The Pittsburgh area was very prominent this year for college basketball. The Pitt Panthers won the Big East regular season title, and earned a number one seed in the NCAA tournament, where many predict them to make a run to a Final Four. Robert Morris fell in overtime to Long Island University with a NCAA tournament berth on the line. Duquesne started off 8-0 in the Atlantic Ten conference before slipping away and missing the big tournament. Despite the success of these schools, they can’t match what one school was able to accomplish. This school would be Division III La Roche College. Unless you are from the area, you probably never even heard of La Roche, at least until this year. The Redhawks went 25-3 overall, including 17-1 in their conference, earning a number one seed in the D-III tournament. They lost in the first round to Wittenburg College, 74-68, in what was the ending to a heartfelt, storybook season. The Redhawks has 6 players named to the AMCC All-Conference team and their coaches were named regional coaches of the year.
So how does this make their season more successful and memorable than those of the big-time schools? On December 10, the Redhawks’ head coach, Scott Lang, fell at center court during a practice, grasping his chest and died of a heart attack at the young age of 41. Coach Lang took over at La Roche 14 years ago at the age of 27, becoming the youngest basketball head coach in NCAA history. I had the opportunity to sit down with former player Dylan Grazier (2006-2010) and assistant coach Ronald McNabb, who were both extremely close to Lang, to talk about the ups and downs of this emotional season.
Q: How did you meet Coach Lang?
A: McNabb- I met Scott several years ago when he recruited one of my players that I coached in high school, and after the season, he offered me a position on his staff.
Grazier- I met him when I was a freshman in high school. I would go up to watch practices and games with my Stepfather and Coach, Ron McNabb, and was introduced to Coach Lang through him. As I got older, I started going to La Roche in the summers during high school to play open gym with the La Roche guys and coach was always in the gym.
Q: Coach McNabb, did you accept the position on his staff that he offered you?
A: McNabb- I did coach with him for the 2007-08 season. It was a great experience for me coaching at the collegiate level with one of my best friends, for whom I had a lot of respect.
Q: Dylan, did Coach McNabb’s relationship with Coach Lang influence your decision to play for La Roche over other schools?
A: Grazier- Coach Lang is definitely one of the best people I have had the opportunity to meet. I’m not saying that because I played for him, or because he was good to me, he was really just an excellent person. I feel that Coach McNabb’s relationship with him really allowed me to see the person Coach Lang really was, which is why I chose La Roche. I would hear stories about how much Coach Lang did for his players, giving them Sheetz money, driving to Ohio to pick them up if they needed a ride, and countless other selfless acts that really portrayed the type of character and coach he was.
Q: When you heard the news of his passing, what went through your head?
A: McNabb- When I heard of his passing, I was in shock. As time passed that evening, it was a great sense of sorrow and loss.
Grazier- I was in shock. I didn’t believe the news at first. Coach Lang was one of those figures that seemed “invincible” or unmovable. It never crossed my mind that Coach could die unexpectedly. He did so much for me in my time at La Roche, and he had such a positive influence on my life, that it really hit me hard. That night, all the players met at La Roche’s gym to mourn, and that was really difficult for me and all of the guys. The locker room where Coach spent so much of his time seemed empty and to step into his office made it seem like he was just away recruiting, soon to return to ask me if I would make a 2am Sheetz run with him.
Q: Coach Lang died of a heart attack, but was it ever determined if the cause was an enlarged heart or due to some heart history that he had?
A: Grazier- Actually, the summer previous to Coach Lang’s passing, I was in the gym going through a workout with him, and the same type of thing happened. He dropped to the ground and clutched at his chest. I called the paramedics and luckily they got there and everything was ok. After that Coach had a pacemaker put in to monitor his heart activity, and soon, he was cleared to do physical activity but nothing “intense”. He actually played with us all of that summer and I can even remember him taunting me because he could dunk a basketball. It goes to show how great of shape he was in for a 41 year old, and it also goes to show how strange it is that someone that healthy can be taken away so unexpectedly.
Q: Did he differ as a coach than as a person?
A: McNabb- He was a coach who cared deeply for his players as people, students and athletes. He knew that basketball was a way to help young men in all aspects of life.
Q: The team had tremendous success after his passing. Do you think it was due to them being that good or that they were inspired to play well for their coach?
A: Grazier- This year’s team was more talented than the teams that I had played on in the past, however, I think they were most certainly fueled by the passion of playing for – and through – coach. It was often brought up that coach was always there in every practice and every game. The guys could hear him yelling to take a charge or make the extra pass, as he so often did.
Q: Did Coach Lang have any job offers from bigger schools or have any interest to advance higher in the coaching ranks?
A: McNabb- Scott had many offers to go to both D1 and D2 schools. But his heart was always with LaRoche.
Grazier- Yes, Coach had many offers over the years. One in particular stands out to me. He was offered the head assistant job at North Florida University where Coach Driscoll, one of Coach Lang’s best friends, got the head coaching job. Coach once said to me that he could nearly double his salary, be a part of a Division-I program, live in Florida, and drive around in a nice car, but it would never give him the at-home feeling he had at La Roche. He loved La Roche and he loved his guys.
Q: What would Coach Lang want his legacy to be?
A: McNabb- That he loved all the players he coached, he tried to make a difference in all of their lives.
Grazier- Coach Lang put everything he had into La Roche College, who renamed the basketball court Coach Scott Lang Court and will paint it on the court for next season. I think Coach would swell with pride to have his name forever on the court. I believe the most important thing to coach, however, would be to keep the program going in the right direction. He was a big believer in recruiting quality guys as well as great players. He prided himself on the fact that the basketball team had an excellent reputation on campus and that most of our guys graduated and were successful in life.
Q: What would he think about his team’s success knowing that this was the team he was most excited about and probably his best team ever at La Roche?
A: Grazier- It was coach’s dream to win the AMCC tournament. He we would be overwhelmed with joy and pride to see his team compete so well, but more importantly he would have loved to see that his team did it the right way. Coach Lang believed in humbleness and good sportsmanship, and this year’s team has won using his system. Coach would be most happy about how all of the guys on the team were just great PEOPLE on and off the court.
Q: How would you describe Coach Lang’s relationship with Pitt head coach, Jamie Dixon?
A: Grazier- They had a really good relationship. Coach Dixon would come to La Roche for camps and even used the La Roche players for demonstrations. We played Pitt my junior year, and it was a great experience. Coach Lang and Coach Dixon talked a lot about basketball and how to better themselves as coaches.
Q: How did Coach Lang get into coaching?
A: Grazier- He played at BCCC (Butler County Community College) first, then played at Clarion. He was the youngest coach in NCAA history at 27 when he signed with La Roche, after being an assistant for a few years.
Q: What’s the one thing you would say to him right now if given the chance?
Grazier- Stay blessed.
About the Author
Written by Michael Waterloo
I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Clarion University. I currently work for Ohio Valley Athletics where I serve as the West Virginia Football Beat Writer and cover West Virginia Men's Basketball as well. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers and Oregon Ducks fan. Follow me on Twitter at @MichaelWaterloo or visit www.ovathletics.com