As Rob Ridnour ambled into the Whatcom Pavilion ahead of his Bellingham Slam’s season finale against the Tacoma Tide, his relaxed, amiable demeanor belied the stereotype of the frenetic, sideline tyrant basketball coaches can get labeled with.
Concluding his fifth season as the Slam’s only coach, Ridnour relishes the differences between coaching basketball at this level and roaming the sidelines at Blaine high school.
“There’s so much less pressure,” says Ridnour, recalling the intensity of two state title runs in 1999 and 2000, “I can come in and coach them and then we all go home.”
Still, Ridnour is compiling the same kind of success that he managed for the Borderites.
Since the team’s inception, the Slam has amassed a 92-42 record under Ridnour, making the playoffs every season. In 2008 the Slam was the IBL champion with a 19-4 record.
After the Slam’s 110-91 win over Tacoma on June 25, Bellingham sits at 13-7 and, once again, in the playoffs. The Slam players respond well to Ridnour’s subdued coaching style.
“He’s easy going,” says Slam rookie guard and former Western Washington University (WWU) Viking Morris Anderson, “He knows we’re grown ups and that we’ll take care of our business.”
Former WWU star and Slam guard Jacob Stevenson agrees. “He has a laid back style and doesn’t restrict anybody,” explained Stevenson, “He just lets us play.”
Success follows Ridnour’s coaching endeavors outside of basketball, as well.
Ridnour, a high school pole vaulter, coaches the Borderites in the event and has accrued an impressive resume already. Led by Robin Taylor, Blaine sent three jumpers to the 2A state tournament this year.
Taylor garnered her third consecutive state title. In 2009, Blaine’s girls were the 2A team state championships, with the boys being runners-up. This year the girls finished second. With Ridnour coaching, the Borderites have gathered six team and individual state championships.
All this success between the two programs isn’t without challenges as Ridnour found out this year at the state track and field championships in Tacoma.
The meet ran on the same weekend that the Slam were scheduled to play a road game in Edmonton. Ridnour had scheduled a flight that would get him into Alberta in time for his game.
However, inclement weather forced the postponement of the pole vault events and Ridnour was forced to remain in Tacoma and leave the Slam bench duties in the hands of assistant coach Mike Elsner.
“That’s happened 2.5 times,” joked Elsner, referring to a game where Ridnour came late from a meet in the middle of the game.
“That was the deal I made with them [the Slam],” explained Ridnour, “I told them that track was always going to come first. Unlike the Slam, you see these kids every day. You develop a relationship with them.”
Still, the off-season doesn’t necessarily give the Blaine high school physical education teacher time off from coaching.
Last summer found Ridnour working with his son, Milwaukee Bucks’ guard Luke Ridnour, who was the heartbeat of the Borderites’ two state championships.
“We worked on his pocket shot,” said Ridnour, “changed his release point a little.” Once again, the elder Ridnour’s coaching paid vast dividends as his son went on to have a career year for the Bucks, averaging 10.4 points per game on 47 percent shooting.
With Tyler Amaya joining the Slam late in the season, Ridnour’s Slam are going to be one of the teams in the hunt for a championship as the playoffs open in the IBL.
With senior vaulter Brett Matson returning from injury, Ridnour has another legitimate contender for a pole vault title as well as up and comers Andrew Dahl and Shapher Hendricks.
Only time will tell how many more championships he will add to his impressive resume.