Billy Guinnee, who has been an important part of the Truman High School boys basketball team for a quarter of a century, is ready to say goodbye.
Guinnee, who was an assistant to the late Steve Broughton for 12 years and the head coach the past 13, announced his retirement as both a coach and a teacher.
The decision came quickly, and has not given him much time to think about his rich legacy on the Patriots’ court.
“I’ve thought about the past 25 years a little but probably not as much as I will later on,” said Guinnee, who won his 200th career game in his final season. “A friend of mine, (retiring Truman volleyball coach) Denise Craig, said, ‘You might want to look at your retirement, you might be closer than you know.’ So I looked and decided that this was the right time. It’s been a whirlwind.”
Guinnee – like Roger Lower, who recently retired as the softball coach at Blue Springs after a 20-year career – are part of a rare breed of coaches who have spent most of their careers at one school.
“It’s pretty rare and I am lucky to have been here this long,” Guinnee said. “Even though we didn’t have the success we wanted this year, I couldn’t have asked for a better group to go out with. We had a large group of seniors and great players and it’s been wonderful.”
Guinnee was honored last week at a national letter signing ceremony where Truman’s No. 2 all-time scorer, Reid Titus, signed to play at the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas.
“It’s kind of cool to go out with Coach Guinnee,” Titus said. “He’s meant so much to me and the team the past four years. I guess we’re going out together.”
Guinnee’s coaching career began in a low-key manner that mirrored the way Broughton conducted himself on the court.
“I started off coaching my nieces in the IYAA and that evolved into coaching AAU teams when Missouri Valley AAU was really big and (former Truman athletic director) Don Coffman asked if I would be interested in coaching high school basketball,” Guinnee said, “and I told him I would. Steve was coaching at the time and I went down to his office in the locker room and met with him.
“I was expecting a long interview process and he asked, ‘Do you know how to run the flex offense?’ And I said I did, and he said, ‘OK, you’re hired.’ And that was it – 25 years ago. He trusted me to run with it, and run with it I did.
“Working with him was a learning experience every day. The one thing I took from him was his composure. He never got rattled, never got mad. I do remember once though when he was fired up, he was yelling down in the locker room, and he never yelled. I was standing by the chalkboard – which shows you how long ago it was, we still had chalkboards – and he was yelling and he fired a piece of chalk at the chalkboard and it missed me by about two inches.
“After that, I never stood by the chalkboard when he was mad. Luckily, it wasn’t too often.”
Guinnee was the logical choice to replace Broughton when he resigned his coaching position so he could watch his son Jared (who is now the girls basketball coach at Oak Grove) play at Grain Valley High School.
“Thirteen years flies by, but it seems like yesterday – then sometimes it seems like 50 years ago,” Guinnee admitted. “I see former players and I’ve had my son compete against former players’ sons, which is a little bit weird. To see the guys move on, start their career and families, that’s when you realize how time flies.”
While he said the players have not changed in 25 years, their surroundings have brought on new challenges.
“I think kids are still kids,” he said. “The way society has evolved has brought about changes in kids – self motivation, the work ethic – when I started coaching there weren’t a lot of entertainment options for kids like there are today. There weren’t cell phones and video games. If a kid had some free time, he was out in his driveway and worked on his game a little bit more. Kids are getting pulled in a lot more directions.
“And kids are not playing multiple sports, and I always liked it when kids played multiple sports. I thought it gave them different skill sets and in some cases, made them tougher. I wish this year we would have had some football players playing basketball, and I’m sure the football staff wished they had more basketball players playing football.”
While Guinnee would never discuss his favorite players – there were far too many to mention – he does recall some memorable games against a William Chrisman team that was coached by new Truman assistant principal John Vickers.
“By the way, John Vickers is my principal now,” Guinnee said, chuckling. “You’re the best John! He’s been great as a principal. He is trying to find his way as a first-year principal and he’s come out to the gym a few times and he’s had that, ‘I would sure like to step on the court one more time’ look in his eyes. I’m sure I’ll have that look soon, too.
“When people ask about the memorable games, coincidentally both of them are against Chrisman. The gym is still full when we play Chrisman, but it’s not as full as it used to be. It used to be crazy. I loved playing at Chrisman with that hostile atmosphere.
“But we had a game down at Municipal Auditorium and they had that great group with (Jon) Ekey and (Justin) Clark their senior year and we had just finished that state run and had lost 11 seniors.
“I was starting two freshmen, Antonio Winn and Zach Large, and we were down 20 at the half and I remember telling our kids at the half that they were shooting well, but they weren’t going to shoot that well in the second half because they were shooting in the open end and we wound up coming back and winning by seven points.
“That was one of the most special wins. Another one was just a third-place game at William Jewell on a side court and we were down by three and we ran Nathan Martin off as a decoy and we ran a play for Steve Moore (who went on to play at the University of Missouri) to shoot a 3-pointer to tie it. I remember when I drew the up the play in the huddle, Steve looked at me like ‘You must be crazy.’ I said, ‘Steve, you’re going to take that shot and you’re doing to make it.’ And I remember looking at Vickers across the way and he mouthing to me, ‘That’s not fair.’”
It might not have been fair, but it sure was a lot of fun.