Liberty-Benton coach Steve Williman has led the Eagles to back-to-back 20-0 records in the regular season, despite losing four starters to graduation.
FINDLAY - In summing up his success as a basketball coach, Steve Williman must first credit the strength of his two marriages - the actual one of 26 years to his understanding wife, Marty, and the unofficial one to the Liberty-Benton community.
A patient Marty has allowed him to be the meticulous coach who leaves no stone unturned in preparing his Eagles to compete, while the school and its supporters have created an environment that has won his loyalty for the last 22 years.
The net result has been the perennial respect gained as one of Ohio's top Division III boys basketball programs.
For his work in guiding the Eagles to a second straight 20-0 regular season and Associated Press D-III state poll title, despite losing four starters to graduation, Williman is the 2008 Blade boys coach of the year.
Other candidates for the honor were Waite's Dave Pitsenbarger, Libbey's Leroy Bates, Perrysburg's Dave Boyce, Southview's Marc Jump, Genoa's Jeff Overmyer, Archbold's Doug Krauss, Toledo Christian's Dave McWhinnie, Ottawa Hills' John Lindsay, Fostoria's Rick Renz and Ayersville's Marvin Retcher.
"My family has always been very understanding in allowing me to spend the time necessary to do the job the way that I wanted to do it," Williman said of Marty and daughters Ashley, a junior at Miami University, and Erica, a senior standout on the 17-3 Eagles' girls team this year.
"They've made a number of sacrifices to allow me to continue the job that I love to do. I will never be able to repay my family for the sacrifices they've made for me throughout my coaching career."
Meanwhile, the school's appreciative atmosphere and collective dedication has made it impossible for him to leave.
"I came here 22 years ago, and I was looking for a school where I could finish my teaching and coaching career," Williman said. "The community and school have been very good over the years, and it was a great place for me to raise my own children.
"We have great facilities, a great community and great support. Those things will always contribute to the success of programs. I've had some phone calls over the years [probing his coaching aspirations]. But, when it's all said and done, I look at how special this place has been to me and to my family. There's nothing that's ever enticed me enough to leave."
Williman's impressive 403-110 overall record at Liberty-Benton has included 12 Blanchard Valley Conference titles, four unbeaten regular seasons, a Division IV state championship in 1995, and a D-III state runner-up finish last year.
"The success that we have can be attributed to the hard work of my assistants and also our players," Williman said. "Our staff spends a lot of time in scouting, and preparation has always been big in our program. We try to choreograph a lot of things from Monday through Thursday so that we're not surprised a lot on Friday and Saturday nights."
Liberty-Benton, which took a 21-0 mark into last night's district semifinal against St. Henry, entered the season with just one returning starter (sophomore guard Aaron Craft) from last year's state runner-up squad. Among those who graduated was four-year starter Nathan Hyde, a D-III state co-player of the year in 2007.
This year's team, which has outscored foes by an average of 19 points a contest, has survived several close calls that threatened what is now a 45-game regular-season winning streak.
This year's Eagles have posted the 12th 20-win season in Williman's time at L-B, which has advanced to nine regionals since 1988. For perspective, one must consider the 30 years of boys basketball at Liberty-Benton before Williman arrived. The Eagles had just four winning seasons, never won more than 16 games in any season (16-4 in 1957-58), and had never won a sectional title.
"Over the years our kids have accepted their roles and given up a lot of individual achievement for team success," Williman said. "If you can get players to buy into that attitude, you can always have success.
"Our offense kind of comes and goes depending on the night, but defense has allowed us to stay competitive. We spend a lot of time practicing fundamentals, and we take a lot of pride in taking care of the basketball and eliminating as many mistakes as we possibly can."
The Eagle players are also sold on their coach.
"He just loves to win," senior post player Andy Smith said. "He's very competitive and he gets after you. He brings the best out in you. Playing for him has made me a lot better player.
"Unlike a lot of other schools which don't even scout or look at tape, he spends so much time on that. You just feel that you should give the same effort that he does to try to win."
"It's really just a tradition that we've built," junior wing Derek Recker said. "Coach says, 'If we ever have somebody come back from a previous year and they see us have a bad game, imagine how they would think of you ruining their tradition.' So, it's just really an honor thing and pride."