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For DiBiase, home is where the hall is

Former CHS hoops coach entering Newberry College Hall of Fame

Posted: October 4, 2018 11:36 a.m.
Updated: October 5, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

CAMDEN’S LARRY DIBIASE will be enshrined into the Newberry College Athletic Hall of Fame Saturday.

There is a world of difference when you are fighting for a job as opposed to battling for the job. How you approach the interview and the passion you have can go a long way toward making an impression on the decision-makers in the room.

When the head basketball coaching position at Newberry College opened up, after the then-Indians finished off a 36-1 campaign in 1976-77, the general consensus in Palmetto State basketball circles was that Butch Estes, then an assistant at North Carolina, was a shoe-in for the post. Somehow, the message never filtered down to Larry DiBiase, then an assistant coach at Baptist College (now Charleston Southern University) under head coach Danny Monk.

A 1969 Newberry graduate who was a walk-on in both basketball and football at Newberry, DiBiase took a no-holds barred approach when he was one of five candidates who were interviewed for the post vacated when his coach at Newberry, Nield Gordon, took the head coaching job at Winthrop, a job for which DiBiase was also brought in for an interview.

DiBiase, who operates a State Farm Insurance agency in Camden which bears his name, did his homework when it came time to meet the panel who would select the next Newberry men’s basketball coach.

“I was like the third guy they interviewed; they interviewed five,” DiBiase said. “The first guy they interviewed was Tommy Gaither, who was the coach at Lower Richland and then was on the Clemson staff. The second guy they interviewed was Butch Estes, who had been at North Carolina and had been around different places. What I came to understand later was that was it. They had found their guy in Estes. 

“Robert Edwards was on the team then and he kind of kept me posted on what was going on. I thought I had all my ducks in a row. When they finished asking me questions in the interview, they asked if I had any questions for them. I had found out where every person on the committee had gone to college. I found out everything I could on them; whether they were married, if they had kids and things like that. I had a question for each one of them and at the end, I said, ‘Look, all these other guys that you’re interviewing … they want a job. I want this job. 

“‘If you open up my veins, it’s scarlet down here and gray down here. I can tell you about every blade of grass on this campus. I can tell you about every dorm. I can tell you about everything out here. I am the guy for this job.’”

A few weeks later, DiBiase went to the Final Four and the National Association of Basketball Coaches convention. While there, he attended a reception. Inside the room, Estes was telling those around him that he had the Newberry job. “Naturally, my confidence was in the dump,” DiBiase said.

Early the following week, DiBiase was called back for a second interview. When he told Monk the news, Monk told him, “They’re not going to interview you, they’re going to offer you the job. I’ve been through too many of these things. They’re going to offer you the job, you just be ready for it.” 

DiBiase, then 29 and only a few years older than some of the players he coached, did not believe Monk who, DiBiase later found out, was prophetic in his words. Meeting with the Newberry president, DiBiase had a conversation before the president walked out of his office. When he came back in, he talked to DiBiase about money. 

“It was $12,500,” DiBiase said of the pay for the head basketball coach. “If it was $10,000, I would still have said, ‘yeah.’”

The president then left the room, again. When he came back, he told DiBiase that he was the man for the job. Quickly accepting, DiBiase was then introduced to the school’s sports information director, other Newbery dignitaries and the media. 

“My heart was pounding and ready to jump out of my shirt,” he said. “Driving down Highway 219, I rolled down the window and was yelling ‘I’m the expletive deleted head coach at Newberry College to every cow that could hear me.”

Turn the calendar ahead 41 years and Saturday, Di-Biase will be one of six inductees to the Newberry College Athletic Hall of Fame. The ceremony will be part of the Wolves’ football game with visiting Lenoir-Rhyne that afternoon.

In six seasons on the Newberry sidelines, DiBiase led the Indians to 118 wins, one of only three coaches in school history to reach triple figures in the win column. His .582 winning percentage ranks second in school history.

DiBiase’s first five teams all reached the 20-win plateau, the only coach in school history with five consecutive 20-win seasons. The streak also included five of a school-record 11 consecutive winning seasons. All six of his teams made NAIA District 6 playoff appearances, while he coached the Indians to Little Four Tournament championships in 1979 and 1982 before leaving the school following the 1982-83 season to enter the buisness sector.

DiBiase, who was the head basketball coach at Camden High from 1972-75, said the honor from his college alma mater caught him by surprise. “To go there as a walk-on player and then, to get the highest honor you can get, athletically, from your school is pretty neat,” he said with a smile.

It was not as if the Georgetown native had not paid his dues in the coaching ranks. A guard at Winyah High, DiBiase was coached by Camden’s Jim Macfie. It was Macfie who brought DiBiase to his college visit to Newberry. That’s all it took for him to make his decision.

“When I went there, people would pass by and say, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ They were so nice that I didn’t even bother to visit Wofford or Erskine,” DiBiase said. When he arrived on campus and made the basketball team as a walk-on and was given his uniform and a pair of sneakers, DiBiase said, “I thought I had died and gone to heaven.”

When Macfie took the head basketball coaching job in Camden, DiBiase followed him and in 1969, was named coach of the boys basketball “B” team before succeeding Macfie at the top seat on the bench in 1972 after his mentor went into academic administration. 

When he came to Camden, DiBiase passed up an offer to interview for the head varsity coach at Myrtle Beach High School. The reason, he said, was Macfie. 

“We would walk through a wall for him. We adored him,” DiBiase said of Macfie. “To this day, outside of my father, he’s been the most influential man in my life. He influenced me to go to Newberry and then to come here to coach the “B” team. We still have dinner toegther every Monday night. He’s the reason I got into coaching.”

At 24 years old, DiBiase was the youngest AAA head coach in the state. In his four seasons at CHS, his teams played for a pair of Lower State tiles while fashioning a 66-41 record thanks to a style in which “we would press you coming off the bus,” DiBiase said. When his teaching position at CHS was changed in 1975, however, DiBiase left for what he thought would be a greener pasture as Monk hired him as an assistant at Baptist College, a Division I program. He was just married to his late wife Fran when he decided to make the job change.

“I called Danny because he recruited (Camden’s) Donald Outten and asked if he needed some help,” DiBiase said. “Danny said they he knew I could coach but that he couldn’t pay me anything. 

“I was so steamed (at CHS) and felt if going to get into coaching college --- my goal was to coach at Newberry -- - that this was it. At CHS in (19)75, I was making $12,000.  Fran and I were living in Edgwood with a house payment of $167 month.”

Monk’s offer to DiBiase was a salary of $5,000 along with an on-campus trailer which the two coaches lived in while being allowed to eat in the school’s cafeteria free. “I so wanted in and was upset about way I was treated,” DiBiase said of leaving CHS.

In his first year at Baptist, DiBiase was on the bench for only five games with one of those being a win over The Citadel, a team which DiBiase scouted and ran practice the week of the game. The other four games were in a swing through Texas.

“I was on the road incessantly,” he said. “On Monday, I would go see junior college team, spend the night and talk to the player the next day. Tuesday, I would go to high school game, spend the night and talk to the kid the next day then go to a junior college game Wednesday and spend the night. I would come back home to Camden on Thursday and would go to local high school game with Fran on Friday. Saturday, I would go to see a USC-Sumter, USC-Union or, a junior college game and Sunday be be back in Charleston before I would go back out on Monday.”

That work resulted in Baptist winning five games. The following year, the Buccaneers turned things around with a 15-win campaign as DiBiase, who on any days off would be a substitute teacher in North Charleston was given a raise to $6,000. By then, Monk had moved with his apartment with his wife as Fran moved to Charleston and was teaching at Hanahan Elementary School.

At Newberry, the first player DiBiase signed was 6-foot-6 forward Dwayne Nelson out of Stall High School who DiBiase recruited for Baptist and was offered by the College of Charleston but who, after signing with Newberry, had grade issues. DiBiase went to bat for Nelson who would graduate from Newberry in four years with a GPA of better than 3.0.

“He started as a freshman and was one of the hardest working players I ever had,” DiBiase said. “One time, when the players were moaning that I was working them too hard, Dwayne said to them, ‘Working us too hard? He’s not working us hard enough.’ He was just a great kid.”

He also signed Keenan standout Virgil Wallace by attending each of his game and selling Wallace’s mother on Newberry being the right fit for her son who was the Columbia area player of the year and who is now in the Newberry Hall of Fame. 

“I would promise the mother’s that if they gave me their son, I would treat him as good as they treated him,” DiBiase said. “When he does a good job, I’m going to pat him on the back. when he doesn’t do a good job and needs discipline. I’m going to discipline him. And, I was going to do everything I could he help him get a  degree.”

Of the 19 seniors who played for DiBiase, 17 left Newberry with a diploma. “If they started with me, in four years, they got a degree.

“It’s all about the players,” DiBiase said in deflecting the credit to those who played for him.

Years earlier, DiBiase was able to stay at Newberry as an undergrad after money got tight for his family and his father wanted him to transfer from the school. As a sophomore, he became the school’s sports information director, a job which paid $200 which helped with the tuition fee of   $1,600 a year.

He said he has  never been afraid of work; something instilled in him by his father who was the accountant at the paper mill in Georgetown.

“All we knew was work,” he said. “When I came to Newberry, I was a hall counselor, then a dorm counselor and the SID.

“I’ve always tried to teach my (three) kids that can’t is not in the DiBiase vocabulary.”

A four-time recipient of State Farm’s President’s Club and winner of the firm’s Crystal Excellence Award, family has always come first with DiBiase. It is the reason why the Hall of Fame honor means so much to him

DiBiase has served the Newberry College community in a number of ways, including as Alumni President in 2015-16, a full member of the Board of Trustees since 2014, and an Associate Member for four years prior.

His first family, however, is his own which was the main reason he got out of coaching. With three children, he left the bench to form Jersey Promotions, a sports marketing firm, which started out with sports calendars and branched into DiBiase taking over the state high school all-star basketball game and making it profitable before starting similar weekend events for baseball and softball players in the Palmetto State.

Coaching never got out of his blood as DiBiase coached the Carolina Shamrocks AU girls basketball team,  for which his daughter Carmen played, winning four straight state championships and a national title in 1996. He also won over 40 games and a Region Coach of the Year award at Cardinal Newman and took the Lady Cardinals to the state semifinals in his second and final year at the helm.

He took the reins to the Cardinal Newman girls’ basketball team in 2005. Joining him on the bench as assistants were his twin sons, Angelo and Gabriel.

“Never in wildest imagination would I have that thought that I would be coaching a team and both my sons will be to the left and right of me,” he said.

That sums up Larry DiBiase, a deeply religious man who wears his Catholic faith and emotions on his sleeve. 

“Family and religion,” he said of his credo and what is important to him.

Saturday, Newberry College will make Larry DiBiase part of its forever family.

 

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