Dream becomes reality for new Slippery Rock coach
In order to achieve a goal, you have to want it. Wanting to be a college basketball coach is an understatement when it comes to Mars native Bobby McGraw.
McGraw's road to his new post as the women's head basketball coach at Slippery Rock University is one definitely less traveled.
His desire to coach was always there, but it was a tragic series of events in 2011 while he was as an assistant coach for the La Roche men's basketball team that forced McGraw to re-evaluate everything.
“There was a 42-day stretch where my wife and I lost our daughter at birth; (La Roche head basketball coach) Scott Lang, (long-time friend and teammate) died on the court at practice and my sister fell into a coma for five days because of a kidney infection,” McGraw said.
“We were not sure she was going to make it. … She managed to make a miraculous recovery.”
After the loss of Lang, McGraw and the La Roche team made an inspired run to a 25-2 record, the AMCC regular-season championship and a berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
That stretch of McGraw's life was a whirlwind, but once the season concluded, he had a chance to assess what had transpired.
“Once it finally passed and ESPN had come in to do a story, I began to process all that had happened … all the losses,” McGraw said.
“I realized that life is precious, and how quickly it can be taken away.”
During this stretch in 2011, McGraw was 40 years old. He decided that if he didn't reach for his dream, he might never do it.
McGraw played basketball at Mars, and he graduated in 1990. He played under Dick Hartung at Butler County Community College, and then played at Clarion.
He studied sociology and earned a degree in criminal justice from Tiffin University in Ohio.
Life then took McGraw to the Marine Corps, where he spent four years and worked as a criminal investigator.
From there, he was a police officer and spent more then seven years as a Pennsylvania state trooper.
Still, he had a burning desire to coach basketball.
“I grew up in the Michael Jordan, Larry Bird era, but I have always had a love for college basketball,” McGraw said.
“I have wanted to do it since I was a teenager. It was my first love, and I feel fortunate and blessed to be able to come back to it.”
Being in law enforcement is a serious commitment, but McGraw was pushed to go for his dream by Terry Brown and Mike Caringola, who own the company that now employs him.
“They gave me the opportunity to leave the state police and become a compliance officer,” McGraw said.
“It gave me the chance to provide for my family and pursue coaching full time. They convinced me to chase my dream.”
After he finished at La Roche, McGraw landed at Slippery Rock as a volunteer coach for the men's team.
He worked like a full-time coach, but received no pay.
He coached under Kevin Reynolds at Slippery Rock and was prepared to grind away until an opportunity presented itself. It came in a most unlikely way.
“I started the 2013-14 season as a volunteer assistant,” McGraw said.
“Tanya Longo, the women's head coach, asked me to be her assistant full-time. ... If it was not for her, I would not be here.”
Longo's husband is a football coach, and he accepted a job at Sam Houston State in Texas, so the couple with two young daughters lived apart for a year.
When she opted to rejoin her husband in Texas, that left the door open for McGraw.
“Timing is everything,” McGraw said. “Our all-conference player, D'Asia Chambers, told me that God brought me here for a reason.”
Sleep is at a premium for the new coach these days. A young child at home and the responsibility of a new job weigh heavily, but McGraw is living the dream.
“My wife, Melissa, she is fantastic and stood behind me the whole time,” he said.
“She is great and knows this is my passion, and I can't forget my son, Reed Scott, who was born premature two years to the date of Scott's death on Dec. 10.”
Athletic director Paul Lueken said McGraw's passion for the university, coupled with his work ethic, caught his attention.
The coach also brought a good network of basketball people from western Pennsylvania.
“Bobby's understanding of what we need to be competitive in the PSAC with regards to recruiting and style of play, along with his knowledge of the type of student-athlete and the talent level necessary to be successful in Division II, (made him a good fit),” Lueken said.
“Bobby relates so well with people, and will be a great ambassador for SRU Athletics.”
Jerry Clark is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.