Mark Potter got ready for work with his wife, Nanette, on Monday morning, assured her he was feeling fine and headed off to prepare for his final homestand as Newman’s men’s basketball coach.
The snag in Potter’s routine occurred when he opened an email from athletic director Vic Trilli that contained a 2-minute, 20-second video collage of Potter’s time with the Jets and as a high school coach.
The kind of stuff that tugs at an emotional coach’s heartstrings.
“It’s been a little different,” said Potter, 53, who announced in December that this season – his 19th as Jets coach – would be his last due to health concerns. “Our routine has been the same with the team when we’re on the floor or in a film session. But this week has been emotional, I’m not going to lie.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Wichita Eagle
Newman, 8-17 and 6-10 in the Heartland Conference, plays St. Mary’s (Texas) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday before closing its regular season against Texas A&M International at 3 p.m. Saturday. Both are the back ends of doubleheaders that start with women’s games at Fugate Gymnasium on the court that bears Potter’s family name.
Both will be accompanied by fanfare.
“Potter’s Army” t-shirts will be given away both days, with Thursday’s games including the coronation of Newman’s homecoming king and queen. Saturday’s events start with a 10 a.m. pancake feed in the Gorges Atrium ahead of the 1 p.m. women’s game. Newman’s seniors will be honored prior to the men’s game.
Much of the spotlight will be on Potter, a Sedan native who played basketball and baseball at Newman in the mid-1980s. After coaching at Cheney, Kapaun Mount Carmel and South, Potter returned to Newman in 1998 when the Jets basketball program restarted after an 11-year hiatus.
Potter has coached Newman to a 330-221 record and guided the Jets through their transition from NAIA to NCAA in 2008. Several of Potter’s former players and their families will attend Saturday’s game and a postgame reception.
“He’s everything that Newman’s ever been,” Trilli said Wednesday from Sheridan, Wyo., where he was inducted into Sheridan College’s athletics hall of fame. “When you think of Newman athletics, the first thing that pops into everybody’s mind, whether it’s fair or not, is Mark Potter.”
Potter has taken medication for high blood pressure for almost five years. When the medication became ineffective early in the basketball season, Potter decided over Thanksgiving to resign at the end of the season. While his blood pressure readings have improved, Potter said Wednesday the time for change is near.
“I think there’s two thought processes once you’ve made this decision,” Potter said. “You can say, ‘It’s my last year and so what.’ Or there’s the thought process I’ve had, which for 30 years of coaching players is always challenging them and testing them with things like ‘What if this were your last day?’
“When I told the team my decision, I said, ‘If you think I’m backing off of you, you’re crazy. This is it for me.’ I’ve found myself more intense on the sidelines and not being able to handle my poise with officials as well. You want it so badly. You want to go out right.”
Despite a 104-74 loss at Dallas Baptist on Saturday, Newman landed a spot in next week’s eight-team Heartland Conference tournament in Tulsa. The Jets are eighth in the 10-team conference with a three-game cushion on Oklahoma Christian.
Newman’s focus will soon turn toward finding a replacement for Potter, who plans to pursue opportunities as a motivational speaker. Trilli said he began fielding calls about the Newman job almost immediately after Potter’s announcement, but is waiting until the season ends to conduct his search with an eight-person committee.
“It’s going to be a tough weekend for a lot of people, but we’re going to try to make it special for Coach Potter and his family,” Trilli said. “He’s earned this. He’s earned the right for us to celebrate what he’s done and he’s been a tremendous ambassador for Newman.”