Small town boy makes it big in basketball and the game of life


Staff Reporter

He can call legendary basketball coach John Wooden a friend. His 30 books make him the most prolific author in his profession.

With 17 seasons as a head coach at Eastern Washington State College and Eastern Washington University, he ranks second on the list of both longevity and wins among basketball coaches at the school.

One of the best seats in the house is his when Gonzaga University takes the court anywhere in the nation, and he advises their coach and players on all things basketball – and life.

Not a bad life so far for Jerry Krause, a guy whose mother died during his birth, whose dad committed suicide when he was 4 and someone who grew up in the middle of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl that ravaged the Great Plains in the 1930s.

Krause first set sights on Cheney in 1967 when he and another legendary basketball name, Jud Heathcote, were vying for the head-coaching job for the EWSC Savages. He still calls Fish Lake home over 40 years later.

But it's the journey that took him here, and the travels he's done since that is a most compelling story.

From rough beginnings

Krause, who turned 72 last April 3, was born in Cedar Bluffs, Neb., just northwest of Omaha in 1936 and said he's proof that a village does raise a child. Krause was the last of five children.

“My mother had diphtheria and the hospital would not admit her to have the baby so she was sent back to the farm. The family physician had to deliver me. The whole process of having me and having diphtheria was just too much for her,” Krause said.

“Although my father was a good farmer, it was a small farm so making a living sufficient to feed a family of five was tough,” he said.

The family moved to town where his dad supported the family with, his sideline business of being a pool shark, Krause recalled. “He kept the family going the next four years by going into the nearest big town, Fremont. He would have his bib overalls on and take on all challengers. The jig was likely up when he pulled out his custom pool cue, Krause said.

Krause's dad remarried a couple years later, but the stress of raising five kids from age four to 16 probably drove him nuts, according to Krause. “Four years after my birth he went out in the barn and hung himself.”

“The stepmother looked over the remaining brood and said, ‘I can raise two kids, the rest of you are on your own,'” Krause said. With the county orphanage looming in his future, Krause and his sister were rescued by their uncle.

Not only did this likely provide a somewhat normal existence, but it also helped build the foundation for Krause's love of athletics.

“That's where I got into sports and sports saved my bacon,” Krause said. His uncle had a vacant lot where the neighborhood gathered year-around to play baseball, football, run track and play basketball.

Indeed, basketball was the sport that Krause would be attracted to, and the one he'd later gain notoriety with worldwide. “I was never a great athlete, but I participated all the way through high school,” Krause said. “The one I gravitated to was basketball.”

“We only had one policeman in town,” Krause said. “He would look the other way when we broke into the city auditorium – we had a window we could crawl through. He said as long as we didn't turn on the lights we could play in there at will.”

Finding himself in college

Krause was studying to become an engineer at the University of Nebraska but both the big school – and the courses – were not to his liking. “I didn't like engineering at all after a couple of years so I transferred to Wayne State College and really found myself.”

“I recognized right away that I wasn't the greatest player but I had a feel for teaching,” Krause said.

After graduation, Krause taught in Iowa and later in Loveland, Colo. “That was a great learning experience. That seems to be where I learned so much because I did everything.” He served as the assistant football coach, assistant women's basketball coach and head men's basketball coach, assistant track coach and taught a full load of classes. “Occasionally I had to get my bus driving license because I had to drive the school bus after practice,” Krause said.

Krause said he went from the stage of teaching and coaching, “where you think you know everything.” Eventually, if you're mature enough, then you realize you will never know enough, he said. “I remember distinctly in my fourth year of teaching and coaching, I know about everything there is in this profession and this is going to be a long and boring path.”

Then came another life-changing experience. “The next year I went to a clinic and got exposed to John Wooden and that thought vanished from my mind pretty quickly.”

“Once I met with him, he became one of my long-distance mentors,” Krause said. Wooden was in his 20th year of coaching and told the audience that he just wanted to improve every year. “I want to be a better coach at the beginning of the season than I was the year before,” Krause recalled Wooden saying. “That was a two-by-four upside the head,” according to Krause who figured there might be a little more to learn about teaching and coaching.

And to this day the two remain close. To the point in fact where Krause is working on a national youth sports program that is endorsed and supported behind the scenes by Wooden who just turned 98 years old this past Tuesday.

From the Midwest to the Northwest

Krause would take time away from teaching high school to further his own education, earning both his masters and doctorate from Northern Colorado University. He then turned his attention to college coaching.

“I came directly from Northern Colorado to Eastern Washington in 1967 and I was here 17 years as the head coach,” Krause said. He was originally hired as a teacher.

When Krause interviewed for the job, the athletic director was Dave Holmes. “He picked me up in the middle of a pheasant hunting trip or something,” Krause said. “He had his hunting clothes on, his shotgun in the back seat when he picked me up at the airport.”

The two finalists for the job were Heathcote and Krause. “I had a doctorate and he had a master's degree and that's the reason I got the job,” Krause said.

“Now I tell him now that I kept you from being fired and you kept me from coaching Magic Johnson – if we would have reversed roles,” Krause said. Heathcote of course later guided the Michigan State Spartans to the 1979 NCAA championship. MSU, led by Magic Johnson, defeated Larry Bird's Indiana State Sycamores in the title game.

Krause, who had his best season at Eastern in 1976-77 when his team finished 25-4, also recalled another memorable occurrence about that time, the field house fire on April 25, 1977.

“I was teaching a tennis class when it burnt down,” Krause recalled. He watched the blaze start after a contractor, who was dismantling the huge facility by cutting bolts with torch, momentarily ran out of water. “It wasn't more than five minutes and the flames were licking up,” Krause said. “I said that's going to be trouble.” And it was as the former drill hall from the old Farragut Naval Training Station on Lake Pend Oreille was a total loss in a matter of hours.

Krause remained at the helm at Eastern until what he called “the dreaded new direction, in sports came along.” That was the move by Eastern from NAIA athletics to NCAA Division I.

Krause would conclude his career as the second all-time winningest basketball coach in Eastern's history with a 262-195 mark. It was, perhaps, his questioning of the elevation of the program to what he terms the, “business and entertainment division I level,” as opposed to “the educational model of sports,” that was NAIA that likely played a part in his sudden firing following the 1984-1985 season.

“They had hearings with all the coaches and all the coaches were enamored with it,” Krause said. “I was the only coach to appear before the committee and say that that it would be a debacle, it would be a travesty,” Krause said.

But Krause does have many fond memories of his years at Eastern, where, even after his removal as coach, he remained a faculty member, and even department head until 1992.

He's quite proud of the fact that during the NAIA days Eastern was an assembly line for coaches. “We had literally hundreds of kids from Eastern Washington come into our athletic program and become physical education majors and go out and teach and coach,” Krause said. Truly men and women after his own heart.

“At that time I remember distinctly going into the state B tournament and we had, of the two coaches on each team for the state B boys, something like 24 out of 32 coaches,” Krause recalled.

On to bigger challenges

Krause was employed again as a coach the very next day after he was fired at Eastern. He'd first become an assistant at Gonzaga University from 1985 to 1992 for his friend, Dan Fitzgerald.

“The day I was fired, the coach at that time at Gonzaga University, (then head coach) Dan Fitzgerald, called me the next day and offered me a job as an assistant,” Krause said. “I'll be forever indebted for that. I was at a low ebb and it's always nice to have someone recognize that you are valuable.”

“He came and saw me and I said I'd love to do it but I have no money,” Fitzgerald said. “I got him because he was cheap. It was an economical decision, not a knowledgeable decision,” he said with a laugh.

“He's been a tremendous servant of the game,” Fitzgerald said. “What surprised me just a little bit is how our players really gravitated to him.”

Current Gonzaga coach Mark Few echoes Fitzgerald when asked about Krause, who now serves as the Zags' director of basketball operations. “He's got such a great take on life,” Few said.

“If you talk to Jeremy Pargo from inner-city Chicago, he'd give you the same answer as David Pendergraft from Brewster, Wash.” Few said, adding Krause “is a huge part of our program. He has an incredible amount of knowledge he's acquired over the years, basketball-wise and living-wise.”

“To be able to get him for that period of time was a blessing for us,” Fitzgerald said. It was Fitzgerald who was the person that laid the foundation for the smashing successes Gonzaga basketball experienced the past decade.

Krause left the area for a position at the U.S. Military Academy in 1992, and then again from 1995 through 2001. Upon his return Gonzaga called on him again and he's been able to enjoy what has been truly a unique experience.

“Fundraising, academics and college health are not highly correlated with athletic success,” he said – except at Gonzaga, where enrollment and donations have skyrocketed – as has building on campus – since their “Elite-Eight” run in the NCAA tournament in 1999. “It truly is a phenomenon in sport,” Krause said.

Perhaps it takes a phenomenon to really know one.

Paul Delaney can be reached at [email protected]


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