder Wilkes is the kind of guy local sportswriters refer to as “legendary.” Between 1957 and 1993, Wilkes Sr. netted 571 wins as the men’s basketball coach at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida. He’s also been a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers, the assistant director of the Michael Jordan Flight School basketball camp in California, and an author of more than seven books about basketball.
In other words, Glenn Wilkes Sr. is a big deal.
In 1986, Glenn Wilkes Jr. was a salesman, and a good one. But he had been away from basketball for several years, ever since he’d played for his dad and then spent a year as his graduate assistant at Stetson. He had an itch.
The Rollins College women’s basketball team, meanwhile, needed a head coach. “It’s not exactly like people were knocking down the door to coach women’s sports,” Wilkes says. He accepted the job of interim head coach, and his first task was to wrap his brain around his father’s considerable legacy.
“I was going to have to confront the reality that my dad is considered to be—he’s so well respected as a coach,” Wilkes says. “He’s built quite a body of work.”
Wilkes figured he’d be at Rollins for a year or two before moving on to coaching men’s basketball. Given his pedigree, it was what everyone expected, especially when he started winning.
“Even now, people ask me, ‘When are you going to coach the men?’ As if that were some sort of advancement,” he says. “That was one of the biggest reasons I stayed in. The more people asked about men, the more I wanted to coach the women.”
In the Tars’ first season with Wilkes as coach, they went 21–6. The next year they posted a record 26–3 and won their first SSC title. Over Wilkes’s first 10 seasons, the team went 206–79 and won four SSC championships. Not coincidentally, Wilkes was named SSC coach of the year four times during that stretch.
The accolades and accomplishments kept pouring in: In 1995, the program received its first NCAA postseason tournament invite, with 12 more since. They’ve achieved 27 consecutive winning seasons and 20 seasons with 20 wins; six All-Americans (one of whom, Kim Tayrien ’89, became his wife); four SSC players of the year; and 13 SSC regular season titles and eight conference tournament championships. In 2007, the SSC named Wilkes the top coach of the conference’s first 25 years. And last year, the Tars made their first appearance in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight and Final Four, and were ranked as high as fourth in the nation.
His winning percentage (he ended the season at 603–198) is among the best of all time in Division II.
And yet, he never left for a bigger program or a fatter paycheck. (In fact, it was only a couple of years ago that his coach’s salary equaled what he made as a salesman—27 years ago.) “The only reason I could see to leave,” he says, “is more money or the ego.”
And while men’s basketball gets the attention, Wilkes says, “I don’t see any difference in the skill level between men and women.” As his father recently put it, “Coaching is coaching. Gender doesn’t matter.”
A few hours before the Tars headed to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, for the NCAA tournament, Wilkes sat in his second-floor office in the athletic department, reflecting on what win 600 meant.
“It dawns on you that you’ve been at the business a long time, and you’ve coached a lot of people,” he says. “It forces you to reflect, to think a little bit more about the past than the future. As a younger coach, you can barely enjoy a win for worrying about the next one. As an older coach, it’s more about the journey than the destination.”