WALLA WALLA — When Jeff Reinland took over the Walla Walla Community College men’s basketball program in the fall of 1993, he viewed the job at his alma mater as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
After serving eight years as a high school coach, the Pomeroy native figured a few years of experience at the two-year collegiate level would be the ideal jumping off place to achieve his ultimate goal.
A major college head coaching position.
“Three or four years, then move on to a four-year school,” Reinland remembered. “That was the plan.
“I always wanted to coach at a major college. I had played at that level (Eastern Washington University), and I wanted to get back there.”
Funny how things work out.
Reinland, now 50 years old and perhaps closer to retirement than he is to those once-vivid dreams, begins his 20th season as WWCC’s head coach this weekend. He leads the Warriors into the Lower Columbia College Red Devil Classic in Longview, Wash., just a stone’s throw from Kelso, where he was the high school coach for four seasons.
“It just worked out the way it did,” Reinland said.
There were opportunities to move on, he said. Just not the right ones.
“I had a couple of opportunities at smaller four-year schools as the head coach,” he recollected. “And a couple of opportunities here and there as an assistant coach at bigger schools.
“They just didn’t pay enough. I couldn’t justify it.”
And besides that, he had a young family to think about.
“My kids got in school, my wife got hesitant to leave, and I got a lot more concerned about the responsibility of taking care of my family instead of chasing the basketball dream,” Reinland said. “It’s just what happened.”
But there are no regrets. His legacy at WWCC is one to be proud of.
Reinland, who was an outstanding player for the Warriors under Art Wilmore during the 1980-81 and 1981-82 seasons, is the longest tenured men’s basketball coach in WWCC history. His 315 career victories is a school record, his teams have qualified for the postseason playoffs 14 times and have appeared in 11 NWAACC Championships. Three of his teams reached the final four.
After a disappointing two-and-out at last year’s NWAACC Championships in Kennewick, Reinland hinted at retirement. But he approaches the new season with the same kind of enthusiasm that he has felt on the eve of every other campaign.
“I love basketball,” he said. “I love going down to the gym and working with the kids. I have been a head coach for 28 years and that is a long time. Basketball has been my life since I was probably 8 years old, so that’s 42 years.
“Certainly there are things more important than basketball, but it has been a big chunk of my life.”
Reinland has learned a few things about his basketball personality after all of those years. Not letting the losses keep you down is one of them.
“Early in my career, I was pretty disappointed losing,” he said. “I am a competitive person, maybe over competitive, and that was always a problem for me. Even as a kid, I didn’t like losing.
“Some people handle it better than others, and I think I handle it better now than before, although my wife might not agree with that.”
To that end, he has learned to soak up the joy of practice time and endure the games.
“I love the practices,” he said. “But I don’t like the games at all. Because of the pressure I put on myself, I am more relieved than I am happy when we win. I think I’ve always been that way, even as a player.”
Reinland isn’t sure how long he will continue as WWCC’s head coach. But he has no plans in the foreseeable future to call it a career
“This is a great place to work,” the coach said. “Everyone is very supportive.
“Certainly the day will come when I can look forward to the Thanksgiving holiday without worrying about Mount Hood, or look forward to Christmas and not be thinking about the Clackamas tournament.
“It could be 10 years, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m in pretty good health and pretty good shape, so I certainly still have the energy to do it.”