Story by Tyler Wehr
Often, coaches move from college program to college program quite frequently. Some coaches leave because they see greener pastures somewhere else; some coaches leave because of the chance to build something different and new; finally, other coaches are given no option but to leave because of the nature of collegiate sports and its need for immediate success. But, as with most rules, there is an exception. This is where we find Point Loma Nazarene University women's head basketball coach Bill Westphal. He has spent the last 17 years building one of the most successful programs in Point Loma's history, amassing an incredible record of 350-176, and making the playoffs in each season.
As with all good things, however, they must come to an end at some point. Westphal has announced, prior to the 2015-2016 year, this will be his final season at the helm of the PLNU women's basketball program. This marks a significant conclusion to a portion of Westphal's life that has been immersed in the world of basketball since his early childhood days, but he appears ready to let the game go.
"Golf, God, and Grandkids," he says in his typical easy-going manner when asked what he is going to do when he retires. "Although, probably not in that order," he adds quickly with a wink.
There will be a Recognition Night for CoachBill Westphal prior to the Sea Lions' game on Wednesday, Feb. 3. The game will tipoff at 7:00 p.m., and coach Westphal will be honored prior to the contest.
Bill Westphal began his basketball career at Aviation High in Redondo Beach, California. He was recruited to play his collegiate years at the University of Southern California (USC), and went on to tour the country with the original Athletes in Action basketball team. From there, Westphal decided to do what he had wanted to do since high school, and got into the world of coaching.
"It was really my high school basketball coach that got me to have the desire to coach," Westphal explained. I was a teacher's assistant for him my senior year of high school, and I asked him a ton of questions about basketball and coaching. He told me to get a Physical Education degree and then I could be a teacher and a coach just like he was, so that's what I did when I was at USC." After the Athletes in Action stint, he accepted his first job as a high school teacher and coach.
Westphal then went on to coach at the college level and the professional level, with his most successful seasons coming at the helm of the Grand Canyon University men's basketball team. He led the Lopes to a two-year mark of 55-15 and a birth in the NAIA National Championship game both seasons. Those teams were also ranked No. 1 in the NAIA polls for multiple weeks during his tenure.
After years of coaching at all different levels, and running one of the most successful basketball camps in the state of Arizona, the Westphal Brothers Basketball Camp, which he ran with his brother Paul, Westphal decided to make the move out to a small college in San Diego named Point Loma.
He accepted the job of men's associate head coach in 1999, but then later went on to take over the women's program in 2000, where he has spent the last 16 years. He has made the playoffs in each one of his years at the helm of the women's basketball team, even doing so in the few years of the probationary period when PLNU was moving from the NAIA to the NCAA.
Westphal, though, is a reflective man. He does not dwell on his accomplishments nor does he share them often. He says he has learned many things over his incredible career, most of which having to do more with life and less with basketball. When asked what the three most important lessons he has learned as a coach over the years were, he did not rush to an answer, but instead took a moment to think.
"The first thing I would have to say I have learned is that it is always about more than winning," Westphal explained. "Win/loss records are nearly always forgotten, but relationships that are built throughout the season are lasting. The relationships I build with my players, the relationships they build between one another, and the relationship the team and the individual players build with Lord are always the most important things."
"A lot of my players come back to visit me from time to time and it is so exciting for me to hear about what they are doing now, where they are living, and their new families," he says with a smile. "I always love to see them interacting with their children; that is what matters."
He does not rush to the second lesson, but instead lingers on the lessons of the first. Eventually he begins to describe a journey he has been on for his entire career, but especially at PLNU. "I have spent my years coaching trying to discover what it means to be a Grace Based Coach. Every year, I discover a little bit more about what this looks like and how it should be implanted in his life. Now, I can't give you an exact definition of what a Grace Based Coach is because I am still discovering the answer to that myself, but I can tell what it is not. It is not being legalistic or dictatorial," he smiles as he says this. "A lot of the girls think I am too easy on them or don't push them as hard as I should, but I just tell them 'Well, you should have seen me 20 years ago. You would have hated me.' I used to think fear was the greatest motivator, but over time I have realized that is not the case at all. Love is the greatest motivator."
Madison West, a junior guard on the PLNU women's basketball team, affirmed this. "Coach Westphal always tells us to live loved. For the last two seasons, he has always emphasized this. Often, during the season in the middle of the heat of league, he reminds us basketball is just a small portion of life; it is something he has realized over the years and thus emphasizes it with us. It all stems from a verse in 1 John 4:16 that he wants to live by, and challenges us to live by. The verse talks about how God is love, and whoever lives in love, lives in God. So in everything we do, we should abide in God, therefore living loved."
Finally, Westphal arrives at the last of the three lessons. Fittingly, it is a quote from one of the most successful basketball coaches of all time, John Wooden. "Your players are good enough if you are capable of showing them how," Westphal says as if recalling a good friend. "Last year, our team started out 1-6 amidst great expectations. I tried different line-ups, different strategies, whatever. None of it seemed to be working over those seven games. But I would sit in my office and tell myself my players are good enough as long as I can show them how. I didn't blame them or point out all of their mistakes, I just constantly worked to figure out how to show the team they were good enough."
He constantly tinkered with the line-up until finally he found a formula that seemed to be working and eventually received at an at-large big to NCAA Regional, where the Sea Lions upset the No. 1 team in the nation, Alaska Anchorage, on their home floor, 64-63.Your players are good enough if you are capable of showing them how.
Westphal appears ready to let go of the game that has shaped him, and allowed him to shape so many others over the last 45 years. With a few more games before the end of the season, he is going to give his team everything he has before he says goodbye for one final time.
But, regardless of the outcome of the season, it has never been wins and losses that have defined a successful season for Westphal. That, as Westphal says, is always forgotten.
What will not be forgotten is the impact Westphal has had on PLNU's campus and with his players. "Live loved," Madison West says. That, above everything else, is the legacy Westphal will leave once he retires.