Meet Bob Boldon, the coach who rebuilds women's basketball programs

 

Ohio women’s basketball head coach Bob Boldon shouts out instructions to his team during the second half of the game against Toledo on Feb. 4. In his first season as head coach, the Bobcats went 9-21 and 4-14 in MAC play, but are now perennial contenders to win the MAC.

Photo taken by Carl Fonticella

 

Bob Boldon walked into the press conference, looking more disgruntled than he had all season.

It was Jan. 14, and Ohio had just lost to Kent State 68-65. Before losing to the Golden Flashes, the Bobcats had won three of their last five games.

Something was wrong.

“Since the start of the new year, our defense has just been garbage,” Boldon said.

Boldon, now in his fourth year coaching the Bobcats, needed improvement on the defensive end.

He needed them to play better because they had come too far — three seasons ago they were the worst team in the Mid-American Conference. He inherited a team that posted its worst record in program history the season before.

By year two, he led the Bobcats to the NCAA Tournament.

Boldon, who earns $242,280 per year, has brought an expectation of competitiveness to Ohio, but helping rebuild programs isn’t new for him. A coach who has worked under three different head coaches, Boldon has helped improve multiple women’s basketball programs during his career.

“It’s taken us awhile to really get to this point, but now we’re here,” said assistant coach Tavares Jackson, who worked with him at Youngstown State. “It’s business as usual with our team.”

***

Some of the best basketball minds have played point guard – or at least played as if they were a point guard. LeBron James, one of the smartest basketball players of all time, has made a career off zipping passes right to his teammates.

Boldon isn’t James, but his basketball knowledge is extensive. He played point guard at Walsh University in North Canton, and is the program’s all-time assists leader (775).

His basketball acumen led to coaching opportunities, and his first job came at Walsh. He was an assistant under Karl Smesko, who now coaches Florida Gulf Coast. Boldon helped Walsh win the NAIA Division II National Championship during the 1997-1998 season.

“He knows what’s getting you hurt or can do to exploit another team,” Smesko said.

Boldon continued to use his ability to decipher defenses, traveling to Wilmington College to coach under Jerry Scheve, who not only admired Boldon’s knowledge, but also his ability to simplify the game for players.

“He does that better than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Scheve said.

Though Boldon values preparation, looking at any advantage he can gain, he does not prepare extensive scouting reports for the Bobcats. His base offense, the motion offense, is perhaps one of the simplest offenses in basketball.

Essentially, players pass the ball, then cut into open space. But assistant coach Mary Evans, who came with Boldon and Jackson from Youngstown State, would not say the Bobcats’ offense is as simple as it seems.

“I think if you asked our upcoming freshmen, (they) would find it a lot more difficult than that because it does take time to learn our offense and defense,” Evans said.

What she did acknowledge, though, is it takes a patient coach to run the system — an ironic characteristic of Boldon, who can turn around a program so quickly.

Although he’s patient and soft spoken, he struggles to mask emotions, whether good or bad.

“Instead of the delivery, it’s the intent of the delivery,” Jackson said.

When Ohio was on a 10-game losing streak during his first season, he frequently reminded the media he coached a bad team; when Ohio had a 10-game winning streak in year two, he looked puzzled and joked how everything had changed so quickly.

Ohio head coach Bob Boldon talks to his team during an Ohio timeout at the Ohio vs Arizona game. Ohio lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament 74-55 to ASU on March 21, 2015. (FILE)

Photo taken by Lauren Bacho

 

The one consistent trait beyond score lines, however, is his obsession with players showing effort.

“Just going through the motions, that really makes him mad,” senior Quiera Lampkins said. “And then making the same mistake twice. But definitely not working hard.”

When players have listened, success followed, which offers an explanation toward Boldon’s ability to rebuild struggling programs.

Prior to Ohio, Boldon inherited a Youngstown State team that went 0-30 during the 2009-10 season.

But Jodi Kest, Akron’s women’s basketball coach, knew Boldon would turn things around. Boldon was Kest’s top assistant at Akron from 2006-08.

She said that in three years, Boldon would lead the Penguins to the postseason.

He did it, too.

Boldon led the Penguins to a 23-10 record during the 2012-13 season as well as a first-round win against Indiana State in the WNIT.

***

Boldon must obtain trust with his players, and his laid-back personality lends itself to doing that.

He interacts with each of his players differently. For example, he likes to make sarcastic jokes with senior Hannah Boesinger. During the end of one practice, Jasmine Weatherspoon and Boesinger took “about an hour and a half” to finish making their free throws.

“(Boldon) goes ‘Oh, are you done already?’” Boesinger said.

Boldon is someone who people are drawn to.

He did not recruit Lampkins, who planned to go to Ohio. She met him and the coaching staff during a home visit before he started in Athens. She said that if she didn’t like Boldon, then she would leave.

She stayed.

“We sucked freshman year, but he was still a good coach,” Lampkins said. “We just didn’t buy into what he was saying.”

Lampkins was drawn to Boldon, and the same was the case for Taylor Agler.

Originally at Indiana for two years, Agler was expected to transfer to Texas Tech. The school website had already published a press release about her arrival.

But being close to home as well as Boldon’s easygoing personality swayed her.

“From the moment I got on campus he had the utmost confidence in me,” Agler said, who is now Ohio’s starting shooting guard.

***

Boldon has had success everywhere.

But the success he has had at Ohio is what has defined his coaching career so far.

A program that was in shambles – the Bobcats went 6-23 a season before Boldon’s first year – Boldon has made Ohio into an elite program.

During his second stint as a Division I women’s basketball coach, Boldon has amassed his motion offense from Smesko, who he coached with for one year at Florida Gulf Coast. And he wants to model the Bobcats’ defensive effort after the Eagles, too.

“I wish at times we could play more like they do,” Boldon said.

Though most of Boldon’s influences come from Florida Gulf Coast, he doesn’t force a style of play on his players. Rather, he uses a style that will work best for his players.

“He’s definitely taken a unique style that fits to his personnel,” Smesko said.

That unique style has given the Bobcats two 25-plus win seasons since Boldon started in 2013. Along with that, the Bobcats won the MAC Tournament in 2014-15, going to their first NCAA Tournament since the 1994-95 season. He also won MAC Coach of the Year.

They’ve won the conference regular season title the past two years, and currently lead the MAC East with a 17-5 (8-3 MAC) record.

The Bobcats are successful, but because of how quickly they have reached success, there are higher expectations.

Lampkins, who remembers a different Boldon three years ago, knows what it’s like to be on a bad team.

“He’s got a little bit nicer,” Lampkins laughed. “Just slightly. I remember freshman year we were always getting cussed out, sophomore year, too.”

Though Lampkins said Boldon wasn’t as nice three years ago, she believes he has changed.

“I wouldn’t say lenient, but he’s more calm,” she said.

After the Bobcats defeated Western Michigan 80-67 on Jan. 25, Boldon walked into the press conference a calm man. But he was not satisfied.

Soon after, Ohio beat Miami, lost to Central Michigan, then beat Toledo.

But there was still more to improve.

“The first and third quarter (of the game) are going to haunt me all week,” Boldon said after the WMU win. “But we gotta have something to work on in practice. So now we do.”

 

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